Friday, March 15, 2024

From 3rd May onwards, the Conservative government will owe its presence in office not to the will of the people but to the will of itself

Well, it's typical, isn't it.  Rather similar to the Azhar Ali incident, no sooner had I blogged about the chatter over a May election than Rishi Sunak had taken to the airwaves to rule it out.  I think technically he's only ruled out an election on the same day as the locals, so theoretically other dates in the spring remain possible.  But much more likely now is the autumn, which will mean an unusual juxtaposition between our own election and the US presidential election.

One thing that shouldn't go without note is that when the current parliament and government were elected in December 2019, the Fixed Term Parliaments Act was still in force, and 2nd May 2024 was thus fixed in law as the date of the following general election.  Voters were therefore choosing who they wanted to govern them until that date, but were expressing no view at all about what should happen thereafter.  It was well after the election that parliament voted to give the Prime Minister the power to extend his own term of office by up to eight months, and for the first time we now know for sure that he intends to take advantage of that power.  Which means that from 3rd May onwards, the government will owe its presence in office not to the will of the people but to the will of itself.

In peacetime, that is uncharted territory.  This is the sort of thing you'd expect to happen in Venezuela or Myanmar, not in an established Western European democracy.  Why it hasn't attracted more comment is beyond me.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Would an early general election improve or worsen the SNP's chances?

There was a bit of excitement yesterday about the possibility of a general election in May.  I said on Twitter that I couldn't think of any logical reason why Sunak would go early, rather than wait until the autumn in the hope that something might turn up.  OK, there's an outside chance of a Tory leadership challenge, and an early election would cut off that possibility - but an early election would also end Sunak's leadership anyway, thus defeating the whole purpose.  

Suzanne Blackley responded with a contrary view: she said Sunak would struggle to hold onto power until October and might be contemplating an early election as a way of resigning as Tory leader on his own terms.  Another Twitter user suggested the rationale might be to take advantage of the Tories' local government base by holding the general election on the same day as the English local elections, and thus get more boots on the ground.

I still think it's unlikely, but even if it's a 20% chance it's worth considering what the implications would be.  If yesterday's Redfield & Wilton poll is correct, it's not just the Tories who need something to turn up - the SNP do too, because they're currently heading for defeat, at least in terms of seats.  Not a crushing defeat, but a defeat just the same.  So from that perspective they might be better off with a few more months to see if they can devise a way of turning things around (hint: find a more popular leadership team and revert to a more radical independence strategy).

On the other hand, the earlier the election is, the more likely it is that Gaza will still be at the forefront of voters' minds.  For the vast majority of people that won't affect how they vote, but I suspect there's a subset of idealistic, mostly young voters out there who would struggle to vote Labour if Gaza was heavily in their thoughts.  A useful comparison might be with the 2003 Holyrood election, which took place only a few weeks after the invasion of Iraq.  The circumstances didn't stop Labour retaining their status as the largest single party, but they suffered a net loss of several seats, and some of that could be directly attributed to the war - most notably the defeat to Mike Pringle of the Liberal Democrats in Edinburgh South, a constituency with a large student population.

A similar phenomenon in a May election this year would be most likely to favour the SNP, and possibly the Greens - although because the Greens can't win seats, a Green surge would be much less harmful to Labour's chances of beating the SNP.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2024

More despair for Starmer as Labour loses its outright lead in Scotland, and support for independence remains high at 48% - but Humza Yousaf's worst personal numbers yet suggest the SNP must sort out its leadership problem *before* the general election

The monthly Redfield & Wilton poll is out, and in a continuation of the familiar pattern, support for independence is impressively high but just can't seem to break into the outright lead.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Redfield & Wilton)

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

Before Don't Knows are stripped out, the No lead has actually dipped slightly from four points to three.

