Saturday, February 20, 2016

A short EU referendum campaign doesn't shut down the risk for the Tory party

Last night, I happened to stumble on a Twitter discussion in which Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson and Paul Sinclair swapped examples of lessons that the Prime Minister had supposedly learned from the indyref as he plotted his tactics for the European battle.  I'm not really convinced that either of them were barking up the right tree.  Farquharson reckoned that the Scottish experience had taught Cameron that he needed to have a firm offer of a reformed union before going to the people.  The problem here is that the plan for a pre-negotiation on Europe was in place long before the indyref, and I seem to recall a number of people pointing out the blatant contradiction of Cameron's stance (especially when he insisted that it was absolutely essential to get the decision on independence out of the way before discussions on more powers could begin).

Sinclair's suggestion sounded more plausible - that Cameron had learned from Scotland that it's necessary to have a short, sharp campaign to prevent the referendum having an impact on party voting patterns (ie. to prevent Out-voting Tory supporters switching en masse to UKIP in the same way that Yes-voting Labour supporters switched en masse to the SNP).  But let me present to you Exhibit A - the Scottish result of the 2014 European Parliament election, held just four months before the indyref...

SNP 29.0% (-0.1)
Labour 25.9% (+5.1)
Conservatives 17.2% (+0.4)
UKIP 10.5% (+5.2)
Greens 8.1% (+0.8)
Liberal Democrats 7.1% (-4.4)

As you can see, Labour did pretty well - at least relative to the SNP's performance.  You certainly wouldn't look at that and think they were heading for complete meltdown only a year later.  You would also think they were shaping up to at least be reasonably competitive in the next Holyrood election.  Opinion poll evidence paints much the same picture - the last few polls before the referendum gave Labour their customary commanding lead in Westminster voting intentions, and gave the SNP a relatively modest lead (of less than 10 points) for Holyrood.

The reality is that the long referendum campaign passed most voters by.  It wasn't until a very late stage that Yes voters looked deep into the soul of the Scottish Labour party, and found what they saw profoundly ugly.  I would imagine that the set-piece TV debates (including even the one that Alex Salmond supposedly 'lost') played a big part in that, with a senior Labour figure so visibly and miserably making the case for unelected Tory rule in Scotland.

So a short campaign isn't necessarily going to eliminate the risks for Cameron.  Having said that, the EU referendum is a very different beast, and the fact that several Tory cabinet ministers are being allowed to campaign for Leave may draw some of the poison as far as Tory voters are concerned.  Perhaps the more pertinent question is whether the Tory party itself can hold together after a divisive campaign.  The 1975 precedent is inconclusive - although Labour didn't split immediately, many people think the referendum sowed the seeds for the SDP split six years later, as some Labour pro-Europeans realised they had far more in common with their fellow Yes campaigners in the Liberal party than with the likes of Tony Benn.

Friday, February 19, 2016

OK, OK, Donald Trump might start a nuclear war, but at least that'll "stabilise the doons"

When I was at university, I remember reading a book about nuclear weapons that had been written in the early 1980s.  (It's quite a famous book, I think, but the name of it temporarily escapes me.)  It started by pointing out that opinion poll evidence showed that roughly half of the UK's population expected that, at some point within their own lifespans, human civilisation would be destroyed by a nuclear exchange between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.  It then pointed out that it was somewhat odd that it wasn't the number one political priority of both the electorate and the government to prevent that seemingly imminent catastrophe from occurring.

Arguably, we find ourselves in quite a similar situation now, because I genuinely think that if Donald Trump is elected US President in November, there is a non-trivial chance of a nuclear war occurring within his term of office.  That's not so much because of his insane right-wing views (it's difficult to know how many of those are genuine and how many are poses for the benefit of a Republican audience), but more because he's an ultra-belligerent narcissist with very little sense of restraint.  If he ever got the US into a serious dispute with Russia or China, it's not at all hard to see how it could escalate quickly.  The other day, I speculated that the chances of nuclear war under President Trump were at least 2% or 3%.  RevStu reckoned I should have stuck a zero at the end of those numbers.

