Saturday, June 8, 2024

The SNP's Stephen Flynn was the overwhelming winner of last night's seven-way BBC debate, say viewers in Scotland

More in Common carried out a snap poll on last night's BBC debate.  On the question of who won, Stephen Flynn was only fourth among viewers across Britain, which is perhaps inevitable given that 85% of the population are in England, and they would have been paying closer attention to the parties they can actually vote for.  But among the subsample of viewers in Scotland, the result wasn't even close.

In your view, who won the debate? (More in Common, Scottish subsample)

Stephen Flynn (SNP) 41%
Nigel Farage (Reform UK) 20%
Carla Denyer (Greens) 10%
Angela Rayner (Labour) 8%
Daisy Cooper (Liberal Democrats) 4%
Rhun ap Iorweth (Plaid Cymru) 0%
Penny Mordaunt (Conservatives) 0%

Interestingly, even among the Britain-wide sample there are supplementary findings that confirm the strength of Stephen Flynn's performance.  

Percentage of Britain-wide sample who say each participant did a "very good" or "quite good" job in the debate:

Stephen Flynn (SNP) 50%
Carla Denyer (Greens) 50%
Angela Rayner (Labour) 48%
Daisy Cooper (Liberal Democrats) 47%
Nigel Farage (Reform UK) 45% 
Rhun ap Iorweth (Plaid Cymru) 38%
Penny Mordaunt (Conservatives) 29%

Nevertheless, Farage was the headline winner of the debate in the Britain-wide poll, and in combination with Sunak's D-Day blunder, that's a complete disaster for the Tories that will put an end to any hopes that Sunak had shored up the Tory core vote in the ITV head-to-head debate with Starmer.  Reform UK looks set now to seriously eat into the Tory vote, and although the impact of that will be more limited in Scotland, it may just help the SNP to win a few seats that would otherwise have gone to the Tories.  Every little helps, as Tesco would say.

I'd give the SNP a mark of 7 or 8 out of 10 for the way they've handled the debates and debate-related events until now.  I had hoped that John Swinney would be brave enough to allow the more charismatic Kate Forbes and Stephen Flynn to deputise for him in some of the debates, and so far he's allowed Flynn to do that (with good results) but not Forbes.  The SNP really will be missing a trick if they don't put up Forbes in at least one of the debates, because she can reach the parts that no-one else can reach.  Polling suggests she's better regarded than Flynn, who probably puts off a certain segment of voters by seeming quite belligerent.

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I've previewed the constituency race in Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross for The National - you can read the piece HERE.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Photos from Alba's campaign launch

I went to the Alba campaign launch this morning.  I was a bit surprised that it was being held in Sloans, where I'd only been twice before (once for one of the "separatist dinners" back in the days when it was still possible for future Albaists like me to share a table with the likes of Jack Deeth). I remembered it as being just a pub, but all became clear when we were directed into a small ballroom at the top of the building.

My misgivings about the scale of Alba's intervention in a first-past-the-post general election are no secret, but there were plenty of specific points in the speeches today that I could heartily agree with. Passionate points were raised about Grangemouth, the housing situation in Glasgow, the decaying state of Aberdeen city centre, and lots more besides.

It's widely thought that one of the main reasons Alba are standing so many candidates is to qualify for a Party Election Broadcast, which we were shown a preview of.  It's certainly a slick effort, and the music is very well chosen - it reminded me a bit of the inspiring music from the SNP's 'rhyming couplet' PEB from 2021, which I regard as one of the best Scottish political ads of all time.  Alex Salmond only comes in at the very end, and until then it's narrated solely by three women: Christina Hendry, Ash Regan and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, presumably to emphasise Alba's credentials as a party of and for women, and to de-emphasise any macho impression given by a Salmond-led party.  That's a good idea, although I suspect the media will raise two objections: a) one of the three women featured is Mr Salmond's own niece (I believe), and b) if women are so important to Alba, why aren't women being put forward as candidates rather than just fronting the PEB?  There's a danger of it looking like window-dressing rather than substance.  Is it four female candidates out of nineteen? I may be overlooking one or two, but it's certainly a relatively small minority.

