Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Crisis mounts for embattled Ruth Davidson as three more subsamples put the SNP in the lead

Just for the sake of completeness, here are the three most recent Scottish subsamples from Britain-wide polls -

ICM: SNP 34%, Conservatives 32%, Labour 21%, Greens 4%, UKIP 4%, Liberal Democrats 4%

YouGov: SNP 37%, Labour 29%, Conservatives 23%, Liberal Democrats 7%, UKIP 4%

Opinium: SNP 35%, Conservatives 32%, Labour 24%, Greens 6%, UKIP 1%, Liberal Democrats 1%

In a sense these are in line with the full-scale Scottish poll from Panelbase, because they all show the SNP in the lead, and they all show the SNP well ahead of Labour, who until recently had looked like the main challenger.  There have now been twenty-three subsamples since the election, and fourteen have put the SNP ahead.  Seven have shown a Labour lead, and only two have shown a Tory lead.

If we buy into the theory that there was a Labour surge during the summer which has since subsided, there's one huge mystery that has yet to be solved.  How do we explain the significant swing from SNP to Labour in the very recent Cardonald and Fortissat by-elections, which took place at roughly the same time as the Panelbase poll was in the field?  Perhaps there were local factors at play, and perhaps it's just coincidence that more or less the same thing happened in two different places at once...but we should probably keep an open mind until we have more information.

Note : I'm out of the country for a couple of weeks with intermittent internet access, so blogging may be light.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sensational poll suggests SNP would make sweeping GAINS in an early Westminster election

Rarely have I been so delighted to be proved wrong.  I had suspected that last week's Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times contained a Westminster voting intention question that was being withheld until this week for the purposes of a "blow for Sturgeon" headline, ie. because the results were markedly worse for the SNP than the Holyrood numbers.  Well, I was correct about there being withheld results, but not about them being bad for the SNP - in fact they're so wonderful for the SNP that the Sunday Times have seemingly given them only the most cursory of mentions.

Scottish voting intentions for Westminster (Panelbase) :

SNP 41% (+4)
Conservatives 27% (-2)
Labour 24% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)
Greens 2% (+2)

This is the first full-scale Scottish poll of Westminster voting intentions from Panelbase or any other firm since the general election, so the percentage changes listed above are from the actual election result, rather than from a previous poll.  I know some people will look at the numbers and think "this looks very similar to the pre-election polls that overestimated the SNP by a few points, so the SNP are probably being overestimated again", but of course this poll has been weighted by recalled 2017 election vote, which should have resolved any skew.

If the poll is right, it genuinely looks as if quite a few voters who switched to the Tories or Labour in June have since come home to the SNP.  One of the things that made the election in Scotland so unusual was the large number of seats that were won by knife-edge margins - some of them broke for the SNP (including, remarkably, all four that were decided by fewer than 100 votes), but plenty of others didn't.  Labour's six gains are now marginal seats, and most of them are ultra-marginals.  Based on the Panelbase numbers, the SNP could expect to regain all of those six seats, with only the extreme oddity of Edinburgh South remaining firmly out of reach.  There would also be modest gains from the Tories (Stirling would fall on the tiniest of swings).

In other words, the doom and gloom of the summer is now over.  The SNP can stop fearing an early election, and can perhaps even start thinking of it as a golden opportunity to gain seats - although admittedly none of us need any reminding of how suddenly the political weather can change these days.  One thing is for sure - if these numbers are spotted in the corridors of power in London, it'll put an end to the Tories' silly notion that they can expect the SNP to abstain on a no confidence vote.

Does all of this mean that the picture painted by Scottish subsamples of GB-wide polls since June (basically that the SNP only had a very narrow lead, and that Labour had surged into a strong second place) was totally meaningless?  As this poll has taken me by complete surprise, I suppose I should have the humility to say "possibly", but the flip-side of the coin is "not necessarily".  We only have one full-scale Westminster poll to go on at the moment, and it may yet turn out that a 14-point lead for the SNP is 'on the high side'.  I wonder if question sequence may have played a part - if Panelbase asked about independence and Scottish Parliament voting intentions first, respondents may have been more likely to stick with the SNP when subsequently asked about Westminster.  But there may also be a way of reconciling this poll with the subsamples.  YouGov are the only firm who seemingly weight their Scottish subsamples separately - and they suggested in their first few post-election subsamples that there was a tight race between SNP and Labour.  More recently, they've shown the SNP with a bigger lead.  That could be an illusion caused by the enormous margin of error, but it's just possible there was a Corbyn surge for Labour in the summer that has since subsided as memories of the election have grown more distant.  There's no getting away from it, though - to see Labour in third place, and a whopping 17 points behind the SNP, is undoubtedly a big shock.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Massive boost for Sturgeon as Survation confirm SNP have staggeringly sizeable Scottish Parliament lead

Hot on the heels of Panelbase's first Scottish Parliament poll in an eternity comes the same from Survation.  The findings of the two polls are strikingly similar on the constituency ballot (which is all we got from Panelbase).

Scottish Parliament voting intentions (Survation) :

Constituency ballot -

SNP 42%
Conservatives 26%
Labour 25%
Liberal Democrats 7%

Regional list ballot -

SNP 31%
Labour 25%
Conservatives 21%
Liberal Democrats 10%
Greens 9%

Crucially, the SNP's more modest lead on the list isn't caused by any sort of Corbyn surge or Tory breakthrough, but rather by the more long-standing problem of SNP constituency voters drifting off in large numbers to the Greens on the list.  That means, according to the most ubiquitous seat projection models, that the pro-independence parties in combination would be just two or three seats away from retaining their majority.  In other words, despite all the sound and fury of recent months, we're in almost as good a position as we were when Nicola Sturgeon won the May 2016 Holyrood election with a pro-independence majority of 69-60 - and there's no election due for another four years anyway.

Even better news is to be found on the independence question.  Against all the odds, and in defiance of all expectations, there has been a sharp swing back to Yes, with the pro-independence vote now once again exceeding the 45% achieved in the 2014 referendum -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 46% (+3)
No 54% (-3)

Of course an apparent 3% swing could be an illusion caused by margin of error, but it would still be good news even if that is the case - because it would suggest the 43% Yes vote in the last Survation poll was more likely to be an underestimate than an overestimate.

Survation also asked respondents when they thought the next independence referendum should be.  As with the equivalent question in the Panelbase poll, the various options were worded a bit ambiguously, which makes it harder to get much sense out of the results.  However, a combined total of 34% want a referendum either before Britain leaves the EU or at around the time Britain leaves the EU, which presumably means in the very, very near future.  That figure is basically identical to the 37% who "never" want to see another referendum.  In between the two extremes are a moderate group of around 20% who either want a referendum "a few years after Britain leaves the EU" or "after the 2021 election".  Those two options sound very similar to me, although I suppose theoretically you could argue that "after the 2021 election" could mean any time between 2021 and infinity.  From a common sense point of view, I think it would be fair to say this poll seems to be pointing towards a majority in favour of holding a second indyref in the short or medium term.

In another sign of how dramatically some social attitudes in Scotland have changed over a short period of time, the poll finds respondents are not far away from being evenly split over whether parents should be banned from smacking children.  36% support a ban, with 42% opposed.  That sort of finding would have been unthinkable a few years ago (ie. there would have been overwhelming opposition to a ban).

Monday, September 11, 2017

Scale of Davidson flop becomes clear as "extraordinary" Panelbase poll reveals that 42% of public want an independence referendum within LESS THAN TWO YEARS

Panelbase have released the datasets for the full-scale Scottish poll that was published (and so comically misrepresented) in yesterday's Sunday Times.  Here are a few points that leap out -

1) As expected, Panelbase have introduced weighting by recalled 2017 general election vote.  In one sense that's very good news, because it means that there's much less reason to be sceptical about the SNP's double-digit lead over both the Tories and Labour.  If, for example, there had been weighting by 2016 recalled Holyrood vote but not by 2017 vote, there would be a danger that respondents might have got the two elections mixed up, which in all likelihood would lead to the SNP's vote being wrongly adjusted upwards (the exact reverse of the effect that was seen when YouGov used to weight by 2010 vote, rather than 2011).  Instead, the SNP have actually been significantly weighted down on recalled vote, with the 385 respondents who said they voted SNP in June being reduced to 346.

The downside is that 2017 weighting was also applied to the independence question.  We know from YouGov polling that the reduction in the SNP vote in June can be partly explained by people staying at home, rather than defecting to another party.  And yet it's not unreasonable to assume that a lot of those people might well turn out to vote in a second indyref, and would be more likely to vote Yes than No.  The problem with Panelbase's new approach is that to some extent it treats those missing voters as if they don't exist - which could, theoretically, lead to the Yes vote being underestimated.  It certainly means that the new poll is not directly comparable with Panelbase's previous independence poll, which was conducted just before the general election.  That factor alone might explain the small (and statistically insignificant) drop in the Yes vote from 44% to 43%.

2) The only possible reason I can think of for still being a little cautious about the SNP's handsome lead is that the independence question was asked before the Holyrood voting intention question.  It's arguable that this might put pro-independence voters in a frame of mind where they'd be more likely to favour the SNP rather than Labour.  That's pure speculation on my part, but I don't think the possibility can be totally ruled out.