Whichever of us is right, it's surely clear that the risk is unacceptably high.  As there can be nothing more important than preventing our species from being destroyed or mostly destroyed, it therefore follows that absolutely every other political consideration must play second-fiddle to the need to stop Trump.  The problem is that it's not at all clear how that is most likely to be achieved.  Most polls actually show that Bernie Sanders would have a better chance of beating Trump in a straight fight than Hillary Clinton would.  The cheerleaders for Clinton point out that the public at large haven't taken a close enough look at Sanders yet, and when it really comes down to it they would never elect a self-declared socialist.  But Clinton has her own disadvantages - she's a hate-figure for many moderate conservatives in a way that Sanders isn't, so it's far from inconceivable that she could genuinely prove to be the more unelectable of the two.

In view of that uncertainty, I think all that Democratic primary voters can reasonably do is forget about Trump for the time being, and vote for the candidate they really believe in.  For my own part, I had no hesitation in casting my postal vote for Sanders a few days ago.  It's almost painful to think what a huge step forward it would be for the world if he was elected - America would come into line with global opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nuclear weapons would be drastically reduced, and there would be a passionate advocate in the White House for the eradication of the death penalty, which could have huge knock-on benefits for human rights in China and the Middle East.

But if by any chance the eventual contest is Sanders v Trump, it'll be a straight all-or-nothing choice between America becoming a normal western country at last, and a descent into madness and possibly darkness.  Without question it'll be the scariest election anywhere in the world since Germany went to the polls in 1932.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

SNP's spectacular by-election gain is an oceanic Oban occasion

The SNP have gained a local council seat in the Oban North and Lorn by-election, which was bizarrely the third by-election to be held in the same ward since the 2012 election.  It's a genuine gain in both senses of the word - the vacancy was caused by the resignation of an independent councillor, and the SNP were also well behind the combined votes for the assorted independent candidates in 2012.

The full result doesn't seem to have been published yet - I'll post it here as soon as I know it.

UPDATE : Ruth Davidson is claiming the Tory vote is up by 14.1%.  I'll treat that with caution until it's confirmed.

UPDATE II : Here is the result -

SNP 42.3% (+11.5)
Conservatives 23.2% (+14.1)
Independent 23.1% (n/a)
Greens 11.4% (n/a)

For the avoidance of doubt, the percentage change figures above are measured from the 2012 result, and not from either of the subsequent by-elections.  However, there may be a tonne of confusion on that point, because each party or candidate will choose the baseline that casts tonight's result in the best light for them.  Oddly, the 'Britain Elects' Twitter account is quoting slightly different changes and yet is saying they're measured from 2012 - I think that must be an error.

At first glance, there doesn't appear to be much interest for Labour in this contest, because they didn't stand in 2012 and they didn't stand this time either.  However, the independent candidate today was Kieron Green, who stood for Labour in both of the by-elections in the ward in 2014.  There seems to be a perception that he was effectively a Labour candidate again in all but name, and had perhaps dispensed with his party label to avoid being dragged down by the national state of play.  If so, the scam may have worked, but only up to a point - his vote was about 1% higher compared to the July 2014 election, and about 3% higher than in October 2014. (Having said that, Labour's national fortunes have slipped even further since then, so he may have saved more votes than it appears.)

Although the increases in both the SNP and Tory votes look impressive, it's not very useful to directly compare today's contest with the 2012 result, because there were no fewer than six independent candidates four years ago, and I'm not sure whether any of them were bashful Labourites.  Technically, there has been a small net swing from SNP to Tory, but given the strangeness of the circumstances, I doubt if anyone will be losing too much sleep over that.

Claire Smith ATOMISES hapless Irishman with the best tweet ever

Fans of Claire Smith from Oldham thought they were having a great day anyway - but then came the icing on the cake.  Claire's ex-boyfriend, an Irishman called Aidan Brennan, made the mistake of trying to contact her on Twitter.  THIS is what happened next.

"@AidanBrennan284 Shut up will you?  By the way, your dog looks like a gerbil."

Just six minutes later, her put-down has already been acclaimed by social media critics as the most perfectly-judged put-down in the history of put-downs, at least within the Oldham area.  Dozens of Claire's followers tweeted pictures of Brennan's dog, confirming that it does indeed bear a passing resemblance to a gerbil.