On Westminster voting intentions, Redfield & Wilton have been oscillating recently between small Labour leads and level-pegging, and we're back once again to the latter today.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election:

SNP 34% (+1)
Labour 34% (-)
Conservatives 16% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-2)
Reform UK 4% (-)
Greens 4% (+2)
Alba 1% (-)

Seats projection (with changes from 2019 general election): Labour 27 (+26), SNP 20 (-28), Conservatives 6 (-), Liberal Democrats 4 (-)

As you can see from the seats projection, level-pegging just isn't quite good enough for the SNP, because when the two largest parties are closely matched, first-past-the-post starts working firmly in Labour's favour.

But what will concern the SNP more than the seats projection (or at least ought to) is Humza Yousaf's personal numbers, because headline voting intentions are often less predictive of election results than leadership ratings.  Last month's Redfield & Wilton poll showed Yousaf slumping to a new all-time low net rating of -17.  He essentially hasn't recovered from that at all this month, bouncing back only to -16.  

But it gets worse.  Redfield & Wilton also regularly ask alternative leadership questions, pitting Yousaf in separate head-to-heads with Anas Sarwar and Douglas Ross respectively.  Until last month, Yousaf had always come out on top on those questions, perhaps suggesting an underlying respect for his basic competence that the net ratings don't pick up.  But last month, Anas Sarwar drew level with him for the first time, and this month Sarwar has overtaken him for the first time.

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

Anas Sarwar 32% (-1)
Humza Yousaf 31% (-2) 

Arguably even more dismal is the head-to head with Ross.  Here Yousaf clings on to a six-point lead, but that is staggeringly low in the context of the current Tory unpopularity, and also in the context of Ross being widely regarded as a joke leader.

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

Humza Yousaf 36% (-3) 
Douglas Ross 30% (+2) 

We all know Yousaf is only where he is for factional reasons, ie. the ruling Sturgeon faction identified him as their least worst candidate available and pulled out all the stops to get him installed as leader.  But there comes a point where the electoral crisis is great enough that factional interest has to give way to party interest.  There is simply no point in retaining factional control of a party that cannot win at the ballot box.  There are no guarantees, but if Yousaf is replaced by a more popular leader (probably Kate Forbes) before the general election, the likelihood is that the SNP vote will recover a bit, and that might make the difference between defeat and victory.  And even if Yousaf stays in harness, bringing an end to factional rule by appointing a unity Cabinet with Forbes in a senior position could have some positive effect.

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 35% (-)
Labour 31% (-2)
Conservatives 18% (-)
Liberal Democrats 5% (-3)
Reform UK 4% (+1)
Alba 3% (+2)
Greens 3% (-)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

Labour 29% (-)
SNP 28% (+1)
Conservatives 16% (-)
Greens 9% (-)
Liberal Democrats 9% (-)
Reform UK 5% (-)
Alba 3% (-)

Seats projection (with changes from 2021 election): SNP 42 (-22), Labour 41 (+19), Conservatives 21 (-10), Liberal Democrats 12 (+8), Greens 10 (+2), Reform UK 3 (+3)

The Holyrood voting intention changes are for the most part statistically insignificant, although because they're in the SNP's favour, they're still enough to push the SNP back into a slight lead in the seats projection - albeit with fewer seats than Alex Salmond had when the SNP first took power with a precarious one-seat advantage in 2007.  In spite of what has been said in some quarters, I'm not sure it's impossible that the SNP could retain minority power on numbers like these.  Labour and the Liberal Democrats would be well short of a majority between them, and once you add external support from the Tories into the mix, the arrangement becomes presentationally very messy.

Alba will be moderately heartened by these numbers - they're still not projected to win any seats, but they're only two points behind Reform UK, who are projected to win three seats.  So that shows you what's possible with a modest increase of support.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2024

No, Professor Robertson, young people do not support gender self-ID. They oppose it.

So the exciting news is that we've had another visitation from Professor John Robertson in the comments section.  I was trying to work out what the recurring theme of his comments is, and it suddenly struck me that a lot of his strictures have got a distinctly macho-man feel to them.  "Man up", "grow a pair", "surely you've had harder knocks than that, son".  It's reminiscent of a craggy-faced PE teacher in the 1950s going purple with rage because one of his eight-year-old pupils has a feminine side, spends "too much time with girls", and refuses to take up boxing.

