Saturday, February 24, 2024

The Alba Party needs a bit less authoritarianism and a bit more transparency

I noticed yesterday that Alba Dundee's Twitter account had been suspended, which seemed a strange coincidence given the controversy that was swirling over Alba Dundee's go-it-alone decision to back a spoilt ballot campaign at the general election. The allegation today is that Alba HQ reported the Alba Dundee account as an "impostor" and got it suspended and replaced with an HQ-run account.  Allan Petrie, who was an elected member of the Alba NEC until a few short weeks ago, has reacted in fury and left the party.  This follows several other high-profile departures due to the fall-out from the internal elections in October and December.

Now, to be clear, I think Alba Dundee's spoilt ballot campaign decision was extremely unwise, because it would have harmed the cause of independence, and it was probably also unsustainable, because it wasn't really reconcilable with Alba's national strategy of standing candidates in at least twelve constituencies.  But that meant a mature conversation needed to be had between the national party and the Dundee LACU.  And yes, the national party's position had to take precedence if agreement couldn't be reached, but draconian action should have been a last resort.  It sounds as if it was more like a first resort.

There's been a bit of a trend of high-handedness recently, most obviously in the reaction to some of the questions that were raised about the voiding of the national office bearer elections and the cancellation of the NEC elections in October, and the subsequent decision to keep the results of the rescheduled NEC elections secret in December (other than the names of those elected).  Specifically, a question was asked about an alleged discrepancy between the number of people registered for conference in October and the number who were actually able to vote in December.  The General Secretary responded on the Alba website, as was entirely proper, but he ended his response by attacking those who had raised concerns and accusing them of being out to harm Alba.  That was more than a little unfair given that some of those people were very senior party members and even former NEC members.  But subsequently there seemed to be a concerted effort on social media to get them shouted down as enemies of the party.

This is all a bit silly, because the reality is that it is highly unusual to suddenly void elections when everyone is sitting in the conference hall waiting to hear the results.  It's highly unusual to suddenly cancel an election that everyone is sitting there waiting to vote in.  And it's highly unusual to keep an election result secret.  In such genuinely strange circumstances, you can quite rightly expect to be asked questions about what the hell is going on, and the best thing to do is just chill out and answer those questions as transparently as you can, rather than getting all passive-aggressive about being challenged.

There are all sorts of claims and counter-claims flying around about the conduct of the elections, and it's very difficult to know who to believe.  But there are two points in particular that still trouble me.  Firstly, did anyone know what the results of the original office bearer elections were before they were voided?  If so, there's a theoretical danger that the decision to void may have been influenced by the identities of the winners.  (I have no personal axe to grind there, because I would guess I almost certainly did better in the re-run version of the Membership Support Convener election in December than I did in the original in October.) And secondly, if it's true that the NEC results had to be kept secret for data protection reasons, why was the same not the case in the previous two years, when the results were published without any difficulty?  There may well be perfectly simple and reasonable answers to these questions, but to the best of my knowledge we haven't heard any yet.

To avoid continuing alienating members in the way that's been happening, Alba need a bit less authoritarianism and a bit more transparency.  To be fair, the same could be said for most political parties, but it's been very much Alba's turn to struggle with these issues in recent months.  As regular readers will know, I was recently elected to a working group that is reviewing the Alba constitution.  For confidentiality reasons I can't give a running commentary on the progress of that, but let's hope that in a year or two we have a reformed party which is more comfortable in its own skin, and where everyone feels their voice is heard and valued.  We should expect nothing less from an exciting new party which ought to be blazing a trail for internal democracy and transparency, rather than slipping straight back into the bad habits of the much older party its members broke away from three years ago.

Friday, February 23, 2024

WINGS-WATCH: No, "Victory to Palestine" does not imply the destruction of Israel

It's been a long time since I last did a 'Wings-Watch' fact-checking post, and I can't deny I'm surprised to find myself doing one about a Wings post full of pro-Israeli government talking points in the midst of the ongoing genocide, but then Mr Campbell is often the champion of unpopular causes (most notably the Conservative party, the anti-Gaelic lobby and the people who think Liverpool fans were to blame for the Hillsborough disaster).

Basically what he's trying to claim this time is that Ross Greer is an antisemite who seeks the total destruction of Israel because he used the words "Victory to Palestine".  This requires several stages of convoluted logical gymnastics, and some of them are rooted in outright factual inaccuracies.

Campbell claims that Greer's support for Palestine must mean that he's siding with Hamas, because "Palestine has no traditional armed forces, and in so far as it has a government, that government is also Hamas".  Not true.  If he was referring only to Gaza he'd have a point, but Gaza is only one part of the Palestinian territories.  The other part is the West Bank, which is slightly bigger in population terms and much bigger geographically.  The autonomous parts of the West Bank are governed by Fatah, not Hamas.

Campbell goes on to make a variant of the same false claim when he says: "What else could “Victory to Palestine” possibly entail? The closest thing it has to a legitimate government is Hamas". Rubbish.  The most obvious way in which 'legitimacy' is conferred is by international recognition, and Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah is universally recognised as the President of the Palestinian National Authority.  Around two-thirds of the world's countries also recognise him as President of the sovereign State of Palestine.  If Campbell is talking about democratic legitimacy, it's a score draw between Fatah and Hamas, because Fatah won the last presidential election and Hamas won the last parliamentary election.  But both of those elections were an eternity ago, and the terms of office have long since expired.  So neither government can really claim to be 'elected' as of right now.

Having tried and completely failed to establish that Greer's support for Palestine must mean support for Hamas, Campbell ploughs on regardless by claiming that the supposed support for Hamas must also mean that Greer wants the destruction of Israel, because "Hamas’ policy is unambiguous and unequivocal: the only acceptable resolution to the conflict is the complete obliteration of Israel".  Curiously, though, the screenshot Campbell offers in support of this claim doesn't explicitly say any such thing, and if you read Wikipedia's article about Hamas, you'll find that there is scholarly disagreement over whether they still want to destroy Israel or whether their goal is now a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 boundaries.

Campbell further claims (and I think this is probably getting to the point where his words may be 'actionable') that Greer must regard the Jewish people of Israel as "sub-human", with a strong implication that he does so in a similar way that the Nazis looked upon the Jewish peoples within Europe.  The justification here is that Greer said a victory for Palestine would be a "victory to humanity", which Campbell claims must be placing Israelis outside the concept of humanity, because he cannot conceive of any victory for Palestine that doesn't entail Israel's annihilation.  But as I've demonstrated, one and possibly both of Palestine's governments support the continued existence of Israel within a two-state framework, so "victory to Palestine" could very well just mean the ending of the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, thus leaving plenty of room for Israelis within the concept of humanity.

Campbell's blogpost really is a dire and wretched thing, and I suspect some of his regular readers are going to be dismayed and bewildered that he seems to be calling into question the appropriateness of referring to Israel's actions as "genocide", even after the International Court of Justice ruled that genocide may plausibly be happening.  They will also be disturbed that Campbell shares the Netanyahu view that it is impossible to support Palestine without supporting Hamas, and that expressing support for Palestine should therefore be illegal (he specifically calls for Greer to be prosecuted).  I suspect there might be a touch of "my enemy's enemy is my friend" in all of this, but when your disdain for the unimportant Green MSP Ross Greer (which I share, incidentally) leads you to offer a degree of support for the worldview of the genocidal Netanyahu regime, it's just possible you may have lost a touch of perspective somewhere along the way.

The autumn of the wrong side of history

Probably a betting person would say Lindsay Hoyle is still likely to cling on to his job, but from a historical perspective he's now become one of the very few Speakers who does/did not enjoy more or less universal support and respect among MPs.  I suspect it will bother him greatly that several dozen MPs have openly called for him to go.  In his quieter moments he must wonder if he would be on firmer ground today if he hadn't made the bizarre decision to visit Israel in November with the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, described in her Wikipedia biography as a "far right diplomat".

But there are any number of people who would be on stronger ground now if they hadn't said and done some very strange things back in the autumn.  I've gone back and taken a look at an article put out by the Spectator on 15th October entitled 'Ireland's disgusting response to the Israel attack'.  What was so disgusting about Ireland's response?  Basically a number of tweets by random people (which of course the Irish government had no control over) and Leo Varadkar urging the Israelis to act responsibly.  The bastard.  What you're about to read are genuine quotes from the Spectator.  They are not a parody.