Brennan has gone into hiding in rural Donegal, and is thought to be considering either suicide or a sizeable "donation" to Claire's favourite "charity".  Either way, he is believed to accept that his life is now essentially over.

One or two deluded fools did suggest that Claire was being a bit of a bully, but that's only because they're anti-English and still haven't got over the events of 1916.

Please note : This article isn't quite a world exclusive, because the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, TIME and The Independent all got there two minutes ahead of us.  We tried, we tried.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Sumptuous Survation survey suggests SNP still lead by 31%

With these Holyrood polls, you are spoiling us, Mr Ambassador!  This must be the fourth in what, a couple of weeks?  It's the latest from Survation, who now seem to have firmly revived their monthly series for Cleggy and the Vow-meisters...

Constituency ballot :

SNP 53% (+1)
Labour 22% (+1)
Conservatives 16% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)

Regional list ballot :

SNP 45% (+3)
Labour 18% (-2)
Conservatives 15% (-1)
Greens 9% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-2)
UKIP 6% (+1)

Both this poll and the recent Ipsos-Mori poll are challenging our perception that the SNP have been suffering from a very, very gradual downward drift - it looks like that process may have been halted, and possibly even reversed.  The party will be particularly relieved to see a decent bounce-back in their list vote, because it was a tad worrying that the last polls from both Survation and YouGov were giving them a slightly lower list vote than they managed in 2011.  The conventional wisdom is that they're doing much better than five years ago, but the recent evidence had just been beginning to call that into question.

Another important recent trend has also been bucked - as in the Ipsos-Mori poll, Labour's lead over the Tories in the race for second place on the constituency ballot has increased, not decreased.  The increase isn't statistically significant, but it now looks like the recent cluster of polls seeming to show that the Tories were on a trajectory to overtake Labour (or even in one case that they had already moved into second place) was a bit misleading.  Still, it's the list vote that will be entirely responsible for deciding the runner-up spot in terms of seats, and with just a 3% gap between the two parties on the list ballot, the emergency for Dugdale is far from over.  Perhaps more to the point, 18% is an all-time low for Labour with any polling firm, and in a proportional system their share of the vote is bound to feed through into the absolute number of seats they win.  Unless something changes soon, they appear to be heading for a total electoral meltdown that will make the 2011 result look like the Attlee landslide.

Of course, the other point that leaps out from this poll is that both the Greens and UKIP appear to be on the brink of a spectacular breakthrough - but that may well be an illusion.  Survation have consistently been the most favourable pollster for both parties.  Their Holyrood polls are conducted among a volunteer online polling panel, and it may simply be that they have a disproportionate number of core Green and UKIP supporters on their books.  Past vote weighting is intended to eliminate that sort of bias, but smaller parties are probably harder to deal with.  YouGov seem to have a similar problem with the SSP (no other firm has had the SSP or RISE higher than 1% in recent months, but YouGov have sometimes had them as high as 3%).

It's particularly difficult to believe that UKIP are on course for as many as six Scottish Parliament list seats when recent polling using a 'real world' methodology (telephone or face-to-face) has had them on 1% or lower. Experience at a Britain-wide level suggests that UKIP tend to end up with a vote share that's roughly midway between their online and telephone polling numbers - if that happens in this case, it's very hard to see how they're going to win any seats at all, because no online firm other than Survation has had them higher than 3% over the last few months.  But I suppose it's not totally impossible that they might do particularly well in one region, and nick a single seat somewhere.

*  *  *


Constituency ballot :

SNP 52.6% (+0.2)
Labour 20.6% (+0.2)
Conservatives 17.2% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 5.4% (-0.2)

Regional list ballot :

SNP 47.2% (+0.6)
Labour 19.0% (-0.4)
Conservatives 16.8% (-0.2)
Liberal Democrats 6.4% (-0.4)
Greens 6.4% (n/c)

(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each of the firms that have reported Scottish Parliament voting intention numbers over the previous three months, and that adhere to British Polling Council rules. At present, there are five - Panelbase, Survation, YouGov, TNS and Ipsos-Mori. Whenever a new poll is published, it replaces the last poll from the same company in the sample.)