Which is gloriously ironic, of course, because Professor Robertson is in fact the fairy godfather of the snowflake brigade who demand to be "kept safe" from opinions that offend them.  He doubtless earnestly believed that the unlawful cancellation of Joanna Cherry's appearance at the Edinburgh Festival was a "safety at work" issue, ie. the staff would have been so upset by hearing her gender critical views that they would have suffered the equivalent of a serious industrial injury.

Apparently oblivious to the contradiction, about five seconds after telling me last night to be more robust and manly he reverted to telling me to shut up about my beastly opinions because some vulnerable soul might hear them.

"Wow! You really think that? You've gone positively Zionist there son.

However, I must be clear, it was never my intention to sabotage your funding and I don't think I suggested that people should not fund you. I stand ready to be corrected and if I did, I apologise and withdraw the statement.

I am genuinely disappointed in the way Alba has developed and as researcher and teacher with 40 years experience in schools, colleges and universities, I know that the gender reforms are supported by the young who have grown up with trans individuals and by professionals who understand the risks. That SGP and WOS have campaigned against these reforms makes me justifiably very angry."

So that's basically the "not up for debate" entitlement complex in a nutshell. "It makes me very very VERY cross that you haven't abandoned your opinion after I and other unspecified authority figures informed you that you were wrong.  What do you think this is - some kind of liberal democracy?"  

If Robertson spent just a bit less time wallowing in his "justified anger", he might be able to, y'know, actually argue his own case calmly and rationally, but I suspect he's forgotten how to do that by now.  Not much call for debating skills when you've got "safe spaces" to hide in.

I must say that when Robertson describes Scot Goes Pop, it sounds like a blog I don't even recognise.  In reality I've spent a miniscule fraction of the time discussing the trans issue that Wings has, and I've also gone out of my way at times to express my bewilderment at the sheer number of consecutive trans-related posts that Wings has managed to publish.  Stuart Campbell is, if I may say so, almost as obsessed with the bloody topic as Robertson himself.

Is it even true that I've "campaigned" against the introduction of gender self-ID?  I expressed my own view that it was a terrible piece of legislation that would cause immense harm to people's lives, although unlike Stuart Campbell I also made clear that it would be outrageous for the UK Government to veto the law.  Other than that, the only act I took was to commission an opinion poll on the subject, which sought to use neutral, clear and balanced questions to find out what people really thought.  Most of the polls prior to that had been of dubious value due to their use of either leading questions or ideologically-loaded language.  I suspect the poll is what Robertson is really getting at when he refers to my "campaigning" - to a "no debate" zealot, neutrality and balance will look like an all-out attack.

But it's precisely because I commissioned the poll that I know Robertson's assertion that young people support self-ID has no basis in fact.  I had to trawl through my email account to re-find the data tables, and while it's true that opposition to self-ID is significantly lower among young people than among older people, there's nevertheless a clear plurality against self-ID among the young.  Only 34% of 16-34 year olds think that anyone should be able to change their legal sex or gender by simply making a solemn declaration that they are living in their new gender.  A total of  47% of 16-34 year olds think either that no-one should be able to change their legal gender, or that the threshold should be higher than self-ID - either a medical diagnosis or surgery should be required.

Furthermore, by a narrow margin of 37% to 36%, young people say that those who have changed their legal gender from male to female should not be able to access female-only spaces on exactly the same basis as other women.  And by a whopping margin of 46% to 28%, young people think women's sport should be reserved for biological females and should exclude anyone born as a male.

(The above figures are all taken from a Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll conducted 20th-26th October 2021.)

It's a logical fallacy to suggest that because young people hold a particular view, they must be right and the older generations have a duty to fall in behind them.  If that was the case, only under-35s would have the vote.  But if Robertson really believes that's how it should work, the conclusion is inescapable: he must renounce his views immediately and become a TERF.  And we shall justifiably be very, VERY angry with him if he doesn't. 

