Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Nostalgia night as TNS reverts to being an extreme No-friendly outlier

You might remember that throughout much of the long campaign leading up to the 2014 independence referendum, TNS was one of the No-friendly pollsters, before sensationally swinging in the opposite direction just before polling day.  That dramatic reversal survived into the post-referendum period, with a TNS poll in the autumn of 2015 putting Yes in the outright lead.  Now, incomprehensibly, and in total contradiction of the vast bulk of polling evidence from other firms, TNS has returned to its old ways by showing a very large No lead.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (TNS)

Yes 40% (-7)
No 60% (+7)

This is by some distance the worst poll for Yes from any firm since September 2014.  The previous low was Yes 43%, No 57% from YouGov.

The ever-reliable buffoons who insist that "only the last poll we set eyes upon matters" will inevitably lose all sense of perspective over this, but those of us who are a little more level-headed will recognise an indisputable fact here - that this poll can't possibly negate the much more favourable polls we've seen for Yes over the last few days, for the simple reason that it was conducted earlier.  TNS polls are always way out of date by the time that we see them, and this one is no exception - fieldwork started in late March and concluded two weeks ago, which dates it well before the Panelbase and Survation polls.  The vast majority of interviews also took place before BMG found a virtual 50/50 tie.  So the verdict from those three online pollsters is clear enough - they are more up-to-date, and they do not corroborate the findings of TNS.

That's not to say that if a more recent TNS poll had been conducted, it would necessarily have produced a healthier result for Yes.  TNS traditionally use a distinctive face-to-face data collection method, and that could largely explain why they've suddenly bolted off in a different direction from other firms (assuming this isn't an outright rogue poll, which always has to be considered a possibility when the numbers are this unexpected).  And yet it seems highly unlikely that the new No-friendly trend is going to be seen across all non-online firms, because as recently as early March, a telephone poll from Ipsos-Mori put Yes in a slight outright lead - a better result, ironically, than has been seen in any online poll so far this year.  It's going to take time to make sense of what's happening, because at the moment there's just no comprehensible pattern in any of this.  The BMG, Survation and Ipsos-Mori numbers are simply not reconcilable with TNS - the standard 3% margin of error can't explain such a big divergence.

You would have to say that the balance of probability is that Yes are trailing at the moment, but whether they are trailing by 20% as TNS say, or by 2% as BMG say, or whether the truth is somewhere in between those extremes, is anyone's guess.  We mustn't forget just how far adrift Leave were in most telephone polls before pulling off victory in the EU referendum last June - so it's perfectly possible that online polls are more accurate these days.

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SCOT GOES POP POLL OF POLLS

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 45.7% (-1.1)
No 54.3% (+1.1)

(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each firm that has reported at least once within the last three months. The firms included in the current sample are Panelbase, BMG, Ipsos-Mori, YouGov, TNS and Survation.)

Monday, April 24, 2017

Some more information about the Panelbase poll

The datasets for Saturday night's Panelbase poll have been published, and the big surprise is that it appears as if 16 and 17 year olds were included in the sample.  At one point, the poll was listed on Wikipedia as definitely excluding under-18s, so if that was dud information, my apologies for repeating it here.

Looked at one way, this is bad news, because it means there's less reason for suspecting that the 45% Yes vote on the independence question may be a slight underestimate.  It also means that, if anything, the SNP's share of the vote in Westminster voting intentions could be a slight overestimate - because of course, young people are disproportionately likely to support the SNP, and under-18s won't be able to vote in June.  However, here comes the good news - both Yes and the SNP suffered in this poll from the effect of rounding.  It looks like the SNP must have been just a tiny fraction away from being rounded up to 45%, rather than rounded down to 44%.  The Tories were also rounded up a touch to 33%.  On the unrounded numbers, the SNP lead over the Tories is a little over 11.5%, rather than the 11% reported on the headline numbers.  The effect of rounding on the independence question was less significant, but nevertheless the unrounded numbers are a tad better : Yes 45.2%, No 54.8%.