Is it suspicious that a former Tory strategist is trying to mislead SNP voters about how the electoral system works?

A number of people have pointed me in the direction of comments made the other day by former Tory strategist Andy Maciver, who claimed that if SNP voters didn't switch to the Greens on the list, the Tories could gain extra seats without even needing to make any progress in terms of votes.  His reasoning was that the SNP's dominance at constituency level means they won't win many list seats, and "those seats have got to go somewhere".

For the avoidance of doubt, that claim is utter gibberish.  It's not even one that most advocates of tactical voting would make, because it's not merely untrue - it's actually the complete opposite of the truth.  SNP dominance at constituency level would make it harder for the Tories to win seats, not easier.  If, hypothetically, the SNP were to win all 73 constituency seats, that would self-evidently leave all of the opposition parties severely under-represented at constituency level.  The d'Hondt method kicks in at that point and tries to resolve the under-representation by distributing list seats in a compensatory way.  But here's the thing - there are only 56 list seats to go round.  Yes, they've got to go somewhere, and they'll be spread thinly among all of the major opposition parties, all of whom will have been wiped out in the constituencies.  There simply won't be enough to make up the shortfall, and in all probability the Tories will end up with fewer seats than the d'Hondt principle really entitles them to.

It's a very simple calculation : if the SNP "break the system" and get more seats than they should, the opposition parties are bound to get fewer seats than they should.  For some reason, Maciver has either completely misunderstood that calculation or is misrepresenting it.

And that's really the interesting question here - what is his motivation?  Is this an example of the political dark arts, with Maciver seeking to use reverse psychology to persuade SNP supporters to give their list votes to small parties, and thus potentially help the Tories if those votes turn out to be wasted?  Or is he just indulging in wishful thinking based on a genuine misunderstanding of how the electoral system works?

As ever, answers on a postcard, folks...

Bizarre split opens up between two telephone pollsters on the EU referendum trend

Did you imagine the EU referendum polling couldn't possibly get any stranger than the enormous gulf we've already seen between telephone and online firms? Think again. At least all firms have until now generally shown the same basic trend - when online polls were showing a steady state of play with the two sides roughly level-pegging, telephone polls were showing a steady state of play with Remain in a big lead of around 20 points. Recently, the two regular telephone pollsters (Ipsos-Mori and ComRes) have been showing almost identical figures, so when ComRes agreed with the online firms that there had been a significant shift to Leave in the wake of Cameron's failure to secure a credible deal, I would have bet quite a lot of money on the next Ipsos-Mori poll showing at least some decline in the Remain lead. But, remarkably, it hasn't - or not a statistically significant one at any rate.

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Remain 54% (-1)
Leave 36% (n/c)

Barring a methodological tweak (which there doesn't seem to have been) it's very difficult to reconcile a no change poll from Ipsos-Mori with a poll from ComRes showing the Remain lead collapsing by 10%. The simplest logical possibility is that there was some sort of bounce-back for Remain after the ComRes poll was conducted, but in fact there was only a two day gap between the completion of the fieldwork for the two polls, and it's hard to think of anything that dramatically changed in that short period.

The most important methodological difference between the two firms is that ComRes weight by past vote recall, and Ipsos-Mori don't. You'd expect that to lead to Ipsos-Mori having a little 'house bias' in favour of Remain, because there might be too many Labour-voting Remain supporters in the sample, but it shouldn't really distort the trend. (It might affect the trend to a small extent if, for example, most of the swing to Leave was concentrated among Tory voters who are under-represented in the Ipsos-Mori sample, but the impact would be fractional.)

Intuitively, the most plausible explanation is that both firms have produced extreme results due to normal sampling variation - ie. ComRes have Leave too high, Ipsos-Mori have Leave too low, and if they both polled again they'd be likely to get results somewhere in the middle. If that's correct, it would mean there has indeed been a meaningful swing to Leave, but not quite as dramatic as we thought the other day.