3) There's a preamble to the independence question: "If the referendum was held again tomorrow, how would you vote in response to the question..."  There's no way of knowing whether that makes any difference to the result, but I think the wording is unwise, because it invites people to think about how they would vote in a re-run of a referendum they have already voted in - perhaps nudging them back towards their original choice, rather than inviting them to think of the next referendum as a completely fresh vote taking place in a different context (ie. Brexit).

4) Judging from the numbering in the datasets, there are clearly some results from the poll that haven't seen the light of day yet.  In the past, the Sunday Times have sometimes held results back for a week so they can get two weeks' worth of headlines out of the same poll.  If a Westminster voting intention question was asked, and if the results were less favourable for the SNP than the Holyrood constituency numbers (as they probably would be), I'm wondering if they're being held back for a good old "blow for Sturgeon" effort next week.  It does, however, look like there was no question about Holyrood regional list voting intention, because there's no obvious reason why that would have been withheld.  The omission makes it impossible to use the poll to project seat totals in the Scottish Parliament.

5) Although the wording is a bit slippery, there's a finding that seems to imply that 49% of respondents think that Scotland will be independent within less than 20 years, compared to 42% who do not.  And only 32% think that Scotland is not likely to become independent "at any point in the next few decades".

6) An astonishing total of 42.3% of respondents want the next independence referendum to take place within less than two years.  Admittedly that's down on the roughly 50/50 split we've seen on that question in previous Panelbase polls, but nevertheless it's an absolutely stunning slap in the face for the commentators who have spent the last three months trying to convince themselves that the SNP's decisive victory in June somehow rendered the issue of independence "dead".

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Enormous lead for the SNP in first post-June Scottish poll

"The findings are likely to dismay Nicola Sturgeon" says Jason Allardyce of the Sunday Times about a new poll which he must know perfectly well is going to absolutely thrill Nicola Sturgeon, because it shows the SNP have shrugged off the hammering they've been taking in the media since June, and have retained an enormous lead in Scottish Parliament voting intentions.

Holyrood constituency voting intentions (Panelbase) :

SNP 42%
Conservatives 28%
Labour 22%
Liberal Democrats 6%
Greens 2%

No percentage changes are listed because it appears that this is the first Scottish Parliament poll that Panelbase have conducted since the Holyrood election almost eighteen months ago.  They've done Scottish voting intention polls since then, but for obvious reasons the voting intentions being measured were for Westminster or local council elections.  And that brings me to the most important health warning about these numbers.  I rarely disagree with Stuart Campbell of Wings, but he's attempting to use this poll as evidence to support his belief that the pattern shown by the Scottish subsamples of Britain-wide polls (basically a tight three-way contest, with the SNP and Labour battling it out for first place) is completely meaningless.  Much more likely, I'm afraid, is that the reason for the disparity is that those subsamples relate to Westminster voting intention only.  

Nobody disputes that an individual subsample should be regarded as unreliable, but an aggregate of a large number of subsamples is likely to produce figures that are at least within the correct ball-park.  What they've shown is in line with what seems intuitively likely, and indeed what was apparently borne out by the local by-elections on Thursday - ie. that Labour have built upon their mini-recovery at the general election.  It's not clear whether Panelbase even asked for Westminster voting intentions in the new poll (there's no sign of Westminster numbers on Twitter, and I don't pay the Murdoch levy so I haven't been able to read the Sunday Times article in full), but my strong suspicion is that a full-scale Scottish Westminster poll would show the SNP significantly lower than the Holyrood numbers suggest, and Labour significantly higher.  To believe anything else, you would have to believe that there has been a large swing from Labour to SNP since June, which flies in the face of all logic given what happened on Thursday.  

I suspect that the traditional gap between Westminster and Holyrood voting intentions, which has existed for the vast majority of the eighteen years since devolution, has reasserted itself.  If so, the explanation is the usual one - there is a significant minority of voters out there who like both Labour and the SNP, but think Labour is the more natural choice for Westminster and that the SNP is the most natural choice for Holyrood.

In many ways that's not bad news.  The question of whether a second independence referendum is held will ultimately be decided by Holyrood arithmetic, after all.  This is just one poll, but if other firms corroborate Panelbase's findings, it means that the SNP have only lost around 4% or 5% of support since their decisive victory in May 2016.  If another Holyrood election was held now, it looks highly likely that the SNP would be effectively re-elected as a minority government - probably without a pro-independence majority in parliament, but they're not a million miles away from holding on to even that.  With no election due until May 2021, the unionist parties can scarcely look at this poll and think "all we have to do is hold out until the next election, and then the parliamentary majority for an indyref will automatically disappear and we can all get back to normal".

And as far as the prospects for actually dislodging the SNP from government are concerned, this poll is an absolute hammerblow for the unionists.  The Tories seem to have a natural ceiling of around 30% support, so realistically if any party is going to defeat the SNP it'll have to be Labour - and yet even after a very favourable summer, Labour still seemingly find themselves twenty points behind the SNP, and in a dismal third place.  It appears that no matter how good things get for Labour in Westminster terms (or even perhaps in local government terms) there will always be gravity holding them back in Scottish Parliament elections.  Perhaps the only way to overcome that handicap would be to find a truly inspirational leader - but instead they're going to be stuck with either Anas Sarwar or mystery man Richard Leonard (and I suspect it may well be Sarwar, who is the worse of the two).

Panelbase also asked a voting intention question on independence -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 43% (-1)
No 57% (+1)

For my money, the SNP leadership will be very pleased (or at least monumentally relieved) about those figures.  Although we haven't had a post-election party political voting intention poll until today, there was an independence poll from Survation in mid-June which suggested a substantial drop in support for independence.  There appeared to be a danger that the momentum was running away from Yes, in which case there was a chance that things might have worsened significantly over the course of the summer.  Instead, the situation seems to have stabilised.  The percentage changes listed above are from the Panelbase poll conducted in the days leading up to the general election, so it appears that there hasn't been a statistically significant swing since then.  Yes remains firmly in the game.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Could the sort-of-rise of "BUSP" be a boon for the independence movement?

Much synthetic excitement in the unionist media today about the exploits of an "obscure unionist party" that narrowly beat the SNP into third place in the Fortissat by-election - a feat that looks considerably less impressive when you realise that the same party came within a whisker of taking a seat in the same ward at the local elections in May.  (It also looks like they've probably hoovered up the support lost by an independent candidate with past links to the Orange Order, who saw his vote share halved since May.)

Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume that the snappily-named "A Better Britain - Unionist Party" (aka "BUSP") is entirely confined to a Fortissat ghetto.  Largely unnoticed, they somehow took 1% of the list vote in Glasgow at the Holyrood election last year - more than the Women's Equality Party and the same as RISE.  If the Fortissat result emboldens them to put up more candidates in future, it's probably going to be beneficial from a pro-independence point of view - they would split the unionist vote in a Westminster first-past-the-post election, making it slightly easier for the SNP to hold off challenges from Labour and the Tories, and as long as they stay below roughly 5% of the vote in any of the Holyrood regions they choose to stand in, they'll harm the chances of Labour and the Tories taking list seats while not winning any of their own.

An endorsement of sorts for the new party has come from the predictable direction of Stephen Daisley, who described them as a "centrist", "Labourish" unionist party.  Well, let's see - they're standing former Tory candidates, they want to abolish the Scottish Parliament, and are in favour of the hardest of hard Brexits (and not just to "respect the will of the people" either).  I dare say that must look like the epitome of moderation to the Daily Mail's favourite "centre-right socialist".

*  *  *

Today has seen more of the so-called "metrosplaining" that Stormfront Lite is so renowned for -

"The Lib Dems are the one party fully united on what should come next on Brexit and who can be relied upon, more or less, to vote as a bloc. But there are only 12 of them."

And there are 35 SNP MPs, which is a rather bigger number.  On what planet is the SNP not fully united on what should come next on Brexit (ie. remaining in the single market and retaining freedom of movement)?  On what planet will they not be voting as a bloc?  No answer to either of those questions is forthcoming, although the SNP do get a cursory mention later on in the piece -

"Not everyone is all that bothered about Brexit. Some parties, notably the SNP, see it as just another tool for pursuing an entirely different agenda."

Just how ignorant would you have to be of the modern SNP to think that, because their number one objective is independence, they can't really be "that bothered" about Brexit?  It's like saying that the Tory obsession with Europe is all an affectation because their first love is the free market economy.  In reality, the European project has aroused extremely strong passions in the SNP since the 1970s - initial hostility gave way to strong support, albeit the constant along the way has been opposition to the Common Fisheries Policy in its present form.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Blow for the Tories in Fortissat and Cardonald by-elections

As I suspected might happen, Labour have won both of today's local by-elections - although as is often the case with STV by-elections, the results require a fair bit of interpretation, and classifications like "Labour hold" or "Labour gain" are not really adequate.

Cardonald by-election result :

Labour 48.6% (+10.1)
SNP 36.7% (-7.5)
Conservatives 10.3% (-1.7)
Greens 2.7% (+0.2)
Liberal Democrats 1.5% (n/a)
Scottish Libertarians 0.2% (n/a)

This is technically a "Labour hold", but it's arguably the worse of the two results for the SNP because they won the popular vote in the ward in May, and have since suffered a swing of 8.8% - enough to put Labour ahead if repeated nationwide.