Once again, the extent to which the rump Labour vote under Jim Murphy in 2015 was Tory-leaning has been laid bare by this poll - less than half of 2015 Labour voters are planning to stick with the party, while almost a quarter have moved direct to the Tories.  Only 8% have moved to the SNP.  It would be fascinating to ask the 13% of the electorate that are still sticking with Labour who their second-choice party would be.  That group is so small in number that it's hard to even guess who they are and what motivates them.  It certainly doesn't seem to be a 'working class' thing, though - Labour's support is only a little higher among the less affluent part of the sample than among the most affluent.  As you'd expect, they do significantly better among No voters from 2014, although mystifyingly, 8% of Yes voters have stayed loyal to them.  (On the plus side, that means there may still be some limited scope for a further Labour-to-SNP swing, unless that 8% is composed almost entirely of people who have changed their minds on independence since the referendum.)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Terror strikes Tyrannical Theresa as astonishing BMG poll suggests Yes has practically drawn level

Should Scotland be an independent country? (BMG)

Yes 43% (+2)
No 45% (+1)

UPDATE : When I first put this post up, I thought I'd only have a few minutes to wait before more details appeared on the Herald website (the last few BMG polls have all been commissioned by the Herald), revealing what the numbers with Don't Knows excluded are, whether there are Westminster voting intention numbers, etc, etc.  Instead all we've got to prove the poll even exists is a single tweet from the Britain Elects account - which admittedly is normally reliable.  It looks like we'll have to wait until the morning for clarity.

As with Survation and Panelbase last night, what's most important about this poll is what it doesn't show.  A few weeks ago, there were YouGov and Panelbase polls published close together which both reported that Yes had slipped below the 45% achieved in the 2014 referendum, thus giving the impression that something had genuinely changed.  But if that was really the case, you'd have expected yesterday's Survation poll to show Yes slipping below the 47% figure that has been so typical in recent months.  You'd certainly have expected BMG to show a drop - and perhaps quite a sharp one - from the heady heights of 48% or 49% recorded in the firm's last two polls.  That hasn't happened.

Of the three polls we've seen this weekend, only Panelbase can arguably be reconciled with the "slippage for Yes" narrative.  Although the 45% Yes vote in that poll represents a 1% increase, it remains slightly below the recent norm.  But even that can potentially be explained away by the rare exclusion of 16 and 17 year olds from the sample.

In short, there is no longer much hard evidence that Yes have suffered any drift at all.  The minimal evidence that does exist is pretty much confined to YouGov polls, and it's possible there's a firm-specific explanation for that.

UPDATE II : Having applied a magnifying glass to a screenshot of the Herald front page, I've finally been able to work out what the BMG figures are with Don't Knows excluded...

Should Scotland be an independent country? (BMG)

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

So with Don't Knows included, the Yes vote is up 2%, and with Don't Knows excluded, it's up 1%.  Let me just gently observe that this renders the Herald's choice of headline ("Independence support fails to rise") more than a touch bizarre!

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SCOT GOES POP POLL OF POLLS

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 46.8% (+0.4)
No 53.2% (-0.4)

(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each firm that has reported at least once within the last three months. The firms included in the current sample are Panelbase, BMG, Ipsos-Mori, YouGov and Survation.)

Tories left reeling as new polls suggest support for independence has INCREASED

It shows you how much the calling of a snap general election changes our priorities, but we've just had two new polls in which the question about independence has been treated as an afterthought.  Let's put that right, because the findings make for moderately pleasant reading.  Here are the Survation numbers...

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Survation)

Yes 46.9% (+0.1)
No 53.1% (-0.1)

A 0.1% swing in favour of Yes is obviously not remotely significant, but here's the thing - this poll is not directly comparable with the last Survation poll, because 16 and 17 year olds were excluded this time.  There's a semi-reasonable excuse for that, because the independence question was a supplementary in a poll that was primarily interested in voting intentions for an election from which under-18s will be excluded.  But it does mean there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the increase in the Yes vote might otherwise be a tad bigger.  At the very least, there doesn't seem to have been any recent slippage in support for independence.