"Rather than offering unequivocal support and succour to the Israeli people, he began scolding them and stood up in the Dail to warn that any response ‘must be proportionate’...What does that even mean? More than a thousand Israelis have been slaughtered. Young women were raped over the bodies of their dead friends. Holocaust survivors have been kidnapped and brought to Gaza as human shields (or worse) and 260 children who were attending a rave in the desert were brutally slaughtered and defiled. And Varadkar is worried about a disproportionate response?...To make matters worse, Varadkar warned the Israelis that they would quickly lose international solidarity if they went ‘too far’...Varadkar then slammed Israel for cutting off water and electricity to the Gaza Strip, saying: ‘To me, it amounts to collective punishment. Cutting off power, cutting off fuel supplies and water supplies, that’s not the way a respectable democratic state should conduct itself.’...The sickening scenes in the Dail continued throughout the week. Mary Lou McDonald, head of Sinn Fein, ludicrously called for an immediate cease fire."

Can anyone doubt in retrospect that Leo Varadkar and Mary Lou McDonald had it completely right and the Spectator had it completely wrong?  You'd be forgiven for thinking from the text above that the scale of the 7th October attack by Hamas somehow made it arithmetically impossible for any Israeli response to be disproportionate, and yet here we are, only a few months on, and at least 30,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel - around thirty times the number of Israelis killed by Hamas in October.  At least 12,000 Palestinian children have been killed, around thirty-three times the number of Israelis killed at the music festival.

And it's not as if Varadkar needed any special foresight to know that Israel was likely to go much too far unless it was pre-emptively reined in by the international community.  Time and again over decades we've seen that Israeli responses to attacks have been crazily disproportionate and have ended up causing ten, twenty, thirty times as many civilian deaths as the original attacks.  It was entirely rational in October to be largely preoccupied with the unspeakable horrors the innocent Palestinian civilian population was about to face - unless of course you're a Spectator columnist who thinks one Israeli life is worth as much as one hundred Palestinian lives, as in fairness most Spectator columnists probably do.

With the benefit of hindsight, the few western leaders who got the tone spot-on by extending huge sympathy to Israel but warning that there could be no blank cheque for revenge attacks do not look like the "disgusting" ones.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Stephen Flynn comes of age by standing up to a corrupt Commons Speaker - so will the next SNP leadership contest boil down to Forbes v Flynn?

One thing that's been fascinating on political Twitter over recent hours is how Stephen Flynn has almost overnight become a hate figure for right-wing English Labour activists.  They suddenly can't bear the sight of him or the sound of his voice, and they're trying to convince themselves that the public are viewing him in the same way.  Of course the reason English Labour people hate him is exactly the same reason he's shot up in the estimation of Scottish independence supporters.  The raw anger he displayed at the corruption of the Speaker and the disregarding of the rights of Scotland's elected representatives, and his courage in telling Lindsay Hoyle to his face that it's time to go, is exactly the sort of thing many Yessers have been crying out for from the SNP at Westminster for years.

Until the events of yesterday, Flynn was at best on the fringes of contention for the next SNP leadership election.  But by turning himself into something of a folk hero, I wonder if he might now have given himself a genuine chance - if he actually decides to throw his hat in the ring, of course, which is far from certain given the awkwardness of running for leader as a non-MSP.  If he does have a crack at it, he'll presumably have to nominate someone else to be a temporary First Minister for however long it takes him to get a Holyrood seat, which is far from ideal and would doubtless be used by his opponents as an argument against voting for him.

Personally, I'm not sure he's the right person to be leader, because from the second-hand information we've heard from journalists about the strategic differences between himself and Yousaf, I actually think he's even further away from being right than Yousaf is.  He seems even keener than Yousaf on de-emphasising independence, which is not the way to win elections for the SNP and is self-evidently not going to help bring independence any closer.  

In a strange way, though, I might welcome it if the next leadership contest boils down to a straight choice between Flynn and Kate Forbes, because that might mean that the Sturgeon Faction's fight to retain total control of the party will be lost before the votes are even counted.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but my impression of Flynn is that he wouldn't be an out-and-out change candidate like Ms Forbes, but neither would he be a Continuity Sturgeon candidate like Yousaf or Mairi McAllan or Angus Robertson - he'd be ambiguously somewhere in between those two concepts.  So even if he defeats Forbes (and I suspect she'd be more likely to defeat him), there'd be a much-needed break with the Sturgeon era and a move towards something new.

Rule Britannia, Britannia waives the rules - in the light of yesterday's events, here are some thoughts on the question of abstentionism

We all know the rules are rigged against Scotland within "Our Pwecious Union" and the Palace of Westminster, but at least those long-standing rules are normally adhered to when we're being shafted.  That's what made yesterday so unusual - even the rigged rules weren't enough for our imperial masters in the Labour party, so Keir Starmer told Lindsay Hoyle to change the rules just for him, Hoyle said "yeah OK", and there was nothing the SNP or anyone else could do about it.  We might as well have been living in East Germany.

Understandably, many independence supporters have reacted to yesterday's events by saying "if that's how the SNP are going to be treated at Westminster, what's the point of them even being there", which raises the issue of abstentionism - ie. that pro-independence parties should follow the example of Sinn Féin by standing for election to Westminster but not taking up their seats if elected.  I'll just reiterate what I've said in the past, which is that withdrawal from Westminster may at some point have a part to play in winning independence, but that differs from abstentionism because it's a card you play once and only in specific circumstances.

I don't think blanket abstentionism would work in the Scottish context, simply because it would prevent pro-independence MPs from being elected in the first place.  Unionist parties would ask the killer question "if they're not going to bother to do the work and represent you as their constituents, why would you vote for them?" And Labour would also be able to point out that voting for an abstentionist party makes a Tory government more likely.  "Only Labour will protect Scotland from Tory rule" would become a more accurate slogan than it is now.

By contrast, withdrawal from Westminster could be an effective tactic, but only after an outright mandate for independence has been secured, perhaps by means of using the 2026 Holyrood election as a de facto referendum.  At that point it would be much easier to justify to voters, because there would be a specific reason for it.  If the UK government refuse to acknowledge the independence mandate, withdrawing Scottish MPs could provide the leverage necessary to bring London to the negotiating table.  Scotland going unrepresented in the UK Parliament would be regarded as a constitutional crisis that would have to be resolved one way or another.  However, that card can only be played when the time comes if pro-independence MPs make up a clear majority of Scottish seats at Westminster, as they do now and as they have done since 2015, but as they may no longer do after this year's general election.  That's one of the reasons why I'm so concerned about pro-independence parties standing against each other and splitting the Yes vote, and about Yes supporters threatening to spoil their ballot.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

What is worse: that Labour blackmailed the Commons Speaker into breaking the rules, that the Speaker proved so easily susceptible to blackmail, or that Labour then openly boasted to journalists about having successfully blackmailed him?

This is what I don't understand about the Labour Party.  They apparently today successfully blackmailed the Speaker of the House of Commons into ripping up decades of precedent by selecting a Labour amendment on the SNP ceasefire motion.  The success of their bully-boy tactics should have been against the odds, because most Speakers down the years would have been resistant to blackmail, but we all know exactly who and what Lindsay Hoyle is - he's a weak man who overcompensates by shouting hysterically, with small-minded preoccupations mostly concerning his own career, and with not a shred of integrity.  But the whole point of Labour going to these extraordinary lengths was to save face, and to be able to turn the tables on the SNP (as the likes of Michael Shanks tried to do) by saying "ah, your reaction to the Labour amendment being selected shows that this was always about politics for you and about putting Labour in an awkward spot".

Those advantages of getting the Speaker to do their bidding have been completely blown out of the water simply because they apparently walked up to Nicholas Watt and boasted that they had threatened Hoyle and he had buckled.  Watt then naturally immediately told the world what had happened.  How does this make any sense?  You go to extraordinary lengths to improve the optics of a difficult situation and then just voluntarily show yourselves up as thugs.  Ironically, it's reminiscent of the IDF's own behaviour - although it makes no sense to be sharing footage of themselves torturing civilians or selfies of themselves riding the children's bikes they've looted, they can't seem to help themselves, because they're actually proud of how skilled they are as bullies, and want to show off that skill.  It's who they are, it's what they do.  Ditto for Labour.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Peston was wrong: Labour MPs will yet again be whipped to abstain if the SNP's ceasefire motion goes to a vote

So the premise of my previous post turned out to be wrong, although in fairness to myself that was only because Robert Peston's sources proved to be wrong.  Keir Starmer and Labour will in fact not support the SNP motion calling for an immediate ceasefire, and will instead once again abstain unless their own amendment is passed, which would remove the call for Israel to stop the collective punishment of Palestinians, and would render the call for an immediate ceasefire rather hollow by adding an absurd line about Israel having the right to carry on with the violence if Hamas don't stop.  There's also a statement about Israel having the right to be free of any threat of a repeat of 7th October, but notably not a trace of any balancing language about the Palestinians having the right to be free of any repeat of the events since 7th October, or about Palestinians having the right to carry on with the violence if Israel don't stop attacking them.  I trust the SNP will not be remotely tempted to "compromise" on such an outrageous basis.