To my mind, the most interesting point Alex Salmond made (and he made it at least twice) is that Douglas Ross will get his comeuppance for betraying David Duguid.  There is no Alba candidate in Aberdeenshire North and Moray East, so that can only mean one thing - he thinks Ross will lose to the SNP.  I'll be fascinated to see if that prediction comes true, because if it does, the humiliation for Ross would be so severe that I suspect it would bring an immediate end to his leadership.

This may be a dangerous request in this day and age, but if I can be forgiven a harmless joke at the expense of my own party, here it is.  For half an hour before the campaign launch started, Big Country were playing on a constant loop: "If there's one great thing to happen in my life, if there's one great day, if there's one great height...", to which I couldn't help but feel the unspoken conclusion was "let it be Alba retaining its deposit in Dundee Central". OK, joke completed.

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I've previewed the constituency race in Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk for The National - you can read the piece HERE.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Ip Ip Ip Ipsos: new telephone poll has the SNP on 5% of the Britain-wide vote and well ahead in the Scottish subsample

The title of this blogpost is a rather niche nod to the "Ip Ip Ip Ipswich" headline that heralded the Liberal landslide in the 1906 general election.  Actually that's a warning from history for Starmer, because just sixteen years later the Liberals had been reduced to third place, and they never recovered their former position.

The Ipsos poll isn't as important as it sounds, because the Scottish subsample is comprised of only 111 respondents, and I'm not aware of any evidence that Ipsos separately weight their Scottish subsamples in the way that YouGov do.  However, there is some indirect significance to the poll, which I'll explain shortly.

GB-wide voting intentions (Ipsos, 31st May-4th June 2024):

Labour 43%
Conservatives 23%
Greens 9%
Reform UK 9%
Liberal Democrats 8%
SNP 5%
Plaid Cymru 1%

Scottish subsample: SNP 43%, Conservatives 25%, Labour 17%, Liberal Democrats 8%, Greens 3%, Reform UK 3%

What's unusual about this poll is that it was conducted by telephone.  All of the recent full-scale Scottish polls showing a Labour lead were conducted among volunteer online polling panels, but when Ipsos have occasionally conducted full-scale Scottish phone polls in the past, they've tended to show more favourable results for the SNP than the online polls have.  The most recent one was in January, and showed a 7-point SNP lead at a time when most online polls were already showing Labour either level or slightly ahead.  So if that disparity is still holding true, it could be that a phone poll right now would show either a small SNP lead or a dead heat.  That's one of the key reasons, along with some of the better-than-expected MRP projections, for wondering whether the SNP may actually be slightly better-placed at this point of the campaign than some commentators are assuming.

Scottish Tories in total disarray as they sack David Duguid so that Douglas Ross can continue to have four jobs, but Duguid refuses to go along with the cover story

A political party is not in a good place when one of their MPs ends up in intensive care and the first thought of the leader and the people around him is: "aha, an opportunity!"  Actually, it's exactly the sort of thing Keir Starmer would do, but this time it's the Tories and Douglas Ross.

Although David Duguid has not fully recovered, he clearly feels that he's well enough to stand in the general election and he had the backing of his constituency association in doing so.  But the leadership have taken cynical advantage of his ill health, unceremoniously sacked him, and replaced him as Tory candidate in Aberdeenshire North and Moray East with...their leader Douglas Ross, who doesn't actually need a Westminster seat because he has a Holyrood one and is supposed to be leading his party there (when he takes an occasional break from his day job as a football linesman, that is).

The cover story is that Duguid is "unable to stand" due to ill health, but that would only have worked if Duguid himself went along with it, which he hasn't - he's made clear he intended to stand, was well enough to stand, but was sacked.  But they presumably must have expected him to play along, so why?  Maybe they offered him a peerage but he told them where to stick it.

What is going on here?  I can think of two explanations - 

1) Douglas Ross knows his time as leader is drawing to a close and thinks Holyrood isn't a big enough stage for him as a backbencher, so is selfishly turning his party's campaign upside down so he can continue with his Westminster career.


2) He realises the Tories' remaining six seats in Scotland are under threat, particularly now that Farage's return threatens to split the vote, and has convinced himself that he can shore things up by "leading from the front".  But that strikes me as very dangerous territory.  Among Tory voters he's not as popular as Ruth Davidson was, and among non-Tory voters he's distrusted and loathed.  David Duguid, by contrast, is a remarkably likeable guy for a Tory MP, and represented the sort of constituency where the personal vote can matter to some extent.  I wouldn't be surprised if at least some of his sympathisers in the constituency vote SNP as a protest against the appalling way he's been treated.