Fortissat by-election result :

Labour 38.5% (+2.0)
A Better Britain - Unionist 23.3% (+12.2)
SNP 20.6% (-8.4)
Conservatives 11.5% (-1.8)
Independent - Cefferty 5.0% (-5.1)
Greens 0.7% (n/a)
UKIP 0.5% (n/a)

This is officially a "Labour gain from the Conservatives", even though Labour comfortably won the popular vote in May with the SNP in second place. The drop in the SNP's vote is slightly steeper than in Cardonald, but probably more important is the fact that the swing to Labour is more modest at only 5.2%, which would actually leave the SNP narrowly ahead if repeated across the country.

The average swing in the two by-elections is roughly 7%, implying an extremely tight race between SNP and Labour nationally - which has been very much the message of recent polling subsamples. Juteman told us the other day that a full-scale Scottish poll from Panelbase appeared to be in the field, which if true would be the first poll of its type from any firm since the general election. If I was a betting man, I would guess that it will show a very small SNP lead, but on tonight's figures it's obviously impossible to rule out a small Labour lead. I'd be very, very surprised if Labour have powered miles ahead, though - there's no evidence at all to support that notion.

Even though the Labour gain from Tory in Fortissat is a bit of a technicality, it's reasonable to say that both results are mildly disappointing for the Tories - their vote is down in both wards in spite of Tory voters being traditionally more likely to make it to the polling stations in low turnout local by-elections. It could be a sign that Peak Tory was reached in May and June, and that there's been some modest slippage since then.

I haven't been able to find details of lower preference transfers in Fortissat yet, but what happened in Cardonald was pretty incredible (if not surprising) - 253 Tory voters transferred to Labour, and only 35 to the SNP.  It really does appear that Tory voters hate the idea of their own country governing itself to such an extent that they'd rather vote for a party led by the far-left.  Who in the 1970s or 80s would ever have thought we'd reach this point?

Oddly, although the Scottish Libertarians are a pro-independence party, not a single one of their twelve voters transferred to the SNP.  Four went to the Greens, two to the Tories, two to the Lib Dems, one to Labour, and three votes were non-transferable.

Two key by-elections today

You may not be aware of this, but today (Thursday) marks the biggest electoral test in Scotland since the general election on June 8th, with two crucial local government by-elections taking place in the west of the central belt.  The Fortissat by-election in North Lanarkshire could almost have been devised as an illustration of just how barmy the world of STV by-elections is - the Tories are defending a seat in a ward where Labour won the popular vote, and yet if the SNP don't gain the seat, they will lose their hard-won position as the outright largest party on the council.  Doesn't sound entirely fair, does it?!  Meanwhile, in the Cardonald by-election, Labour are defending a seat in a ward where the SNP narrowly won the popular vote, meaning on the face of it that the SNP have a golden opportunity to increase their representation on Glasgow City Council from 39 seats to 40, edging them closer to the 43 required for an absolute majority.

The only other real-life election we've seen in Scotland since June 8th was the Elgin City North by-election in mid-July, which resulted in a moral triumph for the SNP - they didn't quite win the seat, but there was a negligible swing from SNP to Tory, implying (if that ward is typical) that things hadn't got any worse for the SNP since the general election in places where the Tories are their main opponents.  But the limited polling evidence of late has suggested that the main problem for the SNP is no longer the Tories, but Labour.  So today's two contests in SNP-Labour battleground areas may tell us quite a bit.  Given that Labour won the popular vote in Fortissat in May, I'd suggest they're quite strong favourites to gain that seat because there appears to have been a nationwide swing towards them over the intervening months.  It's a different story in Cardonald where the SNP start with a bit of a cushion, but even there Labour probably ought to be regarded as slight favourites.  If you want to do something about that, here is a public service announcement I spotted on Twitter -

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Deny a shared language, deny a shared history, deny a shared culture…deny who you are

A guest post by Edward Freeman

I feel I must chime in on the subject of Scots language deniers, who are, I think, usually in that group of people we can call “proud Scots but”. I am a trained United Nations translator, with degrees in languages, linguistics and whatnot (especially whatnot). I am now retired, but I routinely translated into English from Russian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, and I can cope with Dutch and German (having lived in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria). There are various others in the Romance and Slavic groups that I can cope with too. Shove in Latin and ancient Greek as well - I had a peculiar education. It is certainly true that the more languages you learn, the easier it gets. It is also true that language is the thing that distinguishes humans from other animals, and is probably our supreme intellectual achievement as a species.

I also spent years in Kenya, where English and Swahili are the official languages, though English is preferred for official business and Swahili is more widely used for interethnic communication, except with us wazungu. There are 47 tribes in Kenya, a few of them very small - and not counting the wazungu - and basically they all have their own languages, though languages shared between different tribes bring the total down to about 42. (I'm keeping this as simple as I can.)

Swahili has many native speakers, though not as many as in neighbouring Tanzania, where it is - or rather, was - the sole official language. In origin, Swahili is a creole between a Bantu substrate and the Arabic used by the Arab traders and slavers who travelled up and down the African east coast in sync with the monsoon winds. Its pre-eminence as a trading language allowed it to penetrate far into the interior, as far as modern-day Rwanda and even the eastern DRC.

It is probably worth pointing out that the Europeans did not exactly “discover” Africa; the locals knew it was there all the time, and other outsiders frequently “discovered” it before Europeans ever did.

English, obviously, is a much later linguistic add-on, but it is actively kept up because it is so useful, internationally, and for the formal (as opposed to the traditional) legal system, because it is based on English common law. English is also used in education and general official business, of course.

There is a distinctive form of Kenyan / East African English - which I really enjoy, frankly - an example would be "the cahs clashed buttock to buttock" = the cars reversed into each each other at speed. It remains English, though, as English as American and Indian and Downton Abbey English. And, of course, Scottish English.

Most of the tribal, home-grown languages are Bantu-based, including Swahili, which has many native speakers - down on the Coast in particular - whereas the others are Nilotic, except, of course, English. The Bantu-based ones maintain varying degrees of intercomprehensibility - Kikamba and Kikuyu are pretty close, for example, and contiguous geographically, and as people in those tribes / groups live in such close proximity to each other (not to mention intermarriage), there's a high degree of interoperability, if you can call it that. If I do mention intermarriage, it will be to say only that exogamy is very widespread, and the UK's Royals should probably have done a bit more of it.

There is a great deal of harmless amusement derived from people's varying accents in Swahili and so on, depending on their own native languages, and the funny ways they speak the closely related Bantu languages. Kisii and Embu come to mind in that respect (Embu has front rounded vowels, like French (3) – or Glaswegian (1) – unless I’m confusing Embu with Meru).

If you want to get a better idea of the complexity involved in all this, have a look at this short article in Wikipedia. If you look at the table on the right of that page, you will see the language “Gikuyu”. This is Kikuyu, and the reason for the G is because the language is currently undergoing an active process of dissimilation. I know about this because I gave one of my colleagues at the UN in Nairobi, a native speaker of Luganda (Buganda), the majority (Bantu) language of Uganda, some assistance with her linguistics MA dissertation – she ran her English-language examples by me, and explained what she was up to with the rest of her dissertation in return.

The Nilotic group of languages are a different kettle of fish entirely. Completely different, and rather difficult to get one's head around, for me, anyway. I am most familiar with Maa, as spoken by the Maasai, though one of my foster sons is Luo.

The Nilotic group and the Bantu group are in different categories of language entirely, like Arabic and English. English - Kiingereza in Swahili - is in a completely different language group from either. Swahili is a creole of Bantu and Arabic, as I said, and the Bantu languages and Arabic again are in two completely different language groups. English and Russian, in contrast, are in the same, Indo-European group, as are Greek, Hindi, and Farsi (Persian/Iranian). That’s right, I said “in the same” language group. As is Gaelic.

So, my "houseboy" Ntosho (Alex) Ole Kisaika, a Maasai (as is obvious from his name), grew up speaking Maa and Swahili and English, all three of them refined at school – primary school only - picked up more Kikuyu when he came to live in Nairobi, and could communicate with my Kamba guy Augustine in English, Swahili and Kikuyu. Meanwhile, Augustine was cheerfully picking up more Kikuyu himself, and some Maa from Alex and my Maasai foster son Lekishon.

It is far more common, worldwide, to be at least bilingual than it is to be a monoglot. Of course, it is far easier when you grow up with it. Many Scots are at least to some degree bilingual between Scottish English and Scots, but because it comes naturally to them, they don't even realize it. Bilingualism is very good for the brain - all the studies show it. Multilingualism is even better, in my view. Monoglots, alas, even the ones who only think they are monoglots, are the only ones who do not recognize this, because they simply do not know from experience, or do not realize that they do. Doubting Thomases! Take my word for it, you monoglots, or call me a liar!

Nairobi urban dialect is known as Sheng, a composite of Swahili and English favoured by smart young things who want, like all young people, to bamboozle their fuddy-duddy old parents. Of course, all my guys could use that as well. Example: "sasa" in Swahili means "now". Spoken with extended first vowel, short second, and rising intonation, accompanied by quickly raising the chin, in Sheng it is a greeting which I gloss as "Wassup?" Sheng is not a creole, or a pidgin; I don't think it ever can be, actually, not least because in order to use it you have to be heading towards bilingualism already, so you don’t actually need to put together a new language to communicate.