Much will now depend on whether the amendment passes, because if it does, there will be no proper vote on the actual text of the SNP motion, merely on the motion as amended.  That would be a very frustrating outcome, although from my vague recollection of Commons procedure, there may be a chance the Labour amendment won't even be selected by the Speaker - sometimes one amendment is selected and that's a government amendment, so the Tories may determine what happens.  If the Labour amendment does pass, it's really important that the SNP win the battle of competing narratives and make it abundantly clear that Labour weaseled out of a meaningful call for an unconditional stop to the violence.

Luke Akehurst of "Labour for Likud" will still be fuming regardless of what happens, though, because even the Labour amendment uses antisemitic language like "ceasefire" and "immediate".

*  *  *

On this blog and on pretty much any blog where opinion polling is discussed, the subject of the famous Yes Minister scene about polling will inevitably come up from time to time, because it's such a compelling demonstration of how poll results can be manipulated.  Sir Humphrey uses Bernard as "the perfect balanced sample" to show how the same respondents will both support and oppose the reintroduction of National Service, depending on how they've just been primed by four preceding leading questions.  As a bit of fun, Ipsos have just polled two Britain-wide samples using Sir Humphrey's exact questions to see if he was right, and what's fascinating is that they very nearly proved him wrong.  It would have been a bit irritating if they had done, because the beloved scene would have seemed somewhat tarnished as a result! 

By a narrow margin of 45% to 38%, Britons support National Service after being led along the positive question sequence, and oppose National Service by 48% to 34% after being led along the negative question sequence.  So Sir Humphrey was right, but only just, and it turns out that impressively high numbers of respondents are resistant to leading question wording.  They must have a stronger sense of self than Bernard Woolley.

SNP's Gaza motion opens up fascinating rift between Keir Starmer and "Likud's man on the Labour NEC" Luke Akehurst

As I said the other day, although the SNP under Humza Yousaf's leadership have made any number of missteps and will probably continue to do so, we have to give them credit where it's due, and their stance on Gaza has been correct from both a moral and strategic perspective.  By tabling the Commons motion calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, they have practically put themselves in a win/win situation.  If Starmer once again orders his MPs to abstain on the motion, the SNP will expose his moral bankruptcy and potentially cost Labour votes among left-wing parts of the electorate, while also sowing further division and discontent within Labour's own ranks.  But if Starmer accepts the SNP motion, it will be a solid step towards increasing international pressure on Israel to stop the killings, and the SNP will be seen to have taken the lead on that.

If Robert Peston is correct, it looks like the latter is the more probable outcome at the moment, although it's important to stress that the text of the motion offers Starmer no alibi at all.  Although it calls for Hamas to immediately release the hostages, as any decent person would want them to do, it makes clear that this is a "further call" - ie. it's not tied to the motion's central call for an immediate ceasefire and is thus not some sort of proviso or caveat that would get Israel off the hook and imply that no-one expects them to stop murdering Palestinians until the hostages are free.  That's important, because to state the bleedin' obvious, Palestinian civilians have no control over whether Hamas release the hostages or not, and they will need to be protected from Israel regardless of whether the hostages are released or not.

By backing the motion, Starmer would also be explicitly endorsing a call for Israel to end the collective punishment of Palestinians, and by extension accepting the premise that collective punishment has been occurring.  That's going to be a very difficult pill to swallow for Israel's apologists within Labour, even those who think Keir Starmer is simply fabulous.  We've already seen an expression of pain from Luke Akehurst, a Robespierre-like hardcore Starmerite who has been spearheading executions and punishment beatings (figuratively speaking) as shameless acts of revenge for the Corbyn years.  He's also known as "Likud's man on the Labour NEC", although it would be naive to think Likud only have one de facto representative on that body.

If Akehurst can't even cope with Labour backing a ceasefire of any sort, let alone an immediate and unconditional one, he may lose the plot completely if Labour support an end to Israel's collective punishment of Palestinians.  A rift between Starmer and Akehurst would be a fascinating and positive by-product of the SNP's decision to force this vote.

Monday, February 19, 2024

What is genocide?

Like many of you, I've occasionally had exchanges on social media over the last few months with Israeli sympathisers who innocently claim to be bewildered and deeply offended by any suggestion that Israel is perpetrating a genocide in Gaza.  But these people, whether they realise it or not, rarely agree with each other on the exact reason they offer for what is happening not being a genocide, which may be a clue that they're not on the firmest of ground.  By far the weakest argument I've encountered is that a genocide is the destruction of a whole people, and because Israel isn't doing that, it can't possibly be committing a genocide. But in fact the UN's definition of genocide is much broader than that - 

"a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part"

Which is why the ICJ had no difficulty in stating that there were plausible grounds for believing genocide was taking place.  Even Hitler didn't kill the entirety of Europe's Jewish population - he killed just under two-thirds.  The current claimed death toll of Palestinians in Gaza since October is just under 30,000, which is almost certainly a massive underestimate.  The population of Gaza is around 2.4 million, and the population of the wider Palestinian territories is around 4.8 million (excluding residents of the illegal Israeli settlements).  That means if the target population for genocide is considered to be Palestinians as a whole, a minimum of 0.6% have been killed so far, and if the target population is considered to be Palestinians specifically in Gaza, a minimum of 1.2% have already been killed.  There comes a point where that can be considered a non-trivial "part" of the overall ethnic group, especially when no end to the killings is in sight and the numbers can only vastly increase, especially due to man-made (ie. Israeli-made) starvation.

But if the governor of New York had her way, Israel would already have taken the genocide much, much further.  Kathy Hochul said this - 

"If Canada someday ever attacked Buffalo, I'm sorry, my friends, there would be no Canada the next day"

On that analogy, she thinks Israel should have totally annihilated all 2.4 million people in Gaza, and possibly all 4.8 million people in the State of Palestine, on 8th October.  Presumably this would have had to be done with nuclear weapons, because there is no other realistic way of destroying an entire ethnic group of millions in a single day.  To make the analogy more exact, of course, she would have to assume that Canada's attack on Buffalo was in retaliation for decades of US military occupation of Canada, which would mean under international law that the Canadians have a right to self-defence against the US, but the US do not have a right to self-defence against the occupied peoples.  That does not imply what Hamas did on 7th October was a legitimate form of self-defence, but it does mean that Israel haven't got a leg to stand on in suggesting that mass killings and mass destruction of infrastructure are a legal self-defence response to the events of 7th October, because they quite simply have no legal right to self-defence in Gaza at all.

Ms Hochul is, grotesquely, not a gun-toting Republican nutjob, but an elected Democratic Party governor in one of America's supposedly most liberal states.  And yet she not only cheerleads for genocide but thinks it hasn't gone anything like far enough yet. As long-term readers of this blog may remember, I have a vote in US presidential elections, and it's been an almighty struggle to find a Democratic primary candidate who has even a vaguely human stance on the Gaza conflict.  There was a Congressman who I agreed with on almost every policy, but when I got to his view on Israel/Palestine, I discovered that he thinks it's all the fault of the dastardly Arabs and everything would be as right as rain if they would just leave poor old Israel alone (ahem).  To my relief, I did eventually find a candidate who is standing on an explicit pitch of stopping the war and ending arms supplies to Israel.

As there are suggestions that Keir Starmer would like the SNP to change their pro-ceasefire Commons motion so he can allow Labour to vote for it, could I urge the SNP to stand firm and refuse any request to remove the words "immediate ceasefire" or to put any conditions at all on the immediacy.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

SNP motion on a Gaza ceasefire will flush out Starmer - and possibly expose Scottish Labour's sham autonomy

Credit where credit is due to the SNP under the Yousaf leadership - I don't know how much influence Fiona Robertson and her ilk still have within the party, but it at least appears to have its limits.  Back during the Grouse Beater and Neale Hanvey controversies, which both took place when Robertson was strutting around as if being Equalities Convener meant she owned the place, she sent out the absolutist/absurdist stricture that any minority group gets to define entirely for itself what constitutes bigotry towards it.  If that was still the SNP's approach as far as the question of antisemitism is concerned, they would currently be tying themselves up in knots in exactly the manner Starmer and co are, and refusing to condemn a far-right Israeli government for mass-killing Palestinian civilians on the grounds that all meaningful criticisms of Israel are a form of antisemitism.

Instead, they're taking the correct stance on Gaza from both a moral and strategic perspective.  By forcing a Commons vote on a ceasefire in November, they caused carnage within Labour due to a number of frontbenchers defying Starmer's instruction to abstain, and then inevitably resigning or being sacked.  By forcing another vote now, the SNP will flush Starmer out - have the horrors of recent weeks really made no difference to his refusal to unconditionally back an immediate ceasefire?