Looking at the datasets, the 'surplus' Remain supporters that Ipsos-Mori are picking up seem to be very heavily concentrated among under-45s.  In the older age groups, they're actually showing a very similar position to ComRes, or in some cases a slightly better position for Leave.  But when you get down to the 35-44 age group, suddenly Ipsos-Mori have a gargantuan 67% to 25% split in favour of Remain, which compares to a tiny 45% to 43% Remain lead in the ComRes sample for the same group.  The somewhat less extreme generational gap that ComRes are showing 'feels' more realistic somehow (which would be good news for Leave), but who knows?

By contrast, political allegiance doesn't offer any clue at all to the divergence between the two firms - Ipsos-Mori are reporting better figures for Remain across the board among Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat voters.

So the plot has just thickened even further.  Depending on who you believe, Remain could have a huge lead (Ipsos-Mori), a modest lead (ComRes), they could be locked in a statistical tie (ICM), or they could be several points behind (YouGov).  Take your pick.

*  *  *


Given that the most recent online polls have shown movement towards Leave, it might seem odd that there has been a tiny net swing back to Remain in the online average of the new Poll of Polls - albeit not enough to knock out the Leave lead on that measure.  It's a slightly artificial effect caused by two relatively good polls for Leave from mid-January dropping out of the sample.

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?


Remain 47.5% (+0.3)
Leave 39.9% (-0.1)


Remain 42.0% (+0.4)
Leave 42.4% (+0.1)


Remain 53.0% (+0.3)
Leave 37.3% (-0.4)

(The Poll of Polls takes account of all polls that were conducted at least partly within the last month. The online average is based on eight polls - four from ICM, two from YouGov, one from BMG and one from ORB. The telephone average is based on four polls - two from ComRes and two from Ipsos-Mori.)

An important message from the radical left : 1) leave Emma Thompson alone, and 2) become a communist.

I think I may have just received my favourite ever response to one of my attempts at a semi-humorous tweet.  This is what I said -

"During the indyref, No campaign star Emma Thompson said she 'felt Scottish'. Now she's 'more European than English'. I'm confused."

And this was the reaction from radical left blogger Rory Scothorne (it came at the end of a long exchange, but it's what he was building up to from the start) -

"OK, point is: nationalism emerges when state-imposed nationality and popular national identity get out of sync; but it fails to resolve the tension, it just imposes a new nationality on people until that one no longer fits either. It never works. And your refusal to tolerate the idea of multiple, overlapping and fluid national identities is symptomatic of that failure. I'd strongly recommend becoming a communist, it will fix these problems."

My reply was : "Your point is complex and a bit bonkers. My point is simpler : Thompson was changing her tune to suit her audience. I'm not entirely convinced your point has anything to do with my point. By the way, I'll consider your suggestion of becoming a communist, although I'm quite attached to democracy for some reason."

With impeccable - if probably unintentional - comic timing, Rory then thanked me for telling him about my "strange ideas", and bade me goodnight.

I have to admit that it's much more fun having debates with proper left-wingers than with an "international socialist" like Duncan Hothersall.  He never momentarily strikes me dumb by going all Marxist-Leninist on me!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Indyref 2 on the cards as earth-shaking EU referendum TELEPHONE poll shows Remain lead collapsing

Before last night, there had only been two online Britain-wide voting intention polls on the EU referendum since David Cameron's failure to secure credible concessions from his European partners - but the swing in favour of "Leave" seen in both was fairly hard to dismiss as a fluke.  The only remaining question was whether the next telephone poll would confirm the trend - and it was impossible to know that for sure, given that telephone polls have been showing such a radically different picture.  As it turned out, last night's ComRes poll was at the upper end of the expectations of the Leave camp, and suggested that - if anything - phone polls may pick up a bigger pro-Leave swing than online polls.

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Remain 49% (-5)
Leave 41% (+5)

What this poll reminds me of is the game-changing ICM poll on independence at the very start of 2014, which completely blew apart the previous sense that the indyref outcome was a foregone conclusion.  The Remain campaign's cushion has now gone - if you believe the online polls, they're already behind, and if you believe the latest phone poll they're embroiled in a genuinely competitive contest.  It may be even worse than it looks, because ComRes don't seem to have applied any turnout filter to their headline numbers - and Leave have a clear lead among over-55s, who we know are more likely to turn out to vote than younger people.  If I was in the Remain campaign, I would be mildly terrified at the thought of being so reliant on a humongous 76% to 20% lead among under-25s.  It's hard to believe such an extreme split in opinion will persist as younger voters become more engaged - but even if it does, that age group is the least likely to make it to the polling stations.