Listen to the kids, John.  They've suffered enough.  *Listen* to them.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Like it or not, independence is unlikely to be won without leading involvement from the "elephant"

As long-term readers of this blog may recall, I was an elected member of the Alba Party's NEC between September 2021 and October 2022.  For most of that year-and-a-bit, I was pretty happy with the party's general direction of travel, both in policy and strategic terms.  However a watershed moment of sorts arrived in the summer of 2022 when Nicola Sturgeon finally announced her strategy for winning independence, which involved asking the Supreme Court to rule if the Scottish Parliament had the power to unilaterally call an independence referendum, and then moving on to using the Westminster general election as a de facto referendum if the Supreme Court ruled the wrong way.

That plan was a lot more radical than I expected, because prior to that Ms Sturgeon had always rubbished the idea of any non-referendum route.  Now, the details of the plan were absolutely not the ones I would have chosen if I had been in charge.  I would have preferred to see the Scottish Parliament go ahead and legislate for a referendum and put the onus on the UK Government to launch a legal challenge if they wished.  I would have preferred to see Ms Sturgeon engineer an early Holyrood election to use as a de facto referendum rather than taking a gamble on the 'away fixture' of a Westminster general election.  But as I said on this blog at the time, we had to be realistic and accept the fact that the Scottish people had selected Ms Sturgeon and the rest of the SNP leadership to be the decision-makers, and therefore they were the ones who were always going to choose the details of any plan, and not anyone else.  What mattered is whether the thrust of the plan was taking us in broadly the correct direction, and if it was, we needed to throw our weight behind it.

I believed - and still believe - that Alba's response should have taken that realistic approach.  By all means spell out where you think the details of the plan are wrong, but make very clear that you're not going to let those quibbles get in the way of fully supporting the central element, namely the use of an election to finally allow the Scottish people to make a decision on independence, and undertaking to do whatever you can to secure a successful outcome.  And, for good measure, claim the announcement of the plan as an astounding triumph for Alba's campaigning to pressurise Ms Sturgeon into reversing course and accepting the wisdom of a de facto referendum.

What Alba actually did was pretty much the complete opposite of that.  From the word go, Ms Sturgeon's announcement was treated as an obvious con-trick, and instead of discussing how we could make the de facto referendum work, all the chatter seemed to be about how we could cause as much damage to the SNP as possible at the general election.  Talk of standing against the SNP across the board in every constituency actually increased rather than decreased, even though a single, unified slate of pro-indy candidates is plainly an absolute must in any de facto referendum fought under first-past-the-post.  And Alba seemed to double down on its determination to help bring about Ms Sturgeon's resignation as First Minister, which history now shows made no sense at all.  When Ms Sturgeon departed, the de facto plan went with her.  Whereas by keeping her in harness, we could have given the SNP no easy way off the hook, and perhaps forced them to reluctantly deliver the goods just for once.

I suspect we came across as angry that Ms Sturgeon had "spoiled" things for us by giving us more or less what we had been demanding all along.  It must have looked like nothing she announced would ever have been good enough for us, we would just have reflexively denounced it anyway.  In a nutshell, we must have looked disingenuous and like bad faith actors.  So not only was the approach unhelpful for the independence cause, it was bad for Alba's own future electoral prospects.

I disagreed with Alba's response and I spoke out about it at some length.  From a personal point of view, the timing couldn't have been much worse, because I suspect what I said may have cost me a handful of crucial votes at the Alba conference in October 2022 and led to me being narrowly voted off the NEC.  But after all these years as a blogger, I just wouldn't know how to stifle an opinion on an important subject or say something I don't believe to be true.

That's why Professor Robertson's comments the other day about this blog having become my "Alba career blog" were so offensive and ludicrously off-beam.  Yes, I stand in Alba internal elections, and I have the same competitive instinct as anyone else and always want to be successful.  But the reality is that if I only cared about that, or even if that was what I mostly cared about, the content of this blog would often have been the complete opposite of what I actually wrote.  A great many Alba conference-goers took the very simple view that the one and only objective was to bring the SNP down and have Alba become the main independence party in the SNP's place. They didn't want to hear an unpalatable message from me about how the world is more complicated and messy than that, and that actually the most effective and quickest method of winning independence may be to help make an SNP plan work, even if that means lots of SNP MPs we may not be crazy about on a personal level being re-elected.  That was the message I delivered just the same, and I suspect I paid the price for it.