Note to readers - this is from Wikipedia: "Creoles also differ from pidgins in that, while a pidgin has a highly simplified linguistic structure that develops as a means of establishing communication between two or more disparate language groups, a creole language is more complex, used for day-to-day purposes in a community, and acquired by children as a native language. Creole languages, therefore, have a fully developed vocabulary and system of grammar."

The exception to the rule of multilingualism in Kenya is - you guessed it - the native English speakers among the white tribe. One of the reasons I got to be so well liked among the non-wazungu was because at least I tried! So, monoglots, next time you hear someone furren not getting their English quite right, do please think before you sneer?

My guy Alex never spoke English with a native speaker until he was well into his 20s, Augustine a bit earlier. Both are very smart cookies. I am proud that we can call each other friends. Rafiki.

Remember: Maa, Swahili, English - are in three different, unrelated language groups entirely, with Swahili partially composed of a fourth - like English, Chinese, and Arabic, with a bit of an admixture of Algonquian into one of them. My guys spoke all three of those, and learned them without the aid of bilingual dictionaries, because such things are rare, not very good at all, or far too expensive for poor Kenyans living in rural areas. Or they simply do not exist, because no one has ever compiled them. Pretty amazing, eh, to learn another language when the only book you have in common is the Bible, originally translated more and less badly or well by non-native-speaking European missionaries?

And yes - Scots IS a separate but closely related language to English. I just wish I were more fluent in it.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Have London Tory ministers been heeding siren voices about the SNP?

Faisal Islam, the Sky News political editor, had a 22-part thread on Twitter last night in which he suggested that the Tories are moving towards something a little mushier than their previous preferred Hard Brexit model.  There may be some truth in that, but one part of the thread leapt out as very obviously wrong -

As I've noted before, it's important to separate out two different questions - a) have the SNP concluded that an early general election is undesirable? and b) would they vote in favour of an early general election if the option was put before the Commons?  If Faisal Islam is correct, the Tories are making the huge mistake of assuming that if the answer to a) is "yes", the answer to b) must by definition be "no".  They may have been encouraged in that view by listening too much to so-called metrosplainers such as Mike Smithson of Stormfront Lite, who has repeatedly pushed the idea that the SNP will inevitably vote for their own self-interest and help block an early election.  Tory ministers really need to get out more and start listening to people who understand Scottish politics - although in truth they should have long since learned the lesson themselves by now.  Have they really not noticed how toxic the Tory brand has been for decades among the pool of voters which the SNP and Labour compete over?  Or have they fallen for their own propaganda, and think that Scotland is suddenly relaxed about Tory rule now that Ruth Davidson is here?

The reality is that it doesn't actually matter whether the SNP have privately reached the view that an early election is more of a threat than an opportunity, or even whether they think it would be a certain disaster.  They would have no choice but to vote to bring down the Tory government, because the long-term consequences of doing anything else hardly bear thinking about.  There would be no point in avoiding a short-term hit if the price is decades of Labour taunts about the SNP helping to keep the Tories in power.  I doubt if there's a single SNP MP who doesn't fully understand that point.

In any event, it's far from clear that the SNP should fear an early election.  The danger they face in the central belt has been well-rehearsed, but the flip-side of the coin is that they look well-placed to regain a few rural constituencies from the Tories.  It hardly needs to be stated what a psychological boost it would be if Angus Robertson and Alex Salmond were to quickly regain their former seats.

*  *  *

Memo to Anas Sarwar : There's little point in pitching yourself as the unity candidate who will bring Corbynites and moderates together, if you're then going to unveil a long list of the usual suspects (such as Iain "the Snarl" Gray, Ian Murray, the Daily Mail's very own Alan Roden, Catherine Stihler and Jackie Baillie) as your loyal supporters.  You might as well just have the words Chicken Coup : The Sequel tattooed on your forehead.  Severin Carrell's initial claim that Sarwar was the man to watch because he would have Corbynites flocking to his cause is looking more and more eccentric with every passing day.

The Labour selectorate are faced with a genuine dilemma, though.  Whether wisely or unwisely, Nicola Sturgeon has nailed her colours to the mast today with a breathtakingly radical programme for government that will make it much harder for a Leonard-led Labour to outflank the SNP on the left.  For all Ruth Davidson's half-hearted claims that the SNP have nicked one or two Tory policies, I can't see anything in there that could reasonably be described as right-of-centre - but there's quite a bit that's to the left of even Corbyn himself.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Sarwar is seething, Leonard is livid and Rowley is raging as two new subsamples show the SNP way ahead of Labour

I find it pays to aim for maximum alliterative inclusivity at moments of particular chaos for Labour.

The Scottish subsample from the new Britain-wide Survation poll shows something quite rare and exotic - a Tory lead.  The figures are: Conservatives 36%, SNP 33%, Labour 21%, Liberal Democrats 10%.  Survation's subsamples are particularly tiny, and the Tory lead can be explained by the fact that there are too many Tory voters from June in the sample.  By contrast, the SNP's sizeable advantage over Labour can't be dismissed quite so easily - there are too few respondents who recall voting Labour in June, but there are also too few who recall voting SNP.

Meanwhile, a new Scottish subsample from YouGov, which unlike Survation's is probably weighted correctly, puts the SNP into the 40s for the first time since the general election.  The full figures are:  SNP 40%, Labour 26%, Conservatives 23%, Liberal Democrats 5%, Greens 4%, UKIP 1%.

It seems to me there are grounds for cautious optimism here.  Thirteen subsamples out of the twenty conducted since the election have shown the SNP ahead of Labour.  Eleven out of twenty have given the SNP an outright lead, with seven putting Labour ahead.  Survation's new subsample is only the second one to put the Tories in front.  As the Tories have been third most of the time, it seems highly unlikely that they hold the lead - it looks very much like an SNP v Labour battle at the moment, and it also increasingly looks like the SNP have the upper hand.

*  *  *

Stephen Daisley has today continued his determined quest to make himself the laughing-stock of linguists throughout the world.  There may be continued debate over whether Scots should be regarded as a language in its own right or as a dialect of English, but nobody who understands the subject - literally nobody - describes Scots as "slang English" or an "accent".

Actually, I do have another question as well.  Stephen is well known for regarding himself as a "Zionist", to such an extent that he once penned an article that referred to the 1967 invasion of Palestinian-dominated East Jerusalem as "the liberation".  (Seriously.)  So what I'm wondering is this.   If Stephen had been around more than a century ago when Hebrew was a dead language but was in the process of being artificially revived, would he have advised people not to bother with it and to learn a "real language" that might be of some use in a job interview?  I mean, if enough people had taken that attitude, self-evidently Hebrew would not currently be the dominant language in the State of Israel.  Would that be a good thing or a bad thing, Stephen?

Can a Leonard change Labour's spots?

We've all been having tremendous fun over the last week with the almost comical obscurity of Richard Leonard, a man who somehow stands on the brink of becoming leader of the third-largest party in the Scottish Parliament, in spite of the fact that nobody seems to know anything about him.  Ever since the leadership election was triggered, I've been trying to find out personal details as basic as what age he is, and have so far drawn a blank.  But we mustn't lose sight of the bigger picture here.  I entirely stand by what I said on Twitter the other day -

"A rational party would hear the news that Anas Sarwar is standing for leader, and think 'OK, we must elect whoever stands against him'."

It looks like that will mean electing Leonard, and actually, Labour could probably do worse.  At least he's relatively articulate and isn't another dreary Blairite clone.  He does seem to be hopelessly stuck in the 1950s as far as Scottish identity and constitutional politics are concerned, but I suspect much the same is true of just about every other leading Scottish Labour figure as well.  Because he's a Corbynite, it's doubtless only a matter of time before Owen Jones declares "the SNP should FEAR him", and there may be a tiny grain of truth in that in the sense that the SNP will be disappointed if Labour fail to make their customary mistake of electing the weakest candidate.  (However, neither Leonard nor Sarwar are in remotely the same class as Nicola Sturgeon, or even Ruth Davidson for that matter, and assuming this is the last leadership election before 2021, it's suddenly very hard to imagine Labour posing much of a threat at the next Holyrood election.)

Is there any case at all to be made that Leonard could end up doing even worse than Sarwar would have done?  In a rather ugly development, the Labour "moderates" are already zeroing in on Leonard's English accent as a potential issue, and I suspect clueless metrosplainers in the London media will be along any moment now to "warn" that the SNP will make hay with Leonard's Englishness.  In reality, of course, nothing could be further from the truth - the SNP's vision for Scotland is of a country where there is no barrier to someone like Leonard holding the highest office.  But, there again, the SNP do not control the prejudices of ordinary voters.  The good news for Leonard is that the last time Scotland had political leaders with English accents (Malcolm Bruce and Ian Lang), they achieved tolerably good election results in the context of the period.  It's conceivable that a Labour leader might face a slightly greater handicap, given that a successful Labour party is more reliant on working-class votes than either the Lib Dems or the Tories.  But I doubt if it would be the enormous problem that some people are rather conveniently suggesting.