The Panelbase datasets aren't out yet, but it appears that 16 and 17 year olds were also excluded from that poll.  In spite of that in-built handicap, Yes manages a small increase.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Panelbase)

Yes 45% (+1)
No 55% (-1)

Basically the Survation numbers are par for the course, and the Panelbase numbers perhaps remain a little below par - but in combination the two polls give the lie to any notion that support for independence is consistently slipping below the 45% achieved in the 2014 referendum.  For what it's worth, it remains the case that the only published telephone poll of the year so far actually gave Yes a very slight outright lead.

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I'm still not sure how the Greens fared in the Panelbase poll, but we're not going to get an answer from Survation, who seemingly just lumped the Greens in with UKIP and others in a general "some other party" category.  That said, including the Greens can also produce a distorted outcome, because people might indicate that they are planning to vote Green when there isn't even a Green candidate in their own constituency.

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Scottish subsamples of GB-wide polls are obviously much less meaningful than full-scale Scottish polls.  Nevertheless, the first inkling we had of the Scottish Tory surge over the last few days came from subsamples, which makes it interesting that the two most recent subsamples we have right now are somewhat less favourable for the Tories.  Both are based on fieldwork that is slightly more up-to-date than the two full-scale polls from Survation and Panelbase.  Today's YouGov subsample has the SNP on 49% and the Tories on 27%, while the subsample from today's Britain-wide Survation poll has the SNP on 45% and the Tories on only 19% (behind even Labour).

Saturday, April 22, 2017

SNP lead the Tories by 15% in first full-scale poll of the campaign

The first word on Scottish voting intentions for the general election comes tonight from Survation...

Westminster voting intentions (Survation poll) :

SNP 43.1%
Conservatives 27.9%
Labour 17.8%
Liberal Democrats 8.8%

A Panelbase poll will apparently shortly reveal a similar picture, but with the Tories on 30% or above.  I don't think there's any great surprise that there has been a boost for the Tories since the election was called - that's happened across the UK, and we're not immune to UK-wide trends.  However, it's startling that Survation seem to be suggesting that the Tories have taken support from the SNP rather than Labour.

Believe it or not, there is an important upside to this - we'll now see an enormous amount of hype about the prospect of the Tories winning ten or more seats, which will turn the expectations game on its head.  If the Tory surge recedes (sudden surges often have a habit of receding) and if the SNP end up with 50+ seats, that will now look like the spectacular triumph that it is, rather than a slight disappointment.

UPDATE : The Panelbase numbers have finally been revealed, although we've had a fair idea of what was coming for a couple of hours...

Westminster voting intentions (Panelbase poll) :

SNP 44%
Conservatives 33%
Labour 13%
Liberal Democrats 5%

The good news here is that, contrary to the expectations that had been building up as the night wore on, the SNP share of the vote is actually holding up fractionally better in the Panelbase poll than in the Survation poll, meaning that at least some of this much larger Tory surge has come from Labour. The combined vote for the three main unionist parties is just 51%, compared to 54.5% in Survation. The bad news obviously is that the SNP lead is "only" 11%, but with Survation showing something much less dramatic, we can't rule out the possibility that the Panelbase poll will eventually be looked back on as an extreme outlier that led us completely astray.

I've tended to assume that Labour will probably hold their sole seat due to tactical voting, but there comes a point where their national vote share is so low that all bets are off.  Panelbase have them a full 10% lower than they managed even in the Holyrood constituency ballot last year.

There's also no consensus between Panelbase and Survation on how the Lib Dems are faring - the difference between 5% and 9% could be truly mammoth in terms of the party's hopes of picking up a few seats.

So far I haven't been able to find the Green share of the vote from either poll, and that number will be very significant - the Greens won't be standing in every constituency, so a lot of their vote in the other seats (not all of it by any means) could in reality be heading to the SNP.