After I was voted off the NEC, it seemed to me that things got even worse for a few months.  The antagonism towards the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon just seemed to be off the scale, culminating in a tweet along the lines of "a vote for the SNP is a vote for Jimmy Savile".  That genuinely shocked me.  Senior Alba figures started to give the impression of "celebrating" bad polls for independence, on the basis that it made the SNP look bad, and anything that was bad for the SNP must be good for Alba - thus losing sight of the cardinal rule (which in fairness Alba have since seemed to relearn) that a pro-independence party should only ever be seen to be talking up independence support in the polls, not talking it down.

Once again I spoke out loudly about where I thought my own party was going wrong, and that led just over a year ago to The National doing a double-page spread without my prior knowledge about how I as an "Alba blogger" had been heavily critical of the party's direction and "didn't know what the hell was going on anymore".  This was all deeply uncomfortable. A number of people tried to tell me, effectively, that I wasn't "real Alba" - that the only true Alba position was to want to totally destroy the SNP, no matter how long that took, and that anyone who didn't susbscribe to that view could only ever be marginal in the Alba party.

So I can't help but note the irony that a year later here I am, still at the heart of the Alba party - not as an NEC member but as an elected member of other committees - while a considerable number of the "destroy the SNP and replace it with Alba" diehards have suddenly walked out.  I would never have seen this chain of events coming in a million years, and clearly there must have been a lot going on behind the scenes to lead those people to become so disillusioned so quickly.  They've moved on swiftly to the new "Independents 4 Independence" project, but I think yet another reality check is in order here.  While it's merely an incredibly hard task for Alba to replace the SNP, even in the long term, it's utterly impossible for independent candidates to replace the SNP, so in a strange way by going down this road they've given up on their whole goal - although they may not realise that yet.

By their very nature, independent MPs are ephemeral and leave no party organisational structure behind them when they depart office.  All that happens is that the established parties then come back and fill the gap.  But the other fundamental truth about independent candidates is that they very rarely get elected in the first place.  I think we all know that Eva Comrie is a genuine one-off, and although the odds are heavily against her, it may just about be possible for her to build up a head of steam by campaigning on the Grangemouth issue and through sheer force of personality.  But if what Alf Baird was proposing the other day comes to pass, and if pro-indy independents stand in every Scottish constituency, the likelihood is that the vast majority of them will score a very low vote.  It will be an almighty struggle to even get the media to count those votes as votes for independence - the likelihood is they'll just tot up SNP + Green + Alba and won't even look at the independents.  

So how this is going to help the Yes cause is far from clear.  I worry that people will look back in a few years and only then will they realise the extent to which they lost all perspective.  At this moment of danger for the independence cause, we need to go into the general election as united as possible - not in the sense of liking each other or agreeing with each other about everything, but in the sense of being a cohesive voting bloc in a first-past-the-post election.  Instead most people seem to be perversely focussed on making the independence vote as fragmented as possible - and that of course includes the SNP leadership themselves, with their idiotic decision to expel Angus MacNeil and put up a candidate against him.

The SNP are not, as Somerset's leading Tory blogger put it yesterday, a "dead elephant blocking the road to independence".  They in fact still represent the considerable bulk of the independence movement and it's therefore hard to foresee any circumstances in which independence can be won without the SNP playing a leading role.  Any hard-headed Alba strategy for winning independence should thus be about using electoral success to exert pressure on the SNP to belatedly start playing that leading role.  The only exception to that, the only route to independence without the SNP, might be if Humza Yousaf somehow clings on as leader after a crushing defeat, and then 10-15 SNP MSPs decide their party cannot be won back and strike out on their own.  But right at this moment that looks like a long shot.

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Sunday, March 10, 2024

Scot Goes Pop soars to become the fifth most-read pro-independence website in Scotland, according to bombshell claimed numbers from Stuart Campbell

Every so often, Stuart Campbell randomly decides to have a prolonged boast about how he is supposedly by far the most popular blogger in the known galaxy, and one of the advantages of that from my point of view is that he sometimes draws up entire ranking lists of blogs with Wings at the top, which allows me to see how Scot Goes Pop is getting on in his alleged pecking order.  Pretty darn well at the moment is the answer...

Alleged "traffic share" of pro-independence websites in February 2024 (unsourced figures posted by Stuart Campbell):

1) Wings Over Scotland: 63.29% (-0.84%)
2) Yours For Scotland: 11.08% (+63.88%)
3) Talking Up Scotland: 7.90% (+7.95%)
4) Bella Caledonia: 7.73% (+117.98%)
5) Scot Goes Pop: 4.18% (+25.98%)
6) Robin McAlpine: 2.60% (-40.30%)
7) Wee Ginger Dug: 1.70% (-71.22%)
8) Believe In Scotland: 1.22% (+296.71%)
9) Barrhead Boy: 0.30% (-93.52%)

Curiously, as far as I can see Mr Campbell doesn't offer any source at all for these figures.  His previous boast-fests attributed any numbers to SimilarWeb, a notoriously inaccurate "guesstimate" website which also claimed Wings Over Scotland was based in Glasgow (rather than, say, Bath), had between eleven and fifty "employees" (ahem), and had a "turnover" of between $2,000,000 and $5,000,000.  But the last time I looked at SimilarWeb, it had introduced a paywall, so perhaps Mr Campbell's sudden bashfulness about his source means he's switched to another free comparison site which people would find even less credible.  That would make sense, because the new numbers are presented in a different format from the old SimilarWeb estimates, and some of the rankings do not remotely tally up with what SimilarWeb used to show.

As in the past, we can safely assume Wings Over Scotland's own wildly inflated "traffic share" is largely bulls*** caused by his readers treating the site as a de facto discussion forum - it's similar to the phenomenon we used to see in UK-wide political blogs ten or fifteen years ago, when Iain Dale's site had several times as many unique readers as Political Betting, but Political Betting could still technically claim to be the most-read site due to a small number of people constantly hitting refresh to see if new comments had been posted, and thus artificially generating lots of page views.  So if there is any interest in the numbers Mr Campbell has posted, it lies in the rankings of the non-Wings sites. (And I'll gloss over the fact that Wings is no longer a pro-independence site anyway, because he's said he would abstain in any new indyref held in any remotely foreseeable circumstances, ie. with the SNP still in existence.)

It's no surprise at all to see Yours For Scotland by Iain Lawson at the top, due to the constant supply of well-informed gossip and exclusives.  Talking Up Scotland, better known in these parts as Global Ferry News, is usually updated several times a day and is extremely popular with SNP leadership loyalists (of which there are still plenty), so its runner-up spot also makes sense.  Bella Caledonia, as a well-resourced, multi-author site, really ought to be doing better, but of course it may well be, because we know nothing at all about the provenance of these numbers.

I know from my own real stats that Scot Goes Pop's traffic has indeed increased significantly in recent weeks (perhaps because it's election year and this is a polling blog), so that might tally with the sharp increase also seen in Mr Campbell's figures - but there again it might just be a lucky guess.  I'm much more sceptical about the lower rankings.  Wee Ginger Dug isn't updated as often as it used to be, so perhaps there's been some slippage as a result, but I can't see any particular reason for a slump in traffic for either Robin McAlpine or Barrhead Boy.

Treat with caution.  Wherever Mr Campbell is getting his numbers from, they'll be vague ballpark guesses at best.

UPDATE: Since I published this blogpost, Mr Campbell has changed his ranking list to include a tenth site, Off Topic Scotland, which has a small "traffic share" of 0.25%.  This very slightly reduces the traffic share of the other nine, but weirdly the percentage changes have been altered out of all recognition.  Bella Caledonia, for example, has gone from a 117.98% increase in the original list to a 3.18% decrease in the new list.  That plainly makes no sense whatsoever.