No, I think the bigger issue is that Leonard's left-wing credentials could herald the beginning of the end of the informal unionist alliance that harmed the SNP in June.  We've begun to take it as read that the first priority of unionist voters will always be to keep the SNP out, but that could rapidly change if Tory supporters start to feel (rightly or wrongly) that a Corbyn premiership is a more immediate threat than an independent Scotland.  In this year's election, even leaving aside the fact that a Labour victory seemed an extremely remote prospect, Tories in Scotland who voted tactically for Labour could tell themselves that they weren't 'really' voting for Corbyn, because Scottish Labour was still controlled by 'moderates' like Dugdale and Sarwar.  It's a stretch to imagine that a Leonard leadership will result in those people doing a 180 degree turn and tactically voting for the SNP to keep Corbyn out, but they may well just revert to their natural home of the Tories, thus making it a little easier for the SNP to hold seats in former Labour heartlands.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Murdo Most Foul

Just a quick note to let you know that, if you're a subscriber to iScot magazine, you can find an article by me on pages 40 and 41 of the September edition.  It's an appeal for greater tolerance and understanding of Murdo Fraser.  (And I mean that most sincerely, folks.)

If you're not a subscriber, a digital copy can be purchased for £2.99 HERE.  (I'm not suggesting my article is worth paying £2.99 for, but there's 114 other pages as well, with contributions from the likes of Peter A Bell, Paul Kavanagh and Derek Bateman.)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Kezia Dugdale's electoral record is mostly grim

There's a tiresome article on LabourList which can basically be summarised as: "Kezia Dugdale is a woman, so if you were critical of her leadership, you're a misogynist".  It starts off with the following question, which is supposed to be rhetorical -

"She writes in her resignation letter that she leaves the party in a better state than she found it, and my goodness isn’t she right."

No, she's completely wrong, actually.  Her electoral record is mixed, but it's undoubtedly more bad than good.  Excluding the Brexit referendum, she fought three nationwide elections as Labour leader, and these were the results...

May 2016 Holyrood election: Labour suffered a net loss of 13 seats, slipping from 37 to 24.  This was by far the party's worst performance since devolution in 1999, and the first time they had slipped to third place - both in terms of seats, and the popular vote on the list ballot.

May 2017 local elections: Labour dropped roughly 11% on the popular vote, finishing with just 20%.  They lost 132 seats across Scotland, relinquished control of Glasgow City Council for the first time in decades, and slipped to third place nationwide behind the Tories.

June 2017 general election: Labour slumped to third place for the first time since 1918 in terms of seats, and for the first time since 1910 in terms of the popular vote.  Paradoxically, however, they enjoyed a small gain of 2.8% in the popular vote, and jumped from one seat to seven.

Dugdale's claim to "success", therefore, rests almost exclusively on the seat gains in June.  The recovery in the popular vote was pretty small beer, and only looked impressive in the context of the lowered expectations that the leader herself can be considered partly responsible for - Labour would initially have been expecting pretty much any successor to Jim Murphy to do a little bit better than 24%.

But even the seven seat haul looks considerably less thrilling when you bear in mind that the Lib Dems won 11 seats in 2010 with just 19% of the vote, and the SNP won six seats at the same election with 20% of the vote.  Murphy was actually pretty unlucky to win just one seat with his 24% share - it only happened because the first-placed party was unusually dominant.  The modest gains this year were thus a resumption of normal service for a party languishing in the 20s, not some kind of great leap forward.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Disbelief as Dugdale dream is dramatically discontinued

I suppose I should be claiming the prediction of the year, because I did say when the general election was called in the spring that Kezia Dugdale's days as Scottish Labour leader were probably numbered.  But I must admit I was expecting the resignation to happen after Labour's vote share went down, not after a mini-recovery.  As far as public appearances were concerned, there's been no pressure on her at all since the election.

So what does this all mean?  A Corbynite takeover?  Maybe...or maybe not.  Remember how well Owen Smith did in Scotland.  This is a Blairite party to its core, or at least it was until very recently.  We could be in for a handover to yet another dreary clone, which to be fair might even be preferable to Neil Findlay.

UPDATE : Some really heartening news for the SNP in the Scottish subsample from the new Britain-wide YouGov poll.  They're ahead of Labour by 38% to 28%, with the Tories yet again in third place on just 23%.  YouGov subsamples should probably be taken a little more seriously than subsamples from other firms, because they appear to be separately weighted (although they still have a big margin of error due to the sample size).

Not quite such good news from the new ICM subsample, although of course that one isn't correctly weighted.  Labour are very slightly ahead on 32%, with the SNP on 31% and the Tories on 27%.

Across all firms, the SNP have now had the lead in ten out of eighteen subsamples published since the election, and have been ahead of Labour in eleven out of eighteen.

It was short-sighted, it was suspicious, and it was Swinson

With thanks once again to John Motson for inspiring the title, here is a quick note to let you know I have a new article at the TalkRadio website about the mystery of the Lib Dem "invisible money" in East Dunbartonshire.  You can read it HERE.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Sub-British nationalities are just a pretend thing

I spent some time at the World Badminton Championships in Glasgow last week, which was another pleasing reminder that the Commonwealth Games was not quite the one-off event that it appeared at the time.  There have been several big sporting events in Glasgow since 2014, some of which probably wouldn't have been possible without the Commonwealth Games, because we wouldn't have had a suitable venue otherwise.

There was one little moment that had me raising my eyebrows, though.  When the time came for the English announcer to introduce one of the English players, he deepened and loudened his voice, slowed his delivery, and put on a knowing tone as he said: "and NOW...his opponent...representing ENGLAND..."  The subtext was pretty unavoidable: "yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's the moment we've all been waiting for, someone from OUR home team".

I do try to be charitable, and it occurred to me that maybe you could explain this by the announcer thinking "well, England's a neighbouring country and there's a lot of English fans in, so let's make them feel at home".  But in actual fact, there were more Danish supporters in the arena than English supporters.  (I know that sounds unlikely, but it's true - badminton is a huge sport in Denmark and a large contingent had made the journey over.)  There was no special treatment for the Danish players.

Later on, I was asked to fill in a UK Sport questionnaire, which was strikingly similar to the one I filled in at the European Curling Championships last November.  It specifically asked whether I was proud that "the UK" was hosting the event.  In fairness it also asked if I was proud that Scotland was hosting the event, but the UK question was asked first.  I wasn't asked at any point whether I was proud that Europe was hosting the event.

As you may have seen on Twitter, I was then bemused to discover that the BBC website described the Adcocks' bronze medal as "Great Britain's first medal since 2011".  Great Britain does not compete at the World Badminton Championships and therefore does not win medals.  The Adcocks won a bronze medal for England, and yet for Saturday's order of play the BBC listed them as "Adcock and Adcock (GB)".

Whether consciously or unconsciously, the narrative shared across the BBC, UK Sport and the announcer in the arena itself seemed to be that the separate representation of Scotland, England and Wales was just an odd technicality and that we're all one big happy family really.  That was also very much the underlying premise of the BBC's coverage of the Commonwealth Games, just weeks before the first independence referendum.

On a similar note, it's no great surprise to see Sky News describe the Queensferry Crossing, which was actively frustrated by the UK government, as a "British triumph".

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tommy Sheppard is wrong : the independence referendum should be held before the May 2021 election

I've only just discovered, via Peter A Bell's blogpost, that Tommy Sheppard used his Thomas Muir memorial lecture the other day to argue that there should not be an independence referendum until after the next Holyrood election.  (This, incidentally, means the Sunday Herald were perhaps not quite so wide of the mark after all in suggesting a few weeks ago that Sheppard had 'broken ranks' and was calling for the referendum to be 'parked'.)  You won't be surprised to hear that I think he's recommending a course of action that would be an enormous strategic error.

Now, in fairness, judgements over the timing of an independence referendum are a bit like the dilemma in rugby over whether you should "take the three points" when awarded a penalty - in other words, either decision can be the 'right' or 'wrong' one depending on what happens next, which is unknowable in advance.  If Nicola Sturgeon plays the long game, if Brexit proves to be an unmitigated disaster very quickly, if Labour slip back into chaos and disunity, if the SNP reverse the recent swing against them and don't lose any seats at the 2021 election, if they still have the arithmetic to call an indyref after that election, and if a Yes vote is won, then obviously Sheppard will look like a strategic genius.  But there are an awful lot of 'ifs' there.

Here's something we do know pretty much for certain - there will be a pro-independence and pro-referendum majority in the Scottish Parliament until May 2021.  The only realistic way that won't be the case is if the Greens reverse policy, which in practice would be very hard for them to do given that so many of their current members joined as a direct result of their involvement in the Yes campaign.

We don't have a clue whether the pro-independence/pro-referendum majority will survive the 2021 election, but we do have perfectly rational reasons for worrying that it might not.  Polling evidence in the run-up to this year's general election suggested that a lot of independence supporters were 'cross-voting' (which primarily meant voting Labour), while very few opponents of independence were returning the compliment by voting SNP.  Unless that trend changes (it may do, but it may not) it's quite possible that even a strong popular majority in favour of independence in 2021 would translate into an anti-independence majority at Holyrood, thus making a referendum impossible until at least 2026.  The irresponsible rhetoric of Cat Boyd and her supporters only serves to make that scenario more likely.