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Although I think there is a very good chance that the Scottish Tory surge is built on sand and will recede as polling day approaches, we mustn't forget that there's another polling day less than two weeks away, and I'm far less convinced that the surge will have receded by then.  In the light of tonight's polls, I cannot stress enough how vitally important it is that as many SNP supporters as possible use all or most of their preferences in the local elections to make sure that other parties and independents are ranked ahead of the Tories.  It's inevitable that there's going to be a significant increase in the number of Tory councillors, but we can minimise that increase by using our lower preferences, and we can do it at no risk at all to the SNP.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Introducing the Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls for the general election

Just for the sheer hell of it, we might as well have a Poll of Polls for Scottish voting intentions at the general election. I was going to check which methodology I used last time around...and then I realised I knew exactly which methodology I used, because the last general election was only about fifteen seconds ago.

As before, Scottish subsamples of GB-wide polls will be taken into account, because they often represent the only up-to-date information we have.  That's obviously unsatisfactory because the figures are not properly weighted, but an average of several subsamples shouldn't lead us quite as wildly astray as an individual subsample might.  Whenever a full-scale Scottish poll comes along, that will be given ten times the weight of a subsample.  At the moment all we have from the last week are three subsamples (two from ICM and one from YouGov), so the following figures should be treated with great caution...

SNP 44.3%
Conservatives 24.3%
Labour 16.0%
Greens 7.0%
Liberal Democrats 6.3%
UKIP 1.7%

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I have a new article at the TalkRadio website arguing that the election could be an opportunity in disguise for Jeremy Corbyn, and a risk in disguise for Ruth Davidson.  That's not a prediction of how I think things will play out, but just a reminder that the outcome of this campaign is not yet set in stone.  You can read the article HERE.

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Kezia Dugdale describing the Labour party as a "progressive alliance" reminded me of Voltaire's joke about the Holy Roman Empire - "it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire".

Your STV questions answered

Over the last few days, I've received a number of emails asking for clarification on various aspects of the Single Transferable Vote system that will be used to elect councillors on 4th May.  Apologies that I haven't been able to respond to everyone individually, but it probably makes more sense to answer a few of the questions in a public post anyway.

* First of all, someone contacted the Edinburgh Election office to ask whether he should or shouldn't rank certain candidates if he doesn't want any portion of his vote to be transferred to them.  I'm not quite sure what the question was getting at, because having your vote transferred is basically a good thing rather than a bad thing.  Even if you genuinely think three or four candidates are all equally awful, ensuring that your vote doesn't transfer to any of them is a neutral thing rather than a good thing, because by that point they will be the only candidates left in contention for one (or more) seats, meaning that one (or more) of them will still be elected.  The only effect of your non-transferred vote will be to deprive you of any influence over which one is successful.

However, I'm delighted to report that the Edinburgh Election office gave a scrupulously accurate answer (which is rather refreshing giving the amount of misinformation being pumped out by people and organisations that should know better).  They correctly indicated that no part of your vote can be transferred if you haven't given a ranking to any of the candidates remaining in contention for the seats yet to be filled.  Why you would want to prevent your vote being transferred is a bit of a mystery, but for what it's worth that's the definitive answer to the question posed.

* A number of people seem to be deeply troubled by the idea that even if they rank a Tory candidate last (by which I mean absolute last without leaving any preferences blank), part of their vote could technically transfer to the Tory at the end of the counting process.  That's true, but the operative word is "technically" - it really is a complete irrelevance.  If your vote ever reaches the point of being nominally transferred to your bottom-ranked candidate, that means by definition that the candidate in question has effectively already been elected, because all of the other candidates in contention for the last seat in the ward have been eliminated.  The final transfer of votes is just a meaningless formality, and it doesn't in any way affect the popular vote totals reported in the media, which will be based on first preference votes only.  If it bothers you, rank all but one of the candidates rather than all of them - that will allow you to maintain your purity without making any difference to the final seat allocation.  But seriously, don't worry about it - if you use all of your preferences and rank a candidate absolute last, you are emphatically voting against them, and maximising the chances that they will not be elected.