And if the answer to that question turns out to be "yes", the SNP will probably also be able to expose the sham autonomy of the Scottish Labour party.  The two Scottish Labour MPs, Ian Murray and Michael Shanks, both slavishly followed the London Labour whip in November and did not vote for a ceasefire.  If they do the same thing this time, the political consequences will be more severe, because they will not only be defying public opinion in Scotland, but also the express will of the Scottish Labour conference, which has just voted in favour of an immediate ceasefire.  There could hardly be a more vivid demonstration that Scottish Labour MPs will always be Starmer's men and women in Scotland, rather than Scotland's voices (or even Scottish Labour's voices for that matter) within a Labour government.

Could the independence movement possibly avoid the slow-motion version of shooting itself in the foot in the Western Isles?

Although the Find Out Now MRP poll the other day was unusually - and some would say unrealistically - positive for the SNP, one dark cloud it still showed on the horizon was the projection that Labour would narrowly gain Na h-Eileanan an Iar.  There's something rather poignant about that, because traditionally the Western Isles (as the constituency used to be known) was a seat the SNP often won even when they were doing badly nationally, rather than the other way around.  Indeed, the only reason we can say there has been continuous pro-independence representation in the House of Commons since the Hamilton by-election in 1967 is that the SNP gained the Western Isles in the 1970 general election while they were in the process of losing Hamilton back to Labour.  It was also one of only two seats they retained anywhere in Scotland during the wilderness years between 1979 and 1987.  Although they eventually lost it when Donald Stewart retired in 1987, they took it back with Angus MacNeil in 2005, at a time when they were only winning six seats nationally.  They held it in 2010 in a similarly unpromising national context.

For clarity, here is the exact projection for Na h-Eileanan an Iar from Find Out Now - 

Labour 40%
SNP 38%
Conservatives 10%
Greens 4%
Liberal Democrats 3%
Others 5%

So on the face of it, all is not yet lost, and it's a very tight race.  But the problem is that these numbers are not fully factoring in the division in the pro-independence camp, with Angus MacNeil now standing as an independent candidate (albeit loosely allied to Alba under the Scotland United banner), and the SNP idiotically insisting on splitting the Yes vote by standing against him.  The 5% for 'others' is unusually high compared to most other constituencies, so it can be assumed that a lot of that is support for MacNeil - however that will just be the tip of the iceberg.  MRP constituency projections work by 'topping up'  the answers of respondents from the constituency itself with answers of respondents from elsewhere, and assuming they would vote the same way irrespective of where they live - which of course is a bogus assumption in this particular case.  So the 38% for the SNP can be assumed to be significantly inflated due to the involvement of respondents from outside the constituency - but even to the extent that it's based on interviews inside the constituency, a lot of those people may not know or may have forgotten that Angus MacNeil is no longer the SNP candidate.

Given the importance of the personal vote in the Western Isles, it's actually pretty likely that Mr MacNeil will be the leading pro-independence candidate at the election and will thus be the only person with any chance of stopping Labour.  But if the SNP insist on standing, they're bound to attract non-trivial support too.  If we assume the pro-independence vote in the constituency is around 45%, and if it splits at around 27% for Mr MacNeil, 14% for the SNP, and 4% for the Greens, that's going to hand the seat on a silver platter to Labour's Torcuil Crichton, who based on past precedent might then hold the seat for the rest of his life, or until he decides to retire (or until independence if that comes first).

Before it's too late, the SNP have got to swallow their pride and give Mr MacNeil a free run.  They don't need to actively campaign for him - but just don't get in his way.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Astroturfing for Humza: he's supposed to have been "finding his feet" and "growing in sureness-of-touch" for longer than you might realise

When I switched pre-moderation off in the comments section of this blog a few weeks ago, my biggest concern about the decision was that it would allow comments from two very persistent trolls to become visible for the first time.  It may seem bizarre, but even though I wasn't publishing their comments and they therefore only had an audience of one (me), they weren't deterred and just carried on submitting comments regardless - and in the case of one of them, he continued doing so multiple times every day.

If you've been reading the comments section regularly, you'll probably have spotted the two individuals I'm talking about very easily.  One is a unionist troll who is naive enough to think he can drain the morale of independence supporters by constantly repeating lines like "time to forget this independence nonsense, it isn't happening".  He's almost certainly an Englishman who has spent very little time in Scotland, because his only reference point for this country appears to be "Nessie", which he mentions in around 20-30% of his comments.

But the second troll could not be more different.  He/she is a diehard SNP leadership loyalist whose sole mission appears to be to convince us that Humza Yousaf is "improving".  You'll have seen the stock lines that he/she has trotted out in recent weeks - Humza is "growing into the role", he is gaining "sureness of touch", and "we can all agree" on this.  Robin McAlpine mentioned in an article a few days ago that Yousaf's people are currently briefing that their man is "growing into his role" - and the use of those exact same words is a pretty obvious giveaway that our resident troll is astroturfing for Team Humza, perhaps on their direct instructions.

What you probably don't realise, though, is that it hasn't just been the last few weeks.  Before I switched pre-moderation off, exactly the same person had been regularly submitting comments with either the same or very similar stock lines, all the way back to last spring when Yousaf was narrowly elected leader.  I very rarely let those comments through, but I still have a record of them via email.  Here is a very small selection - 

30th April 2023: "It can. Humza has grown in sureness of touch."

26th May 2023: "Humza definitely finding his feet now. Excellent FMQs yesterday!"

24th June 2023: "Humza handled that heckler with stature and sureness-of-touch."

25th June 2023: "Humza was applauded to the rooftop yesterday and was excellent on Sky news this morning. He is growing in stature, standing and in sureness-of-touch."

17th October 2023: "Good speech by Humza - growing in stature and in sureness-of-touch"

17th October 2023: "Thought his speech was brilliant. He is growing in stature and sureness of touch."

18th October 2023: "Too negative on Humza. He made a great speech at conference and has steadied the ship."

So if this is an organised astroturfing operation by Team Humza, it was devised in the very earliest days of his leadership and has been ongoing ever since.  Question: if he was "finding his feet" in May last year, surely he would have well and truly found them by now?  If he was "growing in stature" in June last year, surely he would have attained his full height by now?

Thursday, February 15, 2024

More analysis of the remarkable Find Out Now MRP poll showing the SNP on course for 40 seats at the general election

Just a quick note to let you know I have an analysis piece in The National today about last night's Find Out Now MRP poll - you can read it HERE, and it's also in the print edition.

There was some discussion in the last thread about whether a projection of 40 seats for the SNP can really be considered a "landslide" given that it would be a drop of eight seats, and whether a projection of 13 seats for Labour can really be considered a "flop" given that it would be a gain of twelve seats.  This is an example of how the expectations game changes the supposed "meaning" of election results.  The 2017 result was objectively excellent for the SNP by historical standards, but the media were able to treat it as a disaster because everyone was expecting better.  At present, expectations for Labour in Scotland have gone sky-high, and thus if they fall well short of becoming the largest party, it's going to look like abject failure.  Conversely, 40 seats for the SNP would now strengthen rather than weaken Humza Yousaf's position.  I still don't think that's at all likely to be the outcome, especially not after an 'away fixture' campaign dominated by London media coverage of London parties.  But there's no doubt that there's now a genuine and important difference of opinion between different pollsters on the current state of play in Scotland.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Find Out Now MRP projection suggests SNP will win landslide, Labour will flop in Scotland, and the Tories will be wiped out

GB seats projection for next general election:

Labour 452 (+249)
Conservatives 80 (-285)
Liberal Democrats 53 (+42)
SNP 40 (-8)
Greens 2 (+1)

Scottish seats projection:

SNP 40 (-8)
Labour 13 (+12)
Liberal Democrats 4 (-)
Conservatives 0 (-6)

Labour's Britain-wide lead drops to just 12 points in new Savanta poll - warning shot for Starmer, or rogue poll?

GB-wide voting intentions for general election (Savanta, 9th-11th February 2024):

Labour 41% (-5)
Conservatives 29% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 11% (+1)
Reform UK 8% (-1)
SNP 3% (+1)
Greens 3% (-)

The simple enough answer to the question I posed in the title of this blogpost is that the poll is more likely to be an outlier than anything of huge concern for Starmer, because most recent polls from other firms do not show a similar slump in the Labour lead. However, there is one partial exception - a More In Common poll conducted between the 7th and 11th of this month shows the Labour lead dropping to 11 points.  More In Common are on the Tory-friendly end of the spectrum, so such a result is not as significant as it would be from another firm, but nevertheless it'll be worth keeping an eye on GB-wide polls in the coming days to see if this might be the start of a new trend.

One thing I do find interesting about the Savanta poll is that Reform UK have more than twice the support of the Greens, which is very different from the pattern shown by many polls.  It points to a theoretical path towards a more telling Tory recovery, because if the Tories prove able to squeeze the Reform UK vote as polling day approaches, Labour wouldn't be able to offset that by squeezing the Green vote.