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I've profiled the constituency of Bathgate and Linlithgow for The National - you can read it HERE.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Nigel's Canadian Dream

A penny suddenly dropped for me earlier today.  I've always been baffled as to why Farage's mob threw away the hard-won advantage of the Brexit Party's brand identity and changed the name to Reform UK.  (I've been equally baffled as to why they didn't suffer more from that blunder than they actually did, but that's a different story.)  But I realised today what Farage had in his mind when he started talking up the prospect of Reform UK pulling off a "reverse takeover" of the Tories in Canadian style, because of course the party that took over the Canadian Tories (it was actually an unequal merger) was also called Reform.

It's not a completely unreasonable comparison, because a key moment on the road to that merger was the famous 1993 Canadian federal election when the governing Progressive Conservatives were reduced from 156 seats to 2.  The MRP projections for the UK Tories in this year's election aren't quite so apocalyptic, but some have the party being reduced to only a few dozen seats, which would open up the serious possibility of a post-election realignment of the party system.

But as I understand it, the Reform Party of Canada was more right-wing than the Progressive Conservatives but it wasn't Faragist, it wasn't bordering on far-right.  There must be a danger that a Tory-Reform merger in the UK would produce a new party with exactly the same natural ceiling of support that Reform currently suffers from.  That would allow Labour to replace the Tories as the main centre-right force in Britain, and with the luxury of no electable opposition.

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I've profiled the constituency of Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock for The National.  I can't see the article on the main part of the website, but you can find it in today's print edition (page 7) or in the digital edition if you're a subscriber.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

According to the snap YouGov poll, Keir Starmer has just lost a head-to-head debate with one of the most hapless and distrusted Prime Ministers in history. Perhaps Rebecca Long-Bailey would have been a better idea after all?

When ITV and the BBC rig their debates to totally exclude the largest party in Scotland (and other parties with significant support like the Liberal Democrats and the Greens), there's not really such a thing as a good outcome to a debate.  You lose, and democracy loses, simply by the event taking place.  But probably the least worst outcome is either that the whole thing is considered such a borefest that no-one emerges as a clear winner, or in this particular case that Starmer fails to win and is unable to generate further momentum in Scotland in the absence of his major rival.  The snap YouGov poll effectively gives us both of those least worst outcomes.

Leaving aside your own party preference, who do you think performed best overall in tonight’s debate?

Rishi Sunak 51%
Keir Starmer 49%

It was also helpful that Starmer allowed his Anglocentricity to seep through on a couple of occasions.  He'll have offended some voters in Wales by scoffing at the idea that anyone could possibly regard the performance of the Welsh NHS as being of the remotest importance, and when you're trying to win seats in Scotland it's bordering on amateurish to not at least briefly acknowledge the existence of the Scottish national football team when asked a question about the Euros. 

Another big psychological boost for the SNP as Survation MRP projection puts them on 26 seats - just 3 short of an outright majority

After the setback (with caveats) of the Redfield & Wilton poll a couple of hours ago, here's some much better news for the SNP and the wider independence movement from Survation's first MRP projection.  Best of all is that the fieldwork seems to be fairly up-to-date.  Remember 29 seats is the target for the SNP to retain a majority in Scotland.

Survation MRP seats projection:

Labour 487
Conservatives 71
Liberal Democrats 43
SNP 26
Reform UK 3
Plaid Cymru 2

Redfield & Wilton poll: support for independence increases to 49%, and John Swinney has a big lead over Anas Sarwar as the public's preferred First Minister

This is one of the key polling moments I've been waiting for since John Swinney became SNP leader.  The monthly Redfield & Wilton poll doesn't just have net approval ratings for leading politicians, it also has head-to-head questions on who would make the better First Minister, which are often quite predictive of election results.  I strongly suspected Swinney would have a substantial lead over Anas Sarwar, and so it has proved.

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

John Swinney (SNP) 39%
Anas Sarwar (Labour) 26%

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

John Swinney (SNP) 38%
Douglas Ross (Conservatives) 26%

But as it happens, Swinney does well on net approval as well, with a rating of +2, which is only marginally below Keir Starmer's +4.