Bearing in mind the relative certainty that exists until May 2021 and the complete uncertainty thereafter, it seems more than a little crazy to suggest that we should wait until just after the point at which we may no longer have a majority for a referendum.  Sheppard's answer seems to be that if we can't win a pro-independence majority at the 2021 election we wouldn't win an independence referendum anyway, but that logic is wholly misconceived.  Persuading people of the virtue of holding a referendum is an entirely different task from trying to persuade them to vote in a particular way in a referendum that is already underway.  Here's an analogy that might seem silly at first but I think is a good one - every year, I dread Christmas, and if I could vote to put it off, I would.  But when it actually comes round, I usually enjoy it and don't want it to end.  There are people who for temperamental reasons find the anticipation of a second intense referendum campaign unbearable and would always vote against holding one, but who would nevertheless vote Yes if it actually happened.  Winning a mandate for another referendum is arguably a tougher task than winning the referendum itself, and that's a truth the Parti Québécois can attest to.

We're incredibly fortunate in that we've already won a mandate to hold a referendum in this current parliament. We should use it. For the avoidance of doubt, that does not mean a referendum next week, or even necessarily before the day Britain officially withdraws from the EU. There are almost four years to go until the 2021 election, so there's still plenty of time to play a relatively long game while not throwing away the existing mandate.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Dark day for Dugdale as Opinium subsample puts SNP first, and Labour third

Right on cue, here's the perfect antidote to the BMG subsample a few days ago that some people lost all sense of perspective over.  Far from having Scottish Labour in the lead, the new Opinium subsample puts Kezia Dugdale's party in a distant third place: SNP 37%, Conservatives 36%, Labour 23%, Liberal Democrats 2%, Greens 1%.

Given that the threat to the SNP since the election seems to be coming much more from Labour than from the Tories, I'd suggest the SNP's razor-thin lead over the Tories in this subsample is less important than their bigger cushion over Labour.  It ought to cool fears that Labour have quietly opened up a significant lead during a second half of summer that has been frustratingly light on polls.  The balance of evidence in the first few weeks after the election suggested that the SNP were probably maintaining a small lead, and it's perfectly possible that's still the case, although obviously we'll need a lot more information before we can say that with any confidence.

There have now been sixteen Scottish subsamples from various firms since the election, and nine of them have put the SNP in front.  A tenth had the SNP ahead of Labour.

Very unusually for a GB-wide poll, Opinium asked about approval/disapproval of Nicola Sturgeon as a leader.  Jockophobia is so rampant south of the border at the moment that the English results are utterly predictable and thankfully not at all relevant, but among the Scottish subsample the position is almost exactly evenly balanced - 43% approve of Sturgeon and 44% disapprove.   If that's a representative finding (admittedly a big 'if' given the small sample size) it would suggest that Sturgeon hasn't suffered a further loss of popularity since election day.

The Britain-wide figures from Opinium paradoxically suggest that Labour have slightly increased their narrow lead over the Tories in spite of the fact that Jeremy Corbyn's advantage over Theresa May in the personal ratings has been significantly eroded.  The latter finding very much supports YouGov's results from the other day.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Calamity Cable?

You may have heard that there's a new Britain-wide YouGov poll out showing a significant drop in Jeremy Corbyn's personal popularity.  For my money, though, the bigger revelation from the poll is that it suddenly looks like the Liberal Democrats have made a catastrophic mistake by electing Vince Cable as their new leader.  (In fairness they didn't have much choice, given that nobody else wanted the job, for a variety of implausible and pompous reasons.)  Cable's net rating is a dismal -27, which is exactly the same as Theresa May's.  Presumably that can be explained by his involvement in the Tory-led coalition between 2010 and 2015, but it's quite surprising that the passage of time hasn't succeeded in rehabilitating him.

Speaking for myself, I find it difficult to dislike Cable, and he's obviously a serious figure.  I reckoned it was probably in the Lib Dems' own best interests that Jo Swinson had allowed him to take the job (regardless of what her real reasons for doing so were), but it looks like I was wrong about that.  Swinson was in it up to her neck during the coalition period, but the public probably aren't as aware of her role as they are of Cable's.  She would have started with more of a clean slate, however undeservedly.

The Liberal Democrats' collective rating has slipped from -20 in the immediate aftermath of the general election to -33 now, and the obvious suspicion is that this has been caused by Tim Farron being replaced by Cable.  It's hard to see what else has changed for the worse in the intervening period.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

BMG subsample turns anxiety into despair for embattled Davidson

After a delay of a few days, the datasets for the new GB-wide BMG poll have finally appeared.  In spite of the Conservatives holding a narrow lead across Britain (unusual in polls since June 8th), we once again see the now-familiar sight of Colonel Davidson's Scottish Tories in third place in the Scottish subsample...

Labour 44%, SNP 27%, Conservatives 18%, Liberal Democrats 8%, Greens 2%

Obviously the sizeable Labour lead is a matter of some concern, but individual subsamples are often wildly unreliable, and it remains the case that the SNP have held the lead in the slight majority of the fifteen subsamples published since the election.  The SNP have been ahead in eight, Labour in six, and the Tories in one.  The SNP have also been ahead of Labour in nine of the fifteen subsamples.

There isn't much doubt that the SNP remained competitive, and probably held the lead, in the immediate aftermath of the election.  The question now is whether that remains the case, or whether Labour's position has quietly strengthened during the second half of summer, which has seen very little polling of any sort.

So what *is* a mid-spectrum blogger?

The world hasn't seen a debate as fierce as this since the fateful day Donald Trump first uttered the word "covfefe".  Up and down the land, co-workers have been arguing, marriages have become strained, children have been pleading with their baffled mothers, and it's all in search of the answer to one simple question: what exactly did Bella Caledonia mean when it tweeted this?

"Mind-numbingly bored of mid-spectrum bloggers spewing their p*** and bile into the public sphere."

Countless domesticated Cybernats begged Bella to be let in on the secret of what a "mid-spectrum blogger" actually is, and which particular mid-spectrum bloggers the tweet was referencing.  No explanation was forthcoming (although, let's face it, a number of us probably weren't going far wrong if we thought we felt our ears burning).  Having done a bit of historical research, I can reveal that this isn't even the first time that the mystery phrase has been given an outing.  Back in March 2015, Bella said the following in an editorial about women-only shortlists -

"I for one am getting bored by mid-spectrum male monotone bloggers who can only speak in the language of anger."

That doesn't actually shed any more light on the situation, because no clarification was provided in that article either.  However, it seems to confirm that Bella has a very well-developed notion of what a "mid-spectrum blogger" is, even if that isn't being shared with the rest of us.  In the absence of any hard facts, here's some speculation about the various possibilities...

1) Autism.  Bella might be suggesting that certain undesirable bloggers are either autistic or have characteristics that are comparable to autism.  Admittedly it seems highly unlikely that Bella would use quite such a tactless insult, especially not on two separate occasions, but the possibility can't be entirely ruled out, for the obvious reason that the word "spectrum" is most commonly used in relation to autism.  People with Asperger's Syndrome and the like are regarded as having "high-functioning autism", those who are severely autistic are regarded as having "low-functioning autism", and those in between are "mid-spectrum".

2) Liberal Democrats.  Bella could be complaining about bloggers who are in the middle of the political spectrum.  Again, that seems a bit of a stretch, but from a RISE perspective "centre-left" may well seem like a downright catty barb.

3) Unexceptional talent.  The spectrum Bella is referring to could be that of ability, with the high-spectrum wordsmiths of Bella (a website I've written for twice, I hasten to add) being contrasted with the mid-spectrum oiks who lower the tone pretty much everywhere else.  But this theory fits in a bit too neatly with the deeply unfair perception of radical left writers as comprising an elitist "Byres Road Cappuccino commie set" that regards itself as intellectually and morally superior to the rest of the Yes movement, so for that reason I'm sure it can't possibly be correct.

4) ZX Spectrum users who prefer the middle of the keyboard.  (Self-explanatory.)

Feel free to chip in with any other suggestions.  We'll get to the bottom of this, no matter how long it takes.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Will "The Democrats" respect the Scottish democratic process?

James Chapman, the former political editor of the Daily Mail, seems to think he's the British Emmanuel Macron.  That's questionable enough, but in fact he thinks he's more than a Macron, because apparently his new political party "The Democrats" is going to save us all from the historic error of Brexit.  Well, good luck with that one.

Bizarrely he's already announcing firm policies for this as-yet-unfounded party (no internal democracy for The Democrats, it seems) and one of them is that referendums will be completely forbidden in future -

"Referendums will be outlawed by #thedemocrats. We believe in parliamentary democracy"

This raises a couple of obvious questions as far as Scotland is concerned.  Firstly, what does it mean for devolution?  Legal opinion may be divided on whether the Scottish Parliament currently has the power to hold a consultative referendum on independence without Westminster's consent, but there's no doubt at all that it has the power to hold referendums on devolved matters.  Are The Democrats planning to follow in the Tories' footsteps by stripping the Scottish Parliament of some of its current powers?

Secondly, if this ban on referendums is indeed going to be arrogantly extended to Scotland, which parliament is James actually talking about when he uses the phrase "parliamentary democracy"?  With referendums no longer a possibility, the decision on whether Scotland should become an independent country would instead have to be taken by an elected parliament - and logically that parliament should be the Scottish Parliament.  That would of course make the path to independence somewhat simpler, because both of the last two Scottish Parliament elections have produced clear pro-independence majorities.  But if James is instead suggesting that Scotland's constitutional future should be entirely at the whim of a parliament in which only 9% of members are elected by Scotland, that would be rather tough to square with the concept of democratic self-determination.