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Before we finish, a reminder that the Scot Goes Pop opinion poll fundraiser urgently needs a boost - let's not leave it in limbo for months.  It's important that not all Scottish opinion polling is commissioned by anti-independence clients - we need to make sure that occasionally questions are asked that Yes supporters want asked.  Donations can be made via the fundraiser page HERE.

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Rachel Reeves' boy thinks asylum seekers should be dumped like nuclear waste in the north of Scotland - but BBC Scotland doesn't think it's a news story

Too cynical of me?  Well, both yesterday morning and yesterday afternoon I checked the BBC News Scotland homepage.  Excluding sport, there were 26 news stories listed, and not one of them was the revelation that the director of a Labour think tank (which boasts about having been "built" by a grim Rogue's Gallery of Starmerite MPs including Rachel Reeves, Wes Streeting and Lisa Nandy) wants asylum seekers treated as human trash and dumped in the north of Scotland, in much the same way that a Tory government once wanted to dump nuclear waste there.  It's hard to think of any other democratic country in the world where a national broadcaster wouldn't deem such remarks to be one of the top 26 news stories of the day.

In fairness, other parts of the mainstream media haven't played along with the BBC in burying the story to save Labour's blushes - it's reported in, for example, the Times, the Scotsman, and the Herald.  And with the power of social media, the LBC tweet in which the actual video of Josh Simons' comment appears has been viewed 1.9 million times. With comical predictability, the Daily Record have tried to turn the story on its head by portraying Anas Sarwar as a Rambo-type figure "slapping down" Simons.  But anyone who thinks Sarwar carries more authority than Simons in the Labour party under Keir Starmer is utterly deluded.  Wikipedia describes Labour Together as a "highly influential group upon the current Labour Party, and [is] seen as an "incubator" of its next manifesto".

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Before we finish, a reminder that the Scot Goes Pop opinion poll fundraiser urgently needs a boost - let's not leave it in limbo for months.  It's important that not all Scottish opinion polling is commissioned by anti-independence clients - we need to make sure that occasionally questions are asked that Yes supporters want asked.  Donations can be made via the fundraiser page HERE.

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Monday, February 12, 2024

Would you like HIM to be the cat? Starmer's purity police may have just handed George Galloway a real chance of winning the Rochdale by-election

I said in a blogpost earlier today that Labour's decision not to withdraw support from Azhar Ali in the Rochdale by-election had made the SNP's decision to instantly suspend Neale Hanvey in 2019 look even more ridiculous and extreme.  I spoke too soon, because it seems Labour under Starmer will never, ever allow itself to be outdone as far as purity on the "antisemitism" question is concerned.  They've belatedly pulled the plug on Ali which effectively means - extraordinarily - that they're fully disengaging from a by-election in a Labour-held seat.  It's important to stress, though, that Ali will remain the Labour candidate on the ballot paper (just as Hanvey remained the SNP candidate in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath) so the reports claiming he'll now be an independent candidate are technically inaccurate.  It's just that he'll have to campaign without official Labour support and presumably won't receive the Labour whip if elected.

The first question that formed in my mind when I heard the news was whether Gorgeous George Galloway may now have a genuine chance of returning as an MP.  His candidacy previously threatened to embarrass Starmer, but that embarrassment would perhaps have come in the form of a strong second or third place.  Few serious commentators really expected Galloway to win outright, but that may change if his star power (of sorts) no longer has to compete with a Labour campaign.  I've just checked the Betfair exchange, and he's currently odds-on favourite at 1.69.

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Before we finish, a reminder that the Scot Goes Pop opinion poll fundraiser urgently needs a boost - let's not leave it in limbo for months.  It's important that not all Scottish opinion polling is commissioned by anti-independence clients - we need to make sure that occasionally questions are asked that Yes supporters want asked.  Donations can be made via the fundraiser page HERE.

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The contrast between Labour's ongoing support for Azhar Ali and the SNP's instant withdrawal of support for Neale Hanvey in 2019 underscores how fundamentally unserious the SNP leadership were about pursuing independence five years ago

For me and a number of others who left the SNP to join Alba in 2021, there had been several steps along the way that made us realise that the SNP leadership were running away from the delivery of independence, and in its place were prioritising identity politics and virtue signalling.  Most obvious was the decision to allow Scotland to be dragged out of the EU against its will in January 2020, having repeatedly promised that was the one thing they would never allow to happen, and without any plan for urgent remedial steps in the months thereafter.  

I've never been remotely impressed by the oft-repeated Bath'ist fantasy that the SNP could have exploited their position in the 2017-19 hung parliament to cut a deal with Theresa May that would have paved the way for the delivery of Brexit in return for a second independence referendum in Scotland.  No such deal was ever available or feasible - May would have rejected it out of hand for her own ideological reasons, but even if she hadn't, she would never have been able to sell it to her parliamentary party.  So, no, the SNP couldn't have brought about independence via an unholy arrangement with the Tory government, but what they could and should have done was bring the issue of an independence referendum to a head before January 2020.  They should have legislated for a vote, and if the Supreme Court had blocked it, they should have then moved swiftly towards the Plan B of using an election as a de facto referendum.  Why didn't they?  Because they were scared of their own shadows after the shock they received at the 2017 general election, which had been unexpectedly called just after Nicola Sturgeon "called a referendum" (sic).  In fact, they gave every indication of having been psychologically broken by the 2017 election result, which was absolutely ludicrous given that by any objective standard the SNP had actually done exceptionally well.  They had won a majority of seats for only the second time in their history, and the scale of that majority was roughly on a par with the Thatcher landslide of 1987.

Another key step along the way to my decision to leave the SNP and join Alba was the sacking and subsequent brutal treatment of Joanna Cherry in February 2021.  That was a real moment of clarity for me when I realised the extent to which the SNP leadership faction had elevated their own identity politics preoccupations above the pursuit of independence.  But there had also been a similarly eye-opening incident just over a year before that, during the 2019 general election campaign, when the SNP candidate for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath - Neale Hanvey - was instantly hung out to dry upon being accused of antisemitism on rather spurious grounds that mostly centred on a careless retweet.  It was too late to remove him as a candidate, but instead they suspended him from the party, withdrew all support for his candidacy and left him to effectively run as an independent in the (wrong) belief and hope that this would inevitably lead to his defeat at the hands of Labour Shadow Cabinet member Lesley Laird.  I expressed my intense exasperation with that decision at the time on this blog - I pointed out that if the SNP leadership were serious about using the election to deliver independence (which I now realise they weren't), every single seat was vital and they couldn't afford to chuck away crucial marginal seats like confetti in a virtue-signalling exercise.  What they should have done was lived with a bit of transient discomfort and reaffirmed their support for their candidate.

Now here's the irony.  A very similar situation has just cropped up for Labour under Keir Starmer. Their candidate for the forthcoming Rochdale by-election, Azhar Ali, has been accused of antisemitism, but it's too late to replace him.  As with Neale Hanvey, the allegation is bogus, but at least what Ali did amounts to a bit more than a retweet.  The pro-Israel lobby have reacted by demanding that Labour do to Ali essentially what the SNP did to Hanvey by suspending him and abandoning all support for his candidacy, even though that would effectively mean withdrawing Labour from the by-election.  But remarkably, Labour have said no.  They've criticised Ali's comment and said he was right to apologise, but other than that they've backed him to the hilt and reaffirmed their support for him as Labour candidate.  

The current Labour leadership are noted for their obsessive 'zero tolerance' approach to antisemitism allegations, no matter how spurious or tenuous, but even they have felt able to draw the line in a politically more realistic way than the SNP managed when a crucial parliamentary seat was at stake.  Retrospectively, that tells us something quite powerful about just how (un)serious the SNP leadership were about the pursuit of independence in 2019.

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Before we finish, a reminder that the Scot Goes Pop opinion poll fundraiser urgently needs a boost - let's not leave it in limbo for months.  It's important that not all Scottish opinion polling is commissioned by anti-independence clients - we need to make sure that occasionally questions are asked that Yes supporters want asked.  Donations can be made via the fundraiser page HERE.

However if you have a Paypal account the best way to donate is via direct Paypal payment, because that can totally eliminate fees depending on which option you select, and payment usually comes through instantly.  My Paypal email address is:

Saturday, February 10, 2024

The colonialist British state broadcaster in action: how BBC chiefs in *Salford* overruled BBC Scotland at the last minute to prevent Scots from watching their own national curling championships

Last night, you might have seen on Twitter a last-minute announcement that the semi-finals and finals of the Scottish Curling Championships would not after all be live-streamed on the BBC Sport website, as had been expected and as has happened in previous years.  The issue seemed to be the event's sponsorship by an alcohol brand, and lots of different people quickly pointed out the obvious double-standard - the BBC have no problem at all giving lavish coverage to the "Guinness Six Nations" and indeed did so again this very day as the curling finals were taking place.  It seems to be one rule for the most popular sports and another rule for minority sports - even though it's the minority sports that desperately need sponsorship the most.  When they succeed in getting it, they're penalised by the BBC and starved of the TV coverage they desperately need just as much.  It's crazy.