Swinney's popularity is reflected in the Holyrood voting intention numbers, which show the SNP moving back into the lead on both ballots.

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 33% (-)
Labour 32% (-3)
Conservatives 17% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 9% (-)
Reform UK 4% (+1)
Greens 2% (-1)
Alba 2% (+1)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 31% (+4)
Labour 28% (-5)
Conservatives 15% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 9% (-)
Greens 7% (-2)
Reform UK 6% (+1)
Alba 4% (+1)

So there are now quite strong grounds for optimism that the SNP can at least remain the largest single party at the next Holyrood election.  Unfortunately, though, we're in the middle of a Westminster campaign rather than a Holyrood campaign, and the one result from the poll that is negative for the SNP just happens to be the Westminster result.

Scottish voting intentions for the UK general election:

Labour 39% (+1)
SNP 29% (-2)
Conservatives 17% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-)
Reform UK 4% (-)
Greens 3% (-1)
Alba 1% (-)

It may just be a case of holding our nerve here, because there have been some OK polling results for the SNP in recent days, and even Redfield & Wilton are showing indications that the SNP's underlying position has improved.  But obviously if the next few polls in a row all show a significant Labour lead, there'll be cause for concern.

Back to the good news: support for independence has gone back up and is once again very close to 50%.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 49% (+1)
No 51% (-1)

The YouGov MRP poll is a lot better than it looks for the SNP - there are enough "tossup" seats to leave even an outright majority firmly in play

I've finally had a chance to read through the detailed results of the YouGov MRP poll, which flatly contradicted the MRP poll from More in Common showing the SNP on course for an overall majority of Scottish seats.  However, even YouGov have the SNP on seventeen seats, and it's certainly possible to look at that in a glass-half-full sort of way, because this is an election in which the SNP could theoretically be reduced to only a couple of seats if the wheels really come off.  Furthermore, there are a further twelve seats in which YouGov have Labour nominally ahead but are actually rated as "tossups" in which Labour and the SNP are virtually level and thus have a roughly equal chance...

The SNP are just one point behind in Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

The SNP are just four points behind in Central Ayrshire

The SNP are just four points behind in Kilmarnock and Loudon

The SNP are just five points behind in North Ayrshire and Arran

The SNP are just two points behind in Alloa and Grangemouth

The SNP are just two points behind in Cumbernauld and Kirkintilloch

The SNP are just one point behind in Edinburgh North and Leith

The SNP are just four points behind in Glasgow North

The SNP are just one point behind in Glasgow North East

The SNP are *level* with Labour in Glasgow West on the rounded percentages (Labour presumably have a very small lead on the unrounded numbers)

The SNP are just one point behind in Glenrothes and Mid Fife

The SNP are just three points behind in Paisley and Renfrewshire South

Additionally, there are two seats with the Tories ahead of the SNP, and one seat with the Lib Dems ahead of the SNP, which are also regarded as tossups - although as the Lib Dem seat is Orkney & Shetland, it's perhaps hard to take that one seriously.  But even if you just add the twelve Labour-SNP tossups to the SNP tally, that gets you to 29, which is the exact number required for an overall majority of seats in Scotland.

Now, of course the whole point about tossups is that they're not all going to come down in the same way, and there are also several seats with the SNP in the lead which are rated as tossups.  But it would only take a relatively small recovery for the SNP for many of these seats to cease to be tossups and to move into the "lean SNP" column.  So even if YouGov are right and More in Common are wrong, which is a big if, this election is all to play for.

Incidentally, it looks like the MRP polls are going to be worse than useless for unusual constituency races like Na h-Eileanan an Iar.  YouGov's projection for that seat is - 

Labour 38%
SNP 32%
Conservatives 10%
"Others" 6%
Greens 6%
Reform UK 4%
Liberal Democrats 3%

Opinions differ on whether Angus MacNeil has a genuine chance of holding his seat as an independent, but it's safe to assume his support is far higher than 6%.  Presumably what is happening here is that YouGov have nowhere near enough respondents from the Western Isles and so are grafting on a particularly large number of respondents from "similar constituencies" - but the problem is there are no similar constituencies to the Western Isles.  Either that, or some respondents in the Western Isles are still assuming MacNeil is the SNP candidate.

In a similar vein, there's no sign of YouGov picking up a personal vote for Neale Hanvey in Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy, although that's less implausible because it's the sort of constituency where the personal vote matters less.