* Someone asked me if it might be a good idea to trawl through actual results from the recent Northern Ireland Assembly election, conducted under STV, to give concrete examples where the DUP only won a seat because nationalist voters didn't use enough of their lower preferences.  At this point, I'll just have to say that life is too short - but I don't have the slightest doubt that such examples exist.  Even in Northern Ireland where this system is so much better understood than it is here, there are many, many voters from both sides of the sectarian divide who do not bother using their lower preferences.  If one community was significantly more likely to use lower preferences than the other, they would gain a telling advantage in the final seat numbers.

* This isn't strictly speaking a reader's question, but I really do need to say something about the dangerous misinformation that has been put out on a certain SNP Facebook page.  Whoever runs that page is using the veneer of authority to mislead people into thinking that giving a lower preference to an independent or unionist candidate can somehow help that candidate overtake an SNP candidate you have ranked higher.  If you've read that claim, IGNORE IT.  It is totally without foundation.  If there are two SNP candidates in your ward, and you rank them 1 and 2, then none of your preferences from 3 onwards will EVEN BE LOOKED AT until and unless both SNP candidates have been either elected or eliminated.  Ask yourself this very simple question : how can a lower preference possibly help a unionist overtake an SNP candidate who has already been elected or eliminated?  It can't.  It's physically impossible.

If you only rank the SNP candidates, then all you are doing is abstaining in contests for seats that the SNP are no longer in the running for.  You might, for example, be abstaining in a straight fight between the Tories and the Greens for the final seat in the ward.  How does that help?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tyrannical Theresa is snapping Scotland out of it

A second 'quick note' of the day, this time to let you know that I have a new article at the International Business Times, about the breathtaking arrogance that Theresa May has displayed over the last 24 hours - refusing to take part in TV debates, peddling fantasies about the UK being "united" behind her, and imagining that she can just wave away the laughable contradictions in her own statements.  You can read the article HERE.

Fate of the 56

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article in The National, about the prospects for the Scottish parties in the June general election.  You can read it HERE.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Radio interview on independence

As I mentioned earlier, I took part in a discussion on independence this afternoon on the London-based radio station Voice of Islam.  Naturally the subject of Theresa May's decision to call a snap general election also came up.  The programme is now available as a podcast HERE, if you fancy a listen.  The interview with me starts at around 12 minutes, and the discussion carries on afterwards with several other guests.

Snap!

Apologies for not having posted anything about the snap election yet - I've had a few things on today, including a live interview on the London-based radio station Voice of Islam.  It had been pre-scheduled for a few days, so just by chance I found myself talking about a wider range of subjects than expected!

Here are a few quick thoughts -

* Theresa May has helpfully resolved any lingering doubts in SNP ranks over whether it might have been a good idea to hold a snap Holyrood election with the specific purpose of obtaining an even more emphatic mandate for an independence referendum (as opposed to doing it to obtain an outright mandate for independence).  We now have our snap election without Nicola Sturgeon even taking the hit for dragging people to the polls needlessly.  Presumably the SNP will continue to forcefully make the point that the mandate for an indyref is already there, but they'll get to have it both ways by putting another explicit commitment in their Westminster manifesto, which in all likelihood will be endorsed by another convincing majority in terms of seats.

* It's probable that the SNP will shed at least a few seats.  They hit a 'sweet spot' in 2015 when the unionist vote was split in a particularly favourable way, but that's no longer the case.  Limited losses to the Tories (and perhaps to the Lib Dems) are to be expected, so it's important that we don't allow the narrative of what the SNP "need to do" to run away with itself.  Even 38 seats out of 59 would be an emphatic victory...but it'll hopefully be a lot better than that.