However, it turns out there's a little bit more to this story.  I actually went to Dumfries for the curling finals today, and by chance I found myself sitting within earshot of someone who, let's say, seems to be ideally placed to know just about everything that goes on in Scottish curling.  He revealed that BBC Scotland were totally happy to go ahead with livestreaming of the event and had no problem with the sponsorship issue, but were overruled by BBC Sport headquarters, which these days is based in Salford in Greater Manchester.  That explains the shock last-minute nature of the decision.

Can there be a more perfect example of why the BBC is institutionally incapable of serving its Scottish audiences adequately?  This event is a Scottish-only championship for a sport that in UK terms is played almost exclusively in Scotland.  If ever there was a decision that should have been made by BBC Scotland, and BBC Scotland alone, without any possibility of a veto from on high, this was it.  If there were rules about sponsorship to be applied, BBC Scotland should have been the ones to interpret them and to weigh them against the cultural importance of the event.  It sounds like they initially did just that and decided the livestream should go ahead.  That should have been the end of the matter, and "Salford" shouldn't even have come into it.

The other controversy surrounding the curling finals was the scrapping of the decades-long tradition that the winning teams automatically get to represent Scotland at the subsequent World Championships.  Instead, a selection panel will make the decision and the results of the national championships will be only one of the factors taken into account.  Most of the spectators today seemed to be deeply unhappy about that development, not least because they feel it devalues the national championships. (I must admit that I reacted that way myself - when I saw that selection for the worlds was no longer directly at stake, I almost had second thoughts about going today, because the competition suddenly seemed less important and prestigious than when I had previously gone to a couple of finals days in Perth.)

But the well-connected chap I was overhearing explained that the rule change was the result of a memorandum of understanding with "British Curling", which oversees Team GB curling participation in the Olympics.  He went on to add that "British Curling" also have a representative on the selection panel that will decide which teams represent Scotland at the World Championships.  That strikes me as downright odd.  OK, well over 90% of "British curlers" are in Scotland, so British Curling is presumably a heavily Scottish-dominated organisation.  But as a matter of principle, a British governing body should not be deciding the composition of Scottish representative teams when there is a Scottish governing body there to do the job.

I also formed the impression from what was said (and admittedly the guy was speaking quietly at this point so I may have got the wrong end of the stick) that it's a foregone conclusion that Bruce Mouat's team, the reigning World and European champions, will be selected as Team Scotland for the men's worlds, even though they suffered a shock defeat in the semi-final this week.  This is apparently because the statistics that will be looked at are firmly in their favour, and show that they usually "get over the line".

Leaving aside the issue of the devaluing of the national championships, I'm not sure how I feel about this rule change.  On the one hand, there have been any number of occasions in the past when the Scottish national champions have clearly not been the best team in the country and have frustratingly gone on to have very poor results at the worlds.  But on the other hand, these instances of the 'wrong teams' going to the worlds allowed a much greater range of players to gain valuable international experience.  That may no longer happen, and there's a real danger of 'fossilisation' if the same team is always selected irrespective of any runs of poor form.  The same danger applies on the women's side, incidentally, because Rebecca Morrison's team is the totally dominant women's team in Scotland at the moment - and yet if the traditional rule had applied, she wouldn't be going to the worlds.  She had a horror show today and was resoundingly beaten in the final by Team Henderson.

As you won't have seen it on the BBC, here are a few photos from today...

Friday, February 9, 2024

How are SNP voters from 2019 planning to vote now?

There are some curious comments from Professor John Curtice quoted in The National today.  As a commenter on the previous thread wryly put it, Curtice "argues both for and against the narrative that the SNP is losing voters straight to Labour".  Understandably, The National have chosen to headline the part where he argues against that narrative and states that Labour's gains in Scotland can be traced back to the Trussmageddon period.  But I think that's going to lead to people getting the false impression that Labour have only been gaining votes from the Tories, whereas in fact Curtice points out himself that a substantial number of SNP voters from 2019 have switched to Labour.  I would guess what he really means is that the Trussmageddon generated so much momentum behind Labour in England that it started to affect the SNP v Labour battle in Scotland, and some voters who would otherwise have stuck with the SNP started moving across to Labour.

There are two facts that are fairly undeniable in all this -

1) The SNP are currently polling around ten percentage points lower on average than the vote share they received at the 2019 general election.  Self-evidently, such a drop doesn't happen as a result of Tory voters switching to Labour.  The only way it can happen is if SNP voters switch to other parties and/or move to the undecided column.

2) Many polls show that the extra voters Labour have picked up since 2019 have come more from the SNP than from unionist parties.  For example, in this week's Redfield & Wilton poll, the composition of Labour's current support is as follows - 

Only 49.6% actually voted Labour in 2019

27.1% voted SNP in 2019

9.3% voted Conservative in 2019

4.7% voted Liberal Democrat in 2019

0.4% voted Green in 2019

8.9% did not vote in 2019 (this probably includes people who were not eligible to vote because they were under 18 at the time)

So of the votes that have gone to Labour from other parties, the lion's share has come from the SNP - although admittedly the Ipsos poll showed a somewhat different pattern.

Or we can also look at this the other way round, and see what Redfield & Wilton are saying has happened to SNP voters from 2019.  These numbers are not directly comparable with the ones above, because undecideds haven't been stripped out.

How SNP voters from 2019 are planning to vote now:

SNP 61%
Labour 20%
Don't Know 9%
Liberal Democrats 3%
Greens 2%
Reform UK 2%
Alba 1%
Conservatives 1%
Won't Vote 1%

One thing that leaps out here is that Don't Knows reverting to their previous party between now and the election are unlikely to be a get-out-of-jail-free card for the SNP.  Although the 9% of SNP voters from 2019 who are now undecided are greater in number than the 4% of Labour voters from 2019 who are undecided, that gap is not big enough to plausibly make a transformative difference.  

It's tempting to say on these numbers that Labour are the SNP's only real problem, but in fact almost one-third of SNP voters who have switched to other parties have gone to parties other than Labour - it's just that this one-third are spread around fairly evenly.  Only a small number have gone to Alba, and as I've said before, if Alba are going to justify to the independence movement their decision to make a significant intervention in a first-past-the-post election, they need to start demonstrating that they're picking up substantial numbers of disgruntled former SNP voters who would otherwise be going to Labour or abstaining.  If it instead looks like Alba are just taking a very small percentage of people who would otherwise vote SNP, that's not going to look like a constructive intervention at all.

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Thursday, February 8, 2024

Don't Ski Back In Anger

A few days ago, I posted a critique of some polling analysis written by "Scottish Skier", formerly a regular in the comments section of this blog, and since 2021 a regular in the comments section of the Wee Ginger Dug blog.  Basically Skier claimed that the polls are completely wrong and that SNP voters have not been switching to Labour.  That's a very difficult claim to take seriously, given that even yesterday's Ipsos poll, which used a completely different data collection method from other polls, shows that the SNP lead over Labour is much smaller than it was at the last general election, and that a substantial 14% of people who voted SNP in 2019 are now planning to vote Labour.

I'm grateful to "Independence for Scotland" for alerting me to the fact that Skier has responded to my piece.  I took a look, and it really is quite an astoundingly angry and bitter reply.  Ironically, Skier has instantly resorted to what might be called the Bath'ist playbook.  He apparently has no plausible argument to offer against the critique, so instead he's tried to pathologise the critique by suggesting its very existence is evidence of "stalking" or of mental illness.  I'd just gently point out to him that he regularly posts what purports to be serious polling analysis in a prominent public space where it is presumably read by hundreds of people at the very least.  If you go down that road, you can reasonably expect your work may well be critiqued in other public spaces, and there's nothing unnatural or weird about that.  If the "stalking" schtick is a tactic to try to deter me from writing similar critiques in the future, I'm afraid it's likely to have precisely the opposite effect, as the Bath'ists themselves have previously discovered.

In his reply, Skier makes one specific claim about me that I can only describe as defamatory, and another claim that I'm highly dubious about.  The defamatory claim is that I was adjudged three years ago to have been guilty of a breach of contract.  That's a ludicrous allegation without any basis in fact whatsoever. I've actually seen the correspondence he's referring to, because he either sent it to me at the time or published it somewhere, and it quite simply does not contain the statement he claims it contains.  Nor does it contain anything that could even plausibly be construed in that way.