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These are literally the only three photos I took last night in Airdrie, but here they are..

A good night for John Swinney - but STV yet again do their weird "let's start the debate by telling voters how they're going to vote" thing

Apologies for not finishing my post last night, but I got back quite late from the Alba adoption meeting in Airdrie.  Before I fell asleep, I started watching the STV leaders' debate on catch-up - I'm interested to make my own mind up about John Swinney's performance, because there was a division on social media between a lot of 'ordinary' folk saying that he'd done really well, and sneering journalists saying that he'd flopped.  So far I'm agreeing more with the ordinary folk, who after all are the target audience anyway.  Swinney has his limitations, we all know that - he isn't a Salmond or a Sturgeon in terms of charisma, or a Kate Forbes for that matter, but within the scope of his abilities as a debater he seemed to be doing pretty well.  Remember that his opponents aren't exactly titans of debate either, and I've always thought that Sarwar in particular is bizarrely overrated.  (Paul Hutcheon of the Record declaring Sarwar the winner of the debate was the most predictable moment of the evening - he probably wrote his headline before the debate even took place.)

Alex Cole-Hamilton's "we're having a great election, just look at the smile on my face" will live long in the memory as the worst line delivered in any election debate, anywhere in the world, ever.

For years now, I've been pointing out STV's bizarre habit of starting election debates with lengthy references to the results of an opinion poll.  The whole purpose of a debate, surely, is to help voters decide how they want to vote, not to tell them how they're going to vote.  But on a day when there were two MRP polls published, one of which showed the SNP winning a majority and the other did not, it was particularly indefensible of STV to start the debate with lengthy references to one poll only, as if the other didn't exist or didn't matter.  For the life of me, I don't know why Swinney didn't fire back with the More in Common numbers when asked about the YouGov poll - he really missed a trick there.

Nigel Farage's announcement yesterday is one of those moments that we might look back on and realise that it didn't change anything and that we got over-excited about it, or it might be a really big moment in political history.  I'm leaning more towards the latter.  Suddenly Reform UK are ticking all the boxes - Farage is leader, he's standing as a candidate, and his party is standing in every seat, so there's nothing to stop the people of England electing him as Prime Minister if they want to.  They won't, of course, because there's a natural ceiling on Reform support which is probably somewhere in the mid-20s.  That was enough to put the party ahead (in their previous guise of the Brexit Party) in a handful of polls in the unusual circumstances of 2019, but it'll leave them well short in the current scenario of Labour polling in the 40s.  But if they hit their ceiling, it's going to cause carnage for the Conservative Party.  The idea that the Tories may not even be the official opposition after this election is no longer fanciful.

In Scotland the effect won't be so transformative because the Tories have so much less to lose here.  But because the SNP are the main rivals to the Tories pretty much anywhere the Tories are competitive, it could end up at least modestly boosting the SNP's seat tally, and you could see Douglas Ross was genuinely worried about that prospect last night.

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I've profiled the constituency of Argyll, Bute and South Lochaber for The National - you can read the piece HERE.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Extraordinary More in Common MRP poll suggests the SNP will retain a majority of Scottish seats and remain the third largest Commons party

Ironically I'm currently sitting in an Alba candidate adoption meeting in Airdrie (where Alex Salmond has just predicted the SNP face doom beyond what opinion polls are suggesting), so I'll have to finish this post later, but here are the More in Common MRP numbers.  Remember 29 seats is the target number for the SNP to retain a majority.

Labour 382 (+180)
Conservatives 180 (-185)
SNP 35 (-13)
Liberal Democrats 30 (+19)
Plaid Cymru 3 (-1)
Greens 1 (-)

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"Dave Doo-gan, Dave Doo-gan, riding through the Glens..."  I've previewed the race in the evocatively-named new constituency of Angus and Perthshire Glens for The National - you can read it HERE.

I've also previewed the race in Arbroath and Broughty Ferry.  I can't find it on the website (maybe I'm looking in the wrong place), but it was in today's print edition, so if you're a subscriber you can find it in the digital edition.  Obviously for that one I was always going to mention either Bob Servant or Arbroath smokies.  Bob Servant got the nod on this occasion, but I can report that I went to Arbroath a couple of years ago and had a smokie, and it was delicious.