The other big warning sign for Remain is that respondents listed the economy as only the joint-third most important issue that will help decide their referendum vote - well behind more Leave-friendly topics such as immigration and "control over Britain's laws".

In the Scottish subsample, Remain have an almost 2-1 lead (59% to 31%), which is another reminder of the near-inevitability that any Britain-wide vote to leave the EU will be coupled with a Scottish vote to Remain - thus triggering a constitutional crisis, and potentially an early second independence referendum.

*  *  *


Once again, the latest Poll of Polls update somewhat understates the progress made by Leave, because most of the polls taken into account were conducted prior to the unveiling of Cameron's feeble deal.  It's likely that truly up-to-date figures would have Remain only very narrowly ahead on the 50/50 online/telephone average - although even as it is, the gap is down to a precarious 7.2%.

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?


Remain 47.2% (-0.9)
Leave 40.0% (+0.7)


Remain 41.6% (n/c)
Leave 42.3% (-0.3)


Remain 52.7% (-1.8)
Leave 37.7% (+1.7)

(The Poll of Polls takes account of all polls that were conducted at least partly within the last month. The online average is based on nine polls - four from ICM, two from YouGov, one from Survation, one from BMG and one from ORB. The telephone average is based on three polls - two from ComRes and one from Ipsos-Mori.)

*  *  *

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Monday, February 15, 2016

It's true, folks : If the SNP take all of the list votes, they'll take all of the list seats

As long-term readers know, I firmly believe that "No to AV" was one of the most disreputable campaigns in the whole of British political history.  Their landslide victory in the 2011 referendum was entirely based on a small number of extremely basic lies and distortions which were scribbled down on the back of an envelope, and which they got away with because hardly anyone cared enough about the issue to research it for themselves.  Perhaps the lowest point of all was a broadcast which depicted a teacher trying to "explain" AV to a class of bright sixth-form students.  To begin with, she made genuine points about what is a very simple system in a ridiculously garbled way, but then she quickly degenerated into reading total gibberish from a supposed "AV manual"...

"The candidate with the most votes may or may not win depending on whether they gain 50% of the vote.  Or not.  After that, it's down to your second preference vote, providing you vote for an unpopular candidate.  Then your second and third choices will be added to the most popular ones, which means that now..."

"If the winner gets 38%, and the second gets 32%, then the contest is still not finished, because what they do now is if the runner-up gains more second votes than the winner, then number 2 or 3 is now the winner."

"After that, what happens now?"

"You count everyone's third choice?"

"No you can only use the third preferences for those people who have already been eliminated twice."

The latter claim has no basis whatever in fact - it's impossible under AV for anyone to be "eliminated twice".  This really begs the question of whether parties or political campaigns should be allowed to get away with flat-out lies (as opposed to mere distortions) in election broadcasts and literature.

Something similar appears to be happening with the increasingly exotic claims that are currently being made about the Additional Member System used for Scottish Parliament elections, and more specifically about the potential impact of any attempts at "tactical voting on the list".  I'm not clear whether some people are following the example of No to AV and making deliberate attempts to mislead, or whether we're just seeing a very extreme "Chinese whispers" effect.  Either way, the electoral system seems to be mutating rapidly before our eyes.

I've just been speaking to a Solidarity supporter called Angela Kerrigan on Twitter, and I was very struck that she made almost exactly the same claim as Green supporter Morag Hannah did the other day - that the SNP can't win all of the list seats even if they win all of the list votes.  I pointed out to her that the opposite is true, and that if the SNP win 100% of the list votes they'll take 100% of the list seats.  But she stuck to her guns and insisted I was wrong.  Her explanation was that the d'Hondt method "deducts" list seats from parties that have done well in the constituencies.