The claim I'm merely dubious about is Skier's suggestion that he put it to me that he and I should "team up for some joint work in the past when I used to post there, but he told me where to go".  I'm reluctant to call that a second outright lie, because I can't totally rule out the possibility that something like that happened and I've somehow completely forgotten about it, but I very much doubt that's the case.  In fact I distinctly remember that just a few weeks before he threw his toys out of the pram about me joining the Alba Party, I had been seriously considering asking him if he'd like to team up for multiple episodes of an election podcast about polling.  Although I've always thought some of his ideas about polling are a bit wacky and fantastical, he's neverthless an articulate and provocative character, and I thought a joint podcast might work quite well.  So if I was thinking along those lines, it seems pretty unlikely that I would have "told him where to go" if he had come to me with his own proposal.  Obviously my reaction would have depended on the exact nature of the proposal, but I very much doubt I would have said anything like "sod off", so what he's claiming just doesn't have the ring of truth to it at all.

What really does worry me, though, is that Skier goes on to double down on his claim that SNP voters haven't switched to Labour, because he can't think of any motivation for them to have done so.  Several other WGD commenters are in complete and vigorous agreement with him on that point. What it reminds me of is Tories who reject polls showing support for independence because "I never meet anyone who supports independence" or "I can't see any good reason why anyone rational would support independence".  Such claims always say much more about the people who make them - about their narrow-mindedness, their lack of imagination and empathy, or their limited social circle.

Anyone who thinks people can be expected to continue voting SNP by default (unless they have a reason for voting Labour that is strong enough to pass the "Skier test") is potentially in for a very rude awakening, and so I just hope the delusion doesn't extend to the SNP leadership itself.  Many voters actually have the opposite default setting in Westminster elections - they'd be inclined to vote either Labour or Tory, depending on who they want in Downing Street, and it takes something quite special to get them to consider any other party.  There have indeed been special circumstances over the last three general elections that have worked in the SNP's favour, but most of those have gone now.  For example, the SNP no longer have a leader who is far more liked and trusted than the counterparts from other parties. They're no longer up against a Labour party thought to have little or no chance of winning in England.  Their only real hope is to offset the loss of these advantages by making a strategic shift that can galvanise the Yes vote - and that has to mean a big and credible offer on independence.

I can at least thank Skier for one thing, though.  I genuinely burst into prolonged, uncontrollable laughter when I saw that he had said of me: "If he ever shows his findings via graphs etc, I’d be interested in a head’s up. I don’t know how any analysis can be sensibly presented without this."  Never let it be said that our noted graph enthusiast is a walking caricature or anything like that.  "If it's not in a graph, it doesn't exist!"

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Redfield & Wilton poll: support for independence holds up well at 48%, but doubts mount over whether it would be wise for Yousaf to lead the SNP into the general election, as his personal ratings plummet

After the unalloyed good news for the independence movement from the Ipsos telephone poll earlier today, the monthly Redfield & Wilton poll contains much less encouraging numbers, although they're not unrecoverable.  The one bright spot is that, yet again, Yes support is holding up astoundingly well in the circumstances - although, curiously, Redfield & Wilton's write-up tries to paint that as part of the bad news story!

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Redfield & Wilton, 3rd-4th February 2024)

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

In the Westminster voting intentions, Labour have moved from being level with the SNP in the last Redfield & Wilton poll to being one point ahead now.  That's only of symbolic importance, because they were also slightly ahead in the last-but-one poll, so the changes over the last couple of months have been statistically insignificant, and the likelihood is that public opinion has been fairly stable, with the SNP and Labour more or less level (assuming Redfield & Wilton's methodology is on the money), or possibly with Labour holding a very small lead.  

Scottish voting intentions for next UK general election:

Labour 34% (-1)
SNP 33% (-2)
Conservatives 18% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-1)
Reform UK 4% (+2)
Greens 2% (-)
Alba 1% (n/a)

Seats projection (with changes from 2019 general election): Labour 28 (+27), SNP 17 (-31), Conservatives 7 (+1), Liberal Democrats 5 (+1)

The problem for the SNP is that the voting system works firmly in Labour's favour when the two parties are level-pegging.  The SNP would need to be perhaps three or so points ahead to remain the largest single party in terms of seats, and more than that to retain their overall majority.  So as things stand, Redfield & Wilton undoubtedly have the SNP on course to lose the election, but not by much in the sense of the small percentage of votes that is actually swinging the balance.

How could the SNP claw back the very modest number of votes that would be required to squeeze out a win?  The obvious answer is a change of leadership.  Last month's Redfield & Wilton poll briefly offered some hope that Humza Yousaf was entering the territory of respectability in his personal ratings, perhaps due to his principled stance on the Gaza conflict.  But this month he's plummetted back down from -6 to a dismal -17, which leaves him twenty points behind the awful Keir Starmer, who inexplicably has a positive rating (+3).  With the best will in the world, that gap must be having an effect on how the SNP are faring against Labour.  Although Kate Forbes wasn't asked about in this poll, we know from previous polling that she is considerably more popular with the public than Yousaf, so there is a genuine remedy available if the SNP are smart and brave enough to take it.  SNP parliamentarians need to urgently get out of the mindset of thinking about what is best for their own faction, and start thinking about the steps needed to save their party from an avoidable disaster at the ballot box.

Even though Yousaf has usually trailed Anas Sarwar on net personal ratings, he's consistently led Sarwar on an alternative head-to-head question regularly asked by Redfield & Wilton about who would make the better First Minister.  Yousaf's cheerleaders ought to be particularly disturbed that he's now lost his lead on that question for the very first time.

At this moment, which of the following individuals do you think would be the better First Minister of Scotland?

Humza Yousaf (SNP): 33% (-)
Anas Sarwar (Labour): 33% (+2)

Even in the head-to-head against the spectacularly unpopular Douglas Ross, there isn't exactly a commanding lead for Yousaf - 

Humza Yousaf (SNP): 39% (-)
Douglas Ross (Conservatives): 28% (+2)

Yousaf also seems to be leading the SNP into dodgy enough territory in Scottish Parliament voting intentions that Labour would be on the brink of power...

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 35% (-2)
Labour 33% (+1)
Conservatives 18% (-)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-)
Greens 3% (-)
Reform UK 3% (+2)
Alba 1% (+1)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

Labour 29% (-1)
SNP 27% (+2)
Conservatives 16% (-1)
Greens 9% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 9% (-1)
Reform UK 5%
Alba 3% (+1)

Seats projection (with changes from 2021 election): Labour 42 (+20), SNP 41 (-23), Conservatives 21 (-10), Liberal Democrats 12 (+8), Greens 10 (+2), Reform UK 3 (+3)

If a result like that occurred, the SNP probably wouldn't publicly give up on retaining power straight away, but their path to staying in office would in practice be non-existent.  There would be a clear unionist majority, and Labour would have the moral authority of being the largest single party.  The Tories probably wouldn't even have to actively vote for Anas Sarwar for him to become First Minister, because Labour and the Lib Dems in combination (54 seats) would outcount the SNP and Greens (51 seats).  As long as Sarwar could count on Lib Dem votes, all the Tories would have to do is abstain, and Sarwar would win.

It's also something of a shock to the system to see Reform UK on course to win multiple list seats, although better news is that Alba are on 3% of the list vote, putting them in the sort of zone where they might get a seat somewhere if they're lucky.

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Before we finish, a reminder that the Scot Goes Pop opinion poll fundraiser urgently needs a boost - let's not leave it in limbo for months.  It's important that not all Scottish opinion polling is commissioned by anti-independence clients - we need to make sure that occasionally questions are asked that Yes supporters want asked.  Donations can be made via the fundraiser page HERE.

However if you have a Paypal account the best way to donate is via direct Paypal payment, because that can totally eliminate fees depending on which option you select, and payment usually comes through instantly.  My Paypal email address is:

"We demand independence!": dramatic message from Scottish public as sensational new Ipsos TELEPHONE poll is FIFTH in a row to show outright majority for Yes

As I suspected from Kevin Pringle's retweet this morning, the new Ipsos telephone poll for STV News does indeed extend the unbroken sequence of Ipsos polls showing an outright pro-independence majority - it's now five in a row, or seven of the last eight.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Ipsos / STV News, 25th-31st January 2024)

Yes 53% (-1)
No 47% (+1)

If rounded to one decimal place (a practice the Daily Express and the "press regulator" IPSO thoroughly approve of, let's not forget!) the numbers are even better - Yes 53.3%, No 46.7%.  The turnout filter has worked firmly in the favour of Yes, though - before that was applied, the lead was tighter.