If I was going to offer a small piece of advice, it would be to choose a completely different name for the party.  There is actually a precedent in Britain for a party called The Democrats, and it's not a happy one.  The merger in 1988 between the Liberals and non-Owenite Social Democrats initially produced a party called the Social and Liberal Democrats, but for everyday use that was shortened to The Democrats to avoid the "alphabet soup" of being referred to as the SLD while in competition with the SDP, the SNP and the SDLP.  The twelve months or so that the name was used proved to be a very dark spell, with the party slumping to just 6% of the vote in the 1989 European elections.

Pop Goes Global

Spotted this on Waverley Bridge when I was on my way to a Fringe show on Thursday night. I was going to sue, but then I remembered that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. ("Imitation" is not a pun about the Jan Ravens half of the picture, although I've just realised that it could be.)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Greer makes a sectarian attack - will the self-appointed Civility Police intervene?

Above is the Green MSP Ross Greer, in a cosy chat with the notorious James McEnaney of RISE, using sectarian anti-Irish language to attack Jason Michael of Butterfly Rebellion (who is not Irish himself but lives in Dublin and has worked at the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation). This seems to be Greer's revenge for a number of strong (but entirely non-abusive) criticisms that Mr Michael has made of the radical left over the last couple of weeks.  The implication seems to be that Mr Michael is some kind of unhinged militant nationalist.

Mr Greer of course penned a Sunday Herald column at the weekend, which was objectively damaging to the Yes movement in that it contained an ageist comment which deeply upset older Yes activists, and was gleefully seized upon by an array of unionist politicians, up to and including Ruth Davidson herself.  In defence of Mr Greer, the editor of the Sunday Herald argued that "any damage done to the Yes movement is down to absurd conspiracy-theory trolls screaming traitor at folk who are the real stalwarts of Indy". Well, in the above screenshot, who exactly is it that best fits the description of a screaming, absurd conspiracy-theorist troll?  Isn't it Mr Greer himself?  It sure as hell isn't Mr Michael, who has been civil and measured throughout - as you can judge for yourself by reading an example of his writing HERE.

Having been on the opposite side of the debate to the likes of Mr Greer over the last couple of weeks, I can't have been alone in noticing how the radical left feel that their 'moral righteousness' gives them an exemption from the human decency that they demand of others.  I've been on the receiving end of sweary personal abuse from them that is every bit as nasty as the stuff that is supposed to make Stuart Campbell untouchable (engaging with him in any way is now a worse crime than holocaust denial, apparently).  In particular, I had an extraordinary conversation with someone a couple of nights ago in which she patiently explained to me why it was perfectly all right that she had repeatedly called me a "pr*ck" - her defence was basically that she thinks I am a "pr*ck".  The Green party council candidate who I caught 'liking' a tweet describing me as a "f***ing fool" essentially shrugged his shoulders and said "so what?"  (Can you imagine the outrage if an SNP candidate was caught 'liking' a tweet in which Stuart Campbell called someone a "f***ing fool"?  Yeah, exactly.)

It's ironic that Mr Greer made a reference to the Irish revolutionary period, because it seems to me that it's the radical left who are actually caught up in the warped logic of revolutionary zeal.  The designated 'enemies of the revolution' (ie. those who veer by even the tiniest fraction away from approved forms of discourse on identity politics) are effectively non-people, and anything at all can be done to them for the sake of the greater good.  It's hard to see any other way in which leading figures on the radical left can dehumanise others and chuck around abuse while still honestly believing themselves to be champions of civility and decency in political debate.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Westminster bubble yet to catch up with the Scottish Tories' slippage

James Forsyth had a very silly article in the Sun yesterday portraying Ruth Davidson as the kingmaker in any potential Tory leadership contest.  No-one would deny that Davidson is currently enjoying a spell of considerable popularity among the Tory grass-roots (especially south of the border, where the myth of a "Scottish Tory victory" has taken root), but the bottom line is that everyone knows she's on the Europhile wing of the party, and that if she backs Amber Rudd for leader it'll be obvious she's doing it for Europhile reasons.  Anti-European Tory members will listen carefully to what Davidson has to say, and then think "no, actually, we need a Brexiteer in there".

There are also a couple of side-remarks in Forsyth's article that had me scratching my head.  He claims that Jeremy Corbyn would now be Prime Minister if it hadn't been for the Tories' mini-revival in Scotland.  As I pointed out in the immediate aftermath of the election, that simply isn't true.  We'd certainly be in a very different place if it hadn't been for the Scottish Tory gains, because the Tory-DUP deal wouldn't have been arithmetically viable, and as a result we'd be heading towards a second general election in the autumn.  However, there would currently be a Tory caretaker administration, not a Labour one.

And Forsyth notes that Davidson doesn't want 10 Downing Street for herself, because her "immediate aim is to be First Minister of Scotland, not PM".  OK, where to start with that one?  First of all, it can't be that much of an "immediate" aim, because she had a chance to stand for First Minister only last year, and declined to do so.  Incredibly, Willie Rennie stood but Davidson didn't.  There isn't another Scottish Parliament election due until May 2021 - almost four years away.  If she does have longer-term designs on a senior Cabinet position at Westminster, she may have to start planning her escape from Holyrood sooner than that.  Her moment in the sun won't last forever.

But let's assume Davidson is still committed to Holyrood in 2021.  How exactly does she become First Minister?  There are only two realistic ways it could happen -

a) The Tories become the largest single party in the Scottish Parliament and form a minority government with the help of Labour and Lib Dem abstentions.

b) The Tories finish second in the election, but form a government after at least one other unionist party backs Davidson in the First Minister vote.

We can pretty much rule out option b) straight away.  Yes, we all know Labour and the Tories are close allies in Scotland, but their cooperation has largely been of the deniable variety.  The moment you have Jackie Bird telling Reporting Scotland viewers that Labour actively voted for a Tory government, it'll be game over for Labour.  The problem may not be quite so stark for the Lib Dems, but I'm fairly confident they would also regard it as too much of a risk.

Which means the only way for Davidson to become FM is to 'win' the 2021 election - ie. for the Tories to become the largest single party.  Well, right now we're in the afterglow of the Scottish Tories' best election result since 1983 - and the limited available polling evidence suggests they've slipped back to third place.  How are things going to get any better than they are now?  Tired Westminster governments generally lose support, not gain it.  Perhaps Davidson's best hope would be for the Tory government to fall quickly, for Corbyn to become PM and then have time to fail...but there's no guarantee that turn of events wouldn't help the SNP more than the Tories.

Let's face it - Davidson is highly unlikely to ever become Scotland's political leader.  Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson got carried away with the thrilling motion of his pom-poms a few weeks ago and announced that Kezia Dugdale is the next First Minister.  He was getting way ahead of himself, but it's certainly fair to say that Dugdale as FM is now less implausible than Davidson as FM.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

SNP by-election fundraiser

Just thought I'd give a quick plug to a particularly important SNP campaign fundraiser.  There's a local government by-election taking place in early September in the Cardonald ward - and it's one of those STV paradoxes where Labour are defending the seat even though the SNP won the popular vote in the ward in May.  In theory it's a golden opportunity for the SNP to increase its representation on Glasgow City Council from 39 seats to 40, inching slightly closer to the magic number of 43 required for an absolute majority.  Unfortunately, however, the SNP only won the ward by a roughly 43% to 38% margin in May, and there's almost certainly been a swing to Labour since then (even if there's ongoing uncertainty over exactly how big that swing has been).  Labour probably ought to be regarded as the slight favourites for this contest, so the SNP's campaign on the ground will be all-important.

A relatively modest £1000 is being sought for the campaign - if you'd like to contribute, the fundraiser page can be found HERE.

There's also a by-election coming up in North Lanarkshire, which if anything is even more important, because it will decide whether the SNP remain the single largest party on the council.  If anyone spots a crowdfunder for that one, let me know and I'll post the details.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Lament for the Colonel as Scottish Tories remain in third place in YouGov subsample

There's been such a drought of polling recently that I was beginning to think we weren't going to get anything more until the end of the English school holidays.  However, a Britain-wide YouGov poll suddenly appeared today, suggesting that Labour's very narrow lead over the Tories has stabilised after falling from a peak of 8 points in early July.  The Scottish subsample continues to show the now familiar tight three-way battle: Labour 33%, SNP 29%, Conservatives 28%, Liberal Democrats 7%, Greens 2%, UKIP 2%.

The most significant thing about those figures is that the Tories are in third place, which has consistently been the case in all four post-election YouGov subsamples.  The lead has been switching back and forth between the SNP and Labour, so it's anyone's guess which of those two parties would be in first place if YouGov conducted a full-scale Scottish poll of Westminster voting intentions right now.  An average of the four subsamples produces an exact dead heat: SNP 32.3%, Labour 32.3%, Conservatives 26.3%, Liberal Democrats 6.0%.

On a more positive note, the SNP have had the lead in the majority of subsamples conducted across all firms.  There have been fourteen subsamples since the election, with the SNP ahead in eight, Labour in five, and the Tories in only one.  The SNP have been in either first or second place in all fourteen subsamples, whereas both Labour and the Tories have been in third place in some - underscoring the general impression that the SNP are the party most likely to have a small overall lead.

Fly on the Wings of love, fly baby fly

I was a bit wary when I started reading Robin McAlpine's reflections on the controversy of recent days, because I thought he might simplistically portray CommonSpace as the victim of the piece - an interpretation which I think is quite difficult to sustain, especially after the ugly descent into witch-hunt territory when the website's editor 'named and shamed' Mhairi Black MP for simply hitting the 'like' button on tweets that were supportive of Scotland's leading pro-independence blogger Stuart Campbell.  However, I'm relieved to say there's much more to Robin's article than that, and indeed it's an all-too-rare example of a column published on CommonSpace coming to Stuart's defence and pointing out the lack of perspective of those who constantly demonise him ("vendetta masquerading as virtue").

Basically Robin calls for "kindness not cruelty" towards both Wings and CommonSpace, which is a refreshingly ecumenical attitude.  But I think the deficiency of the article is that it doesn't really acknowledge that CommonSpace itself has failed that test in recent days, and therefore not all of the brickbats that have been thrown at the site are totally unreasonable.  Robin says that he can find nothing malicious in Angela Haggerty's Sunday Herald column about Stuart, and in terms of what she said directly that's true enough - but there was some fairly unsubtle innuendo in there.  She suggested that Stuart was making a mistake that was somehow equivalent to the one made by a well-known politician who was found guilty of perjury.  It's not terribly surprising that some of Stuart's supporters were angry enough to start thinking in the heat of the moment about whether CommonSpace was the sort of site they wanted to continue supporting financially.  Robin suggests there was a "campaign to de-fund" the site - based on what I saw that isn't really true.  Some people spontaneously announced they would be cancelling their subscriptions and there appeared to be a copycat effect.  The only hint I could see of a true 'campaign' was the Butterfly Rebellion explicitly urging people to unfollow the CommonSpace Twitter account en masse, which I thought was way over-the-top (and also very surprising, given that Butterfly Rebellion is an intelligent and quality website).

As far as Jordan Daly's infamous hatchet job on Wings is concerned, Robin's defence is that the column was not commissioned, but was submitted in the normal way and met the criteria for publication, and therefore there was no reason not to publish it.  That's fine as far as it goes, but I think it's a bit naive to imagine that an all-out attack on an important part of the independence movement can just be treated in the same way as any other article without there being negative consequences.  I think CommonSpace could have avoided much of what happened if they had taken the following steps -

1) The title of the column should have been softened.  Over the years I've written dozens of articles for other websites, but I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times my own suggested title has been used without any alteration.  An editor (or editorial team) can reasonably be expected to take some responsibility for the title of a column, which in this case was needlessly provocative by calling on readers to send the most popular pro-independence site packing.

2) There should have been a very strong disclaimer on the webpage itself that the column reflected the views of the writer, and not the editorial stance of CommonSpace.  There seems to be a feeling that this sort of thing should just be taken as read, but again, I think that's naive.  CommonSpace is well-known to have a past history of publishing brutal attacks on Wings, and not much of a past history of publishing defences of Wings.  Not long before Jordan Daly's column appeared, the editor had tweeted views on the Wings controversy that seemed very much in line with Mr Daly's own perspective - and of course her Sunday Herald column was published not long afterwards.  If there appears to be no obvious distinction between a columnist's views and the editorial line, people are naturally going to conflate the two unless you very clearly and prominently explain what the difference actually is.

3) The column should have been accompanied with another column putting the opposite view.  I have a feeling the justification for that not happening would be that "no column putting the opposite view was submitted", but if you want to be seen as being responsible and not causing unnecessary ruptures in the independence movement, I think you need to be more proactive than that.  A pro-Wings response should simply have been commissioned - ideally from Stuart himself, but if he wasn't interested I'm sure there would have been any number of other people willing to do it instead.

*  *  *

On the subject of the abuse Stuart Campbell has to put up with on a daily basis, here's another invaluable contribution to the cause of civility and solidarity from "Richard Palmer" - the troll ringleader who briefly turned his fire on me last week.  He's now calling himself "Elite Baklava".  Is it just me, or is "we need to do something about w***s like Campbell" a bit of a sinister thing to say?  What on earth would that "something" be?

As you can see, the tweet in which Richard calls me a "f***ing fool" received two 'likes' - and one of them was from "David Al", aka David Allison, who was the Green Party's official candidate in the Barrhead ward at the council elections just three months ago.  Call me biased, but if it's now in fashion to have witch-hunts based on politicians' Twitter 'likes', that's where I'd be starting.

I've no idea whether the Richard gang have any direct involvement in the notorious A Thousand Flowers website, but the overlap in terms of politically correct zealotry and mindless personal abuse is pretty striking.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning...

I'm indebted to a certain controversial rapper, because if I hadn't randomly followed a link in one of his tweets, I would be unaware of the fact that Allan Moore has charged me with (almost) singlehandedly destroying the Yes movement.  I fear Allan may be overestimating my importance just a tad, but it would definitely be worth it if it was true.  Just think of my place in the history books - they'd say the survival of the glorious United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was all down to that Scot Goes Pop blogger bloke.  I'd be the modern-day Churchill.

"We had seen this argument before, with the blogger James Kelly aggressively promoting the 'both votes SNP' argument during last year’s Holyrood elections."

Well, I don't know if that's news to you, but it's sure as hell news to me.  In reality, I must have been one of the few people on either side of the debate who went out of my way to avoid using the 'both votes SNP' line, and continually said how unhelpful and inappropriate it was.  My main preoccupation was with getting the message out that so-called 'tactical voting on the list' was not feasible, and that people should vote for their first-choice party on the list vote - the more important of the two ballots.  In practice, that meant trying to persuade SNP supporters that they should stick with the SNP on the list - because it was SNP supporters who were being targeted by the tactical voting lobby.  The SNP weren't going around telling Green supporters that they should 'tactically' abandon their own party on the list.

"As for the both votes strategy it was a success... except it wasn’t. As the SNP gathered their biggest votes ever for FPTP and beat Labour’s record for list votes their success in the FPTP seats worked against them in the list seats while the thing which lost them the cherished majority was, well SNP losses in North East Fife, Edinburgh Western and Edinburgh Central which did for them."

Simply not true.  Holding on to those constituencies would have been a 'get out of jail free' card for the SNP, but their failure to do so is not the primary reason they lost their majority.  They actually enjoyed a significant net gain in terms of constituency seats, in line with their increased constituency vote share.  But their list vote dropped from 44% to 41.7%, and because the overall composition of parliament is essentially determined by the list vote, their overall number of seats naturally fell.  If you lose support on the more important of the two ballots, more often than not you're going to lose seats.  This isn't rocket science.

"[Cat] Boyd’s appearance provoked obviously a reaction from the one eyed Yessers and also an astonishing response from the aforementioned Mister Kelly of the Scotland Goes Pop blog. Astonishing, because the post to all intents and purposes lays out a manifesto for an ideologically pure pro-Independence drive for votes taking Independence and independence only as the basis for your vote. There is no concession to whether you agree with the SNP on, say, local authority funding, education, taxation or relations with the EU, you vote SNP for independence... or you are the enemy for voting for a ‘Yoon’ party."

First of all, I did not call Cat Boyd "the enemy", and I'm not in the habit of calling either individuals or political parties "Yoons".  (Nor, incidentally, is this blog called "Scotland Goes Pop", so I'm beginning to wonder about Allan's attention to detail.)  However, it's quite true that I believe (and I think this is a statement of the bleedin' obvious) that a vote for an anti-independence party like Labour is a vote against independence, and that a vote for an anti-indyref party like Labour is a vote against holding an indyref.  By the same token, a vote for an anti-European party like UKIP is a vote against remaining in the EU, the single market and the customs union, and people would rightly laugh at you if you tried to pretend it was anything else.

Any party is likely to have policies you disagree with, and so you're inevitably going to end up 'voting for' things you don't actually believe in.  For example, I'm not mad keen on the fact that my vote for the SNP was an endorsement of NATO membership.  But that didn't stop me, because leaving NATO isn't a high priority for me.  And that's the bottom line - voting "proudly" for an anti-independence party doesn't mean that you're no longer in favour of independence, but it does mean you're not that bothered about it in comparison to other things.  That's a pretty incredible position for the co-founder of a party that portrayed itself in last year's Holyrood election as passionately pro-independence, and sought pro-independence "tactical" votes on that basis.  (Indeed, the 'I' in the acronym "RISE" actually stands for independence.)

"Kelly’s plot was well and truly lost right at the start when he said that RISE were now vulnerable...the point missed by Kelly is that RISE were canvassing for votes from the Radical Independence wing of the Independence constituency, votes that would only go to the SNP tactically anyway."

As RISE received only 0.5% of the national list vote, it's quite difficult (and perhaps not particularly important) to work out who those people were.  Nevertheless, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that RISE very much wanted SNP supporters to lend them their list votes on a "tactical" basis.  A press release was put out to that effect.  If the same pitch is made next time around, it'll be undermined by the lack of commitment to independence demonstrated by a leading figure like Cat Boyd.  That's the point I was making.