That, of course, is gibberish on a par with the stuff about candidates being "eliminated twice" under AV.  But given the way that the tactical voting lobby have misrepresented the d'Hondt calculation, you can kind of see how people might wrongly think there is some sort of rule about "deducting list seats".

Let's clear this up once and for all by going through the arithmetic in full.  The reality is that even on 95% of the list vote, the SNP would be absolutely guaranteed to win 100% of the list seats in any region.  To demonstrate the point, let's take a region with ten constituency seats (that's the maximum) and assume that the SNP win them all.  The SNP take 95% of the list vote, but to make it as hard as possible for them to claim the final list seat, let's assume that every non-SNP list vote is won by a single opposition party - and in Angela's honour, we'll also assume that party is Solidarity (although it doesn't make a jot of difference whether it's Labour, Tory, Lib Dem or whatever).

*  *  *

List result -

SNP : 240779 votes (95%)
Solidarity : 12673 votes (5%)
All Others : 0 votes (0%)

*  *  *

First count -

Because the SNP already have 10 constituency seats, their original vote is divided by 11 (10 + 1).

240779 divided by 11 is 21889.

As Solidarity have no seats yet, their vote is unchanged.

SNP : 21889 votes
Solidarity : 12673 votes

The first list seat is won by the SNP.

*  *  *

Second count -

Because the SNP already have 10 constituency seats and 1 list seat, their original vote is divided by 12 (11 + 1).

240779 divided by 12 is 20065 (after rounding).

As Solidarity have no seats yet, their vote is unchanged.

SNP : 20065 votes 
Solidarity : 12673 votes

The second list seat is won by the SNP.

*  *  *

Third count -

Because the SNP already have 10 constituency seats and 2 list seats, their original vote is divided by 13 (12 + 1).

240779 divided by 13 is 18521 (after rounding).

As Solidarity have no seats yet, their vote is unchanged.

SNP : 18521 votes 
Solidarity : 12673 votes

The third list seat is won by the SNP.

*  *  *

Fourth count -

Because the SNP already have 10 constituency seats and 3 list seats, their original vote is divided by 14 (13 + 1).

240779 divided by 14 is 17199 (after rounding).

As Solidarity have no seats yet, their vote is unchanged.

SNP : 17199 votes 
Solidarity : 12673 votes

The fourth list seat is won by the SNP.

*  *  *

Fifth count -

Because the SNP already have 10 constituency seats and 4 list seats, their original vote is divided by 15 (14 + 1).

240779 divided by 15 is 16052 (after rounding).

As Solidarity have no seats yet, their vote is unchanged.

SNP : 16052 votes 
Solidarity : 12673 votes

The fifth list seat is won by the SNP.

*  *  *

Sixth count -

Because the SNP already have 10 constituency seats and 5 list seats, their original vote is divided by 16 (15 + 1).

240779 divided by 16 is 15049 (after rounding).

As Solidarity have no seats yet, their vote is unchanged.

SNP : 15049 votes 
Solidarity : 12673 votes

The sixth list seat is won by the SNP.

*  *  *

Seventh count -

Because the SNP already have 10 constituency seats and 6 list seats, their original vote is divided by 17 (16 + 1).

240779 divided by 17 is 14163 (after rounding).

As Solidarity have no seats yet, their vote is unchanged.

SNP : 14163 votes 
Solidarity : 12673 votes

The seventh list seat is won by the SNP.

*  *  *

At that point we stop counting, because there are only seven list seats to be distributed.  So how is it possible that the SNP have won every single seat?  Basically the aim of the Additional Member System is to make the overall number of seats won by any party in a region (constituency and list seats combined) roughly proportional to the percentage of votes won by that party on the list ballot.  In the region we've been discussing, there are seventeen seats in total, which means that any party that wins more than sixteen-seventeenths of the list vote (approximately 94.1%) can't be beaten to the final list seat, even if the opposition vote isn't split at all.

And what if, more realistically, the opposition vote is split between multiple parties?  In that event, the seventh count in the above example might look something like this...

SNP : 14163 votes
Labour : 8527 votes 
Conservatives : 3289 votes
Liberal Democrats : 1002 votes 
Greens : 925 votes
Solidarity : 231 votes
RISE : 189 votes

As you can see, the SNP have won the final seat even more easily.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Spannersplanation urgently required for the Spanner-silence

I've just been down with the lurgy for about a fortnight - I think it was two successive colds, and they were both absolutely wretched.  So when I published the now-famous blogpost on Monday that revealed J K Rowling's misogynistic friend "Brian Spanner" had probably been in Ardrossan when he posted on Twitter on 7th July 2015, I didn't hang around to see the reaction - I turned off the computer, watched a DVD for a little while, and then had a nap.  It wasn't until several hours later that I switched on my phone and discovered that all hell had broken loose in the interim, and that Ardrossan was the eighth highest trending topic in the UK on Twitter.  My amusement at the whole thing gradually started to turn to concern when I saw a rather self-righteous chap called Scott Reid say this : "Somewhere (not Ardrossan, presumably), Nicola Sturgeon looks at her phone, silently screams and hits her head off a wall."

Now, don't get me wrong - I was absolutely clear in my mind that the blogpost had been fully justified. If certain journalists are deliberately giving the public a misleading impression of a story by withholding crucial pieces of information, it's vitally important to try to discover why they're doing that. However, I'm not naive enough to think that a justified action can never backfire, and I did accept the uncomfortable possibility that the SNP leadership might have preferred it if people like me had left well enough alone - even if that meant letting sections of the media get away with absolute murder. But thankfully, my fears that I may have unwittingly caused some damage were very quickly dispelled. Correct me if I overlooked anything, but my search for any news headlines the following morning about "Ardrossangate" drew a complete blank, even in Rowling-obsessed gossipy websites like BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post.

Scott Reid and his fellow spannersplainers might want to reflect on this irony : just as it's not possible for J K Rowling to be damaged by her association with Spanner if the media conveniently edit him out of the story, it was also never possible for "Ardrossangate" to harm the SNP in any way if journalists refrained from reporting it due to their determination to protect Spanner. The temptation must have been overwhelming to run mocking, distorted stories about a female Cybernat descending on Ardrossan with a detection-device in one hand and a pitchfork in the other - but, in view of the wider imperatives, they somehow managed to resist it entirely. I did spot one journalist from the local Ardrossan/Saltcoats paper say that he had considered writing a light-hearted piece about the subject, but had decided against it because no-one would have had a sodding clue what he was talking about.

And the wall of silence continues. Just a few hours ago, a news website ran a piece about Natalie McGarry's return to Twitter, and regurgitated the story of her spat with Rowling in a typically one-sided fashion. The misogynistic Mr Spanner was referred to several times - but only indirectly as an "anonymous tweeter", and never by name. I suspect that will have left anyone who doesn't use Twitter with the false impression that no name at all, even a fake one, was ever attached to Spanner's tweets. It drives a coach and horses through Jamie Ross' insistence that the reason Spanner had been edited out of events by journalists was that Rowling and McGarry were the only two people of interest in the story. As it turns out, he's important enough to be mentioned repeatedly, but he absolutely mustn't be named. Why? Spanner is a bogus identity, so there can't possibly be any credible privacy considerations. It's very, very hard to escape the conclusion that a decision has been reached that as little attention as humanly possible should be drawn to Spanner's Twitter account. OK, if members of the public are absolutely determined to locate it, they can't be stopped, but they're not going to receive any encouragement or assistance at all in that direction - presumably because of what they'd find when they get there (both in terms of the content of the account, and the prominent public figures who have very visibly interacted with him and continue to do so).

If there's an alternative spannersplanation, I'd be delighted to hear it from Scott Reid, or Professor James Chalmers, or Jamie Ross, or any of the others. But I have to say I'm really struggling to think of one.

Incidentally, I've been taking another look at this blog's stats. Here are the top ten most viewed blogposts, out of the 2500 or so I've written since May 2008 -

As you can see, two posts from the last couple of weeks, both about Spanner, are already in the top five for all-time page views. It seems that there are at least a good few thousand people out there who beg to differ when they're patted on the head by establishment figures, and told that they wouldn't be remotely interested in hearing the uncensored version of what the Rowling-McGarry dispute was actually about.