Journalism is to a large extent about choosing priorities, about deciding for readers and viewers which stories and which aspects of stories are worthy of their attention, so I think a few eyebrows are going to be raised at how STV have framed this poll on their website.  The independence numbers are mentioned fleetingly, almost as an afterthought or as if they are of no great interest, and the Yes lead is dismissively described as "small".  Is a six point lead actually "small"?  Admittedly it's not overwhelming, it doesn't show a Yes camp which has surged out of sight, but I think "small" is pushing it.

STV could also have deemed the most interesting aspect of this poll to be the fact that it continues to show the SNP with some sort of cushion over Labour in Westminster voting intentions, which significantly undermines the narrative coming from practically all online polls that Labour have either wiped out the SNP lead or whittled it down to almost nothing.  But they've chosen not to make viewers aware of that context and have instead focussed almost entirely on the fact that Labour have slightly cut the deficit since the last Ipsos poll.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election:

SNP 39% (-1)
Labour 32% (+2)
Conservatives 14% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-)
Greens 4% (+1)
Reform UK 3% (+2)
Alba 1% (-1)
Seats projection (with changes from 2019 general election): SNP 40 (-8), Labour 13 (+12), Liberal Democrats 2 (-2), Conservatives 2 (-4)

It's tempting to think that as the only telephone pollster active in Scotland at the moment, Ipsos may be more accurate than other firms, and that the above numbers may be a signal that the SNP could yet get out of jail and come through their current predicament with their status as majority party in Scotland, and third largest party in the Commons, intact.  That's certainly possible, but past history doesn't really tell us one way or the other.  The final Ipsos poll of 2019 was reasonably accurate but not really more so than other firms.  In 2017 Ipsos substantially overestimated the SNP lead - but then so did almost everyone else.

It should also be noted that even if Ipsos are right and other firms are wrong, the SNP would be left with very little in the way of a safety net.  Due to how the voting system works, any further slippage in their support would put them in line for very substantial seat losses and the likely loss of their majority.

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 39% (-)
Labour 30% (+3)
Conservatives 14% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 7% (-1)
Greens 6% (+2)
Alba 1% (-2)
Reform UK 1% (-)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 33% (-)
Labour 31% (+5)
Conservatives 13% (-2)
Greens 11% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 7% (-1)
Reform UK 2% (+1)
Alba 1% (-1)

Seats projection (with changes from 2021 election): SNP 55 (-9), Labour 41 (+19), Conservatives 15 (-16), Greens 10 (+2), Liberal Democrats 8 (+4)

Incredibly, and completely out of line with what online polls have been showing of late, the seats projection suggests the pro-independence majority at Holyrood would be maintained, albeit only just.  Pro-independence parties in combination would have 65 seats, while the unionist parties would have 64.  So there's not much doubt that an SNP-led government would also be maintained on these numbers.

It shouldn't go unnoticed just how desperately bad this poll is for the Conservative party - they're in line to lose more than half of their Holyrood seats, and they've almost been overtaken by the Greens in the popular vote on the list ballot.

As you'd expect from a poll that still shows a substantial SNP lead, the data tables for the Westminster question show a strikingly different pattern of vote-switching from online polls that have reported a more even race.  The SNP have actually retained almost as big a proportion of their 2019 vote (75%) as Labour have (77%).  Just 14% of SNP voters from 2019 are now in the Labour column, which is only slightly bigger than the 13% of Labour voters from 2019 who now plan to vote SNP.  However, because far more people voted SNP in 2019 than voted Labour, that still means in absolute terms that around twice as many people have switched from SNP to Labour as have moved in the opposite direction.  

Another key difference with online polls is that the raw number of respondents who have moved from Conservative to Labour since the last general election (26) is almost as many as those who have moved from SNP to Labour (33).  Additionally, the percentage of 2014 Yes voters, and also of current Yes voters, who plan to vote Labour is smaller than online polls suggest at 17% and 14% respectively.  All in all, then, Ipsos are suggesting Labour's coalition of support remains a touch more unionist in character than we've seen in data tables from online polls.

Among Remain voters from the 2016 EU referendum, the SNP still lead Labour but only by 45% to 34%.  That's a bafflingly small gap given that Labour are now a firmly pro-Brexit party, and perhaps points to an area where the SNP could gain some traction if they change their campaign priorities and start aggressively reminding voters of what Labour's stance on Europe actually is.

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Before we finish, a reminder that the Scot Goes Pop opinion poll fundraiser urgently needs a boost - let's not leave it in limbo for months.  It's important that not all Scottish opinion polling is commissioned by anti-independence clients - we need to make sure that occasionally questions are asked that Yes supporters want asked.  Donations can be made via the fundraiser page HERE.

However if you have a Paypal account the best way to donate is via direct Paypal payment, because that can totally eliminate fees depending on which option you select, and payment usually comes through instantly.  My Paypal email address is:

Ipsos poll incoming - could it be a fifth Yes-majority poll in a row?

Back in the days of the indyref, the way you could tell a few hours in advance, and with a high degree of reliability, whether a poll was going to be favourable for Yes or for No was by looking at who retweeted the references to it.  If Kevin Pringle retweeted it, it would be good for Yes, or if someone like Ruth Davidson retweeted it, it would be good for No.

Earlier today, Emily Gray of Ipsos tweeted that her firm has a new Scottish poll coming out - I would guess this is one of the regular series of polls for STV News.  Kevin Pringle then retweeted her.  I hope I'm not tempting fate, but given that the last four Ipsos polls in a row, and indeed six of the last seven, have shown an outright Yes lead, it seems unlikely that Mr Pringle would retweet if that pattern hadn't been maintained.  However, he could of course be thinking more of the party political voting intention numbers, because the last Ipsos poll differed from most other firms by showing a substantial SNP lead for the general election.

It seems pretty likely that the poll will be good for either Yes or the SNP, or possibly both.  Time will tell - check back to Scot Goes Pop later today to find out.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

It's official: the Norstat independence poll has Yes drawing level on 50% of the vote

You might remember that about ten days ago, the Sunday Times published a poll from Norstat, which recently took over Panelbase.  On the independence question, it showed Yes closing the gap to just one percentage point before the exclusion of Don't Knows - which raised the obvious possibility that Yes might have drawn level at 50/50 on the rounded headline numbers after Don't Knows were stripped out.  However, it was impossible to know because for some reason the Sunday Times didn't bother to mention those numbers in their write-up of the poll (or they didn't as far as I could see).

I drew a blank when I initially looked for the Norstat data tables last week, but I've just found them, and the headline result is the one we were hoping for.

Should Scotland be an independent country?  (Norstat / Sunday Times, 22nd-25th January 2024)

Yes 50% (+2)
No 50% (-2)

Rounded to one decimal place, the figures are Yes 49.6%, No 50.4%.

I also couldn't find any sign of percentages for Alba in the Sunday Times write-up, which I had assumed meant that Alba weren't even offered as an option to respondents.  However, it turns out they were offered as an option on the Holyrood list question, and were on 3% of the vote.  It's difficult to know how to interpret that, because Panelbase typically produced more favourable results for Alba than other polling firms, often as high as 5% or 6%, so if Norstat have continued with exactly the same methodology as Panelbase, 3% should arguably be seen as a slightly disappointing result for Alba.  However, that's a very big "if".

Also of interest in the data tables is the further evidence of how complex Labour's coalition of support has become, which may prove to be a major problem for them either before or after the general election.  Among likely voters, no fewer than 25% of Yessers from 2014 are now planning to vote Labour, as are 19% of people who would vote Yes in a new referendum right now, and indeed 20% of people who voted SNP in the 2019 general election.  In terms of raw numbers, 54 respondents have switched from SNP to Labour since 2019, compared to only 28 who have switched from Tory to Labour.  We know from the independence question that many of those SNP-to-Labour switchers must still be pro-indy, which means Labour are actually more reliant on Yes voters than on unionists if they wish to make progress in this election.  That puts them in an awkward position given that their default setting is to pump out relentless Brit Nat propaganda which would be far more likely to appeal to former Tory voters.

Amusingly, it looks like the Sunday Times asked for a downright leading question to be asked as one of the supplementaries, but still didn't get the result they wanted or probably expected.  Respondents were asked if they would support the reintroduction of university tuition fees or a graduate tax "if it led to more university places for Scottish students", but even with that extremely strong nudge they still said no by a margin of 43% to 33%.

*  *  *

Before we finish, a reminder that the Scot Goes Pop opinion poll fundraiser urgently needs a boost - let's not leave it in limbo for months.  It's important that not all Scottish opinion polling is commissioned by anti-independence clients - we need to make sure that occasionally questions are asked that Yes supporters want asked.  Donations can be made via the fundraiser page HERE.

However if you have a Paypal account the best way to donate is via direct Paypal payment, because that can totally eliminate fees depending on which option you select, and payment usually comes through instantly.  My Paypal email address is: