Saturday, May 11, 2024

Scot Goes Popcast: Eurovision 2024

For those of you planning to watch the Eurovision tonight, I've recorded a short podcast with some scene-setting thoughts, which you can listen to below.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Does 2 become 1?

First of all, a quick note to let you know that I'm quoted in Alasdair Soussi's profile of John Swinney on the Al Jazeera website, which you can read HERE.  I'm both critical of Swinney and complimentary towards him, so there's something there for everyone!

Secondly, I can't resist taking the bait from Stuart Campbell, because this line is provably absurd: "And the office of Deputy First Minister is ceremonial – it’s very much the exception rather than the rule if the DFM ever becomes the actual FM."

In fact, prior to Kate Forbes, there had been five Deputy First Ministers: Jim Wallace, Nicol Stephen, Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney and Shona Robison.  Two of those (Sturgeon and Swinney) went on to become First Minister, and one (Jim Wallace) had spells as Acting First Minister.  What's more, Wallace and Stephen were not eligible to become First Minister because they were only in government as the leader of the junior coalition party, so of the three Deputies who were able to become First Minister, two actually did so.  That doesn't seem particularly "exceptional" to me.

Kate Forbes is upsetting all of the right people

I didn't write about it at the time because I didn't want to tempt fate, but when the announcement was made that Kate Forbes had been appointed as Deputy First Minister, the first thought that went through my head was that the appointment was not automatic, and that it was actually quite hard to see where the parliamentary arithmetic was going to come from to get her approved.  So the outcome yesterday was a tremendous relief, and for that we have to partly thank the Liberal Democrats for constructively abstaining.  

But why did they do it?  Logically they would have stood to gain from an early election.  In the past, when they were led by serious figures like Jim Wallace, Malcolm Bruce or Russell Johnston, there would have been no difficulty in believing they were just doing the right thing and putting the national interest ahead of party interest.  But they're now led by the ultimate cynical opportunist Alex Cole-Hamilton, so it's hard not to believe there was an ulterior motive.  Could there have been an informal deal with the SNP government behind the scenes?  Or are the coffers relatively empty and they don't want to risk fighting two elections in one year?

The most Machiavellian explanation is that the opposition party that has most to lose from an early election is the Tories, so perhaps the Lib Dems were acting on the Tories' behalf, allowing Douglas Ross the free hit of voting against Forbes without having to live with any consequences.  But quite what the Tories would have been able to offer the Lib Dems in return is anyone's guess.  Maybe helping Douglas Ross out is simply Cole-Hamilton's comfort zone, who knows.

Now that Kate Forbes is in harness, she seems to be upsetting all the right people.  That may seem like a brutal thing to say, but given the extremist ideology that many of her critics represent, and their belief that anyone who disagrees with them should be shunned by civilised society and lose their livelihoods, the sign that the SNP was moving into a better place was only ever going to be proper meltdowns from those people.  Kelly Given said in her column that the party used to be a "safe space" for her and her fellow travellers, by which she meant they were able to run a reign of terror in which the SNP was an intolerable space for those with other views.  

The mask really slipped, though, when Given suggested Forbes was not acceptable as Deputy First Minister because she once said she could never conceive of having an abortion herself.  Just think about the implications of that.  The standard pro-choice position is that women have a right to privacy when making reproductive decisions, and a right to control over their own bodies.  That's not really consistent, is it, with lecturing a prominent female politician about how she has no place in public life until she states she would actively consider, as she would see it, killing her unborn child.  That's not only intolerance, it's downright bigotry.

If Given and co will give Forbes credit for nothing else, can they at least give her credit for being a fluent Gaelic speaker who simultaneously holds the second highest office in the land and the post of Minister for Gaelic?  Nobody else, surely, could be better placed to protect the language before it's too late.

I was very pleased to hear that Alba had voted in favour of Forbes while the Greens were busily voting against her.  That will repair some, but probably not all, of the damage to Alba's reputation done by the vote to bring down the SNP government.  It also sets my mind at rest because I was starting to anecdotally form the impression that Alba were lining Forbes up to be the latest designated traitor.  We've already got more than enough of those.  A small party that puts up walls around itself and says in George W Bush fashion "you're either with us, or you're with the terrorists" will not only make itself look ridiculous, it will also quickly discover just how small it is.  Whereas if it doesn't act like a narrow sect, and allows the borders of the party to be porous, it'll find a lot more independence supporters under its roof.

First Savanta survey since Swinney swept in shows sizzling 48% support for independence

Looking back at the dates, it seems to have been 2nd May on which it became obvious that John Swinney was the next SNP leader, so as this poll didn't start until the 3rd, it can be seen to all intents and purposes as the first published poll of the Swinney era.  That said, things can be a little bit different once the public actually see a new leader in the role, rather than just anticipating it, so it'll still be important to see the first polls entirely conducted after Swinney was officially sworn in.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Savanta, 3rd-8th May 2024)

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

As was the case under Yousaf, the independence numbers appear to have become completely decoupled from trends in SNP support.  Which is just as well in this instance, because the SNP have taken another significant hit in the Westminster voting intention numbers.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election:

Labour 37% (+2)
SNP 33% (-2)
Conservatives 17% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+1)

I said the other day that much would depend on whether the early polls under Swinney show the SNP vote holding up, or whether there would be a 'Truss effect' whereby the damage caused by the outgoing leader is so great that the new leadership is powerless to repair it.  What has happened appears to be somewhere in between those two outcomes.  The wheels have not come off, so the SNP so still have hope for the general election, but a four-point Labour lead is significant enough to be a cause for concern, especially bearing in mind that: a) the voting system is essentially biased towards Labour in any close result, and b) Westminster election campaigns are 'away fixtures' for the SNP with Labour enjoying far more media coverage beamed direct from London.  So on the face of it, things are more likely to get worse rather than better.  The hope must be that the Swinney/Forbes team can gradually reverse the Yousaf damage before the official campaign period even begins.

Are things better or worse for the SNP in the Holyrood voting intentions?  It's in the eye of the beholder, but personally I would say worse, because it's the all-important list vote that's the killer.

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 35% (-2)
Labour 35% (+2)
Conservatives 18% (-)
Liberal Democrats 8% (+2)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

Labour 32% (+3)
SNP 26% (-2)
Conservatives 18% (-2)
Greens 11% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 10% (+2)

In a strange way, I'm not as worried about the 2026 Holyrood election as I am about this year's general election.  Leadership polling is often more predictive of election results than the headline numbers, and regardless of whether John Swinney or Kate Forbes leads the SNP into the election, I strongly suspect that either one will have an advantage over Sarwar, who will look like an amateur in comparison.  But as far as the general election is concerned, the SNP have played their last major card, and although they certainly haven't played it to its fullest potential, they're just going to have to unite as best they can and make the new arrangement work.  Hopefully this poll marks the low point and the recovery starts from here.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Hallelujah, Swinney has done the right thing and appointed Kate Forbes as Deputy First Minister - so maybe now there will be some unity

I was a bit sceptical about whether John Swinney would actually go as far as appointing Kate Forbes as Deputy First Minister, because it marks her out so obviously as the most likely successor.  The reports about a succession plan being in place to stop her made me wonder if she'd be sold short with an offer of a lesser Cabinet position.  However, I suppose the likelihood is that the deputy role was part of the price of her support, and having entered into the deal he decided to act in good faith.  

I think that does now leave the SNP in a significantly better position than they were under Yousaf.  There's more to party unity than just reintegrating the Forbes supporters, but nevertheless that's a key part of it, and seems to have been achieved.  And as long as Swinney is sensible enough to allow her to do it, Forbes' charisma can be utilised on TV to try to get the SNP back into a winning position in time for the general election.  That would offer the best of both worlds - Swinney as the reassuring bank manager figure in ultimate charge, and Forbes as the public-facing inspirational communicator.

So I'm slightly more optimistic than I was before, but much now depends on what the next few opinion polls show.  Is there going to be a 'Truss effect'? By that I mean Yousaf may have done so much damage that it's impossible for the leadership team that replaces him to rectify the situation.  But if the polls show the SNP at least holding steady, they may just have something to work with.

Monday, May 6, 2024

When everything realistic has been tried and didn't work, you just have to shrug and say it wasn't meant to be - but at least there's now a quick turning of the page

Without wanting to be overly critical, I think it's probably reasonable to say that Graeme McCormick has behaved slightly oddly, and not entirely fairly to the SNP members who went to considerable lengths to back him.  There's a place for abortive leadership bids that end with a "long and fruitful" chat with the chap who wants a coronation, but that place had already been filled by Kate Forbes.  Realistically the only reason members were nominating a little-known candidate was because they had made up their minds they definitely wanted an election rather than yet more tales of a behind-closed-doors fireside chat, and they must be bemused to have ended up with the latter instead.  However, if it's any consolation to the people who nominated him, if I was in your shoes I'd be saying to myself that at least all the stops were pulled out to prevent a stitch-up. Strenuous efforts were made to persuade Kate Forbes to run, and when she didn't, an unlikely Plan B was found and only failed to work because of one person's rather peculiar decision.  If you genuinely try everything and it still doesn't work out, all you can really do is shrug and say it wasn't meant to be on this occasion.

The silver lining now is at least we (and by 'we' I mean Scotland and the independence movement) can turn the page on the mistake of Yousaf's leadership immediately, rather than waiting a few more weeks.  John Swinney is not the right person to be leader, but he's less wrong than Yousaf.  If anything, judging from the dismal mood music from him on the Sunday politics shows, he's even less likely to do anything about independence than Yousaf was, but the first priority is to get the SNP and the independence cause out of jail at the general election, because unless that happens everything else is moot.  We'll have to see what Swinney can do about that, hopefully as part of a broad and collegiate leadership team that prominently features Kate Forbes and Stephen Flynn.  The first test will be whether the promised 'key role' for Ms Forbes is actually delivered - if she's shafted with a lesser offer than she was led to expect, Swinney's leadership will be poisoned by bitterness from the word go.  Hopefully he's sensible enough not to do that.

On a personal level, at least, I can congratulate him.  He's been SNP leader before, but only in opposition, and when that stint ended in failure it must have seemed that what he could achieve in the remainder of his career was going to have a ceiling on it.  But no, twenty years later he's made it to the very top, or as close to the very top as is possible in a devolved system, and that's a remarkable story.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Sensational Norstat poll shows support for independence has INCREASED to 48% in spite of the crisis within the SNP

This is a curate's egg poll, so let's start with the good part.  Support for independence has remained impressively untouched by the crisis within the SNP, and indeed has increased slightly since the last Norstat poll, although that may just be margin-of-error noise.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Norstat / Sunday Times, 30th April - 3rd May 2024)

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

However, as you've probably heard by now, the poll is a lot less good for the SNP themselves. This is one of the rare occasions when the exact dates a poll was conducted are by far the most important part of the equation.  The fieldwork started on 30th April, which was the day after Yousaf announced his resignation, and finished on 3rd May, which was the day after John Swinney emerged as the heir presumptive. 

Interviews for online polls are not evenly spread out through the fieldwork dates - usually they're heavily concentrated in the first 24 hours.  If that's what happened here, it's safe to conclude that the SNP did not benefit from a wave of relief when Yousaf departed the stage, but it remains an entirely open question whether there's been a rebound as a result of the crisis receding due to a new leader having more or less emerged.  In any case, given the choreographed crowing about the poll on Twitter among the usual Labour suspects, I was bracing myself for a Truss-like meltdown that would look unrecoverable regardless of any honeymoon effect for the new leader.  That isn't the case at all - the boost for Labour is relatively modest and still leaves them behind the SNP on the Holyrood constituency vote.  And while a five-point Labour lead for Westminster is bad news, at least it's not twenty or thirty points, and it's thus still just about possible that the new leadership may be able to turn things around in time for the general election.

Scottish voting intentions for next UK general election:

Labour 34% (+2)
SNP 29% (-3)
Conservatives 16% (-)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-1)

Seats projection (with changes from 2019 election): Labour 28 (+27), SNP 15 (-33), Conservatives 9 (+3), Liberal Democrats 5 (+1)

It shouldn't go without note here that one of the main effects of the Labour lead is that the Tories are projected to entirely needlessly gain several seats from the SNP despite their vote share having collapsed since 2019.  Whatever John Swinney's shortcomings, I think it's probably fair to say he won't be a turn-off for rural voters in quite the way that Yousaf was, so he may be better placed to reverse the problem in SNP-Tory battleground seats.

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 34% (-1)
Labour 33% (+3)
Conservatives 14% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 9% (-1)
Greens 5% (+2)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

Labour 28% (+3)
SNP 27% (-1)
Conservatives 17% (-2)
Greens 9% (-)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-2)
Reform UK 6% (+2)
Alba 4% (+1)

Seats projection (with changes from 2021 election): Labour 40 (+18), SNP 38 (-26), Conservatives 24 (-7), Greens 10 (+2), Liberal Democrats 9 (+5), Reform UK 8 (+8)

My fellow Alba members would be unwise to get too excited about the party's boost on the list, for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, the fieldwork took place before the strategically dangerous decision to vote to bring down the SNP government, so it's anyone's guess whether that will have alienated independence supporters and led to a decrease in the Alba vote.  And secondly, as far as I know Norstat have continued to use the same methodology as Panelbase, who were by some distance the most favourable pollster for Alba, often showing them at 5% or 6% in the run-up to the 2021 election even though they ended up with only 2% on polling day.  That overestimation is unlikely to have been corrected for, because Panelbase never introduced weighting by recalled Holyrood vote.

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