* Jeremy Corbyn's days as Labour leader are almost certainly drawing to a premature close, but it's also highly probable that he will now lead his party into a general election, and will not share the fate of Iain Duncan Smith, who didn't even get the chance to make his case to the electorate.  It'll be genuinely fascinating to see how he gets on, and also to discover whether the diehard Labour rebels will be able to put their egos aside in the interests of saving the party.  Ah hae ma doots.

* The loss of Corbyn may be the biggest negative outcome of this election for the pro-independence movement.  It's hard to see how any new Labour leader could be any less popular than Corbyn, although we certainly shouldn't exclude the possibility that Labour will choose the wrong successor.  Some of the names that are being bandied about do not exactly inspire a huge amount of confidence.

Don't let people con you into thinking that using your lower preferences in the local elections is the same thing as vote-splitting in a Holyrood election

I've been dipping into some of the discussion on Facebook about whether voters should use their lower rankings in the local elections, and I have to say it's thoroughly depressing to see so many people (including some who really should know better) trot out a silly red herring about the use of lower preferences supposedly being similar to vote-splitting in the Holyrood election.  The implication is that voters who rank parties other than the SNP are making the same mistake that cost Nicola Sturgeon an overall majority last year.

Let me point something out.  Long-term readers of this blog will not need me to remind them that both myself and Morag Kerr (aka Rolfe) spent an inordinate amount of time last year warning SNP supporters that they were taking a terrible risk if they split their Holyrood vote.  I don't know about Morag, but I took a fair bit of nasty personal abuse for doing that from people associated with the Greens and RISE.  And yet both of us have spent almost as much time over the last few weeks urging SNP supporters to use all or most of their preferences at the local elections.  We haven't had a Damascene conversion, or changed our minds in the slightest - we've simply noticed that the local election voting system is completely different from the Holyrood voting system, and works in a completely different way.

The difference can be explained very simply.  Any SNP supporter who split their Holyrood vote last year by voting SNP on the constituency ballot and Green/RISE/Solidarity on the list ballot was actively voting against the SNP on the list.  There was always a chance that it was going to cost the SNP a list seat.  Those 'tactical voters' may have convinced themselves the risk was minimal and justified, or they may have been hoodwinked into wrongly thinking there was no risk at all, but in the real world there was always a possibility that the SNP were going to be harmed.  By contrast, anyone who uses their highest preferences in the local elections on the SNP's candidates, and then uses their next-highest preference on the Greens, or on Solidarity, or on the Scottish Socialist Party, is not voting against the SNP.  That lower preference will not even be taken into account until and unless all of the SNP candidates have been either elected or eliminated.

There is no risk.  People are being scared by imaginary monsters - and the daft thing is that the people doing the scaring have nothing to gain from it, and everything to lose.  They're just caught in a mindset that isn't appropriate for this particular voting system, and they can't seem to break out of it.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A guide to the local election voting system

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article in The National, about the Single Transferable Vote system that will be used to elect our local councils next month, and in particular about why it's so important for pro-independence voters to rank all or most of the candidates in their ward.  You can read the article HERE.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Local Election Misinformation

I'm getting to the point where I almost despair of our chances of clearing up the misunderstandings about how the STV voting system works in time for polling day on 4th May, because people are so wedded to what intuitively (but wrongly) seems 'obvious'.  This morning, I posted a link on Facebook to my blogpost about how I planned to rank the eight candidates in my own ward, and within no time at all several indignant comments had been posted telling me that I was wrong to use my lower preferences on the unionist candidates.  Apparently if we all just leave the unionist boxes blank, we'll help to "drive the unionist parties out of our councils" and prevent unionist councillors getting in "via the back door".

Now, listen.  There is no requirement to rank all or most of the candidates, and in some circumstances (if you're lucky) you may not cause much harm if you decide not to do so.  But if you think you are doing any actual good by leaving several boxes blank, you're deluding yourself.  A pro-indy vote is not somehow more "emphatic" if you don't rank the unionists.

As long as you make sure that you rank every single pro-indy and non-unionist candidate ahead of every single unionist candidate, your preferences for the unionist parties will only be taken into account in one very specific circumstance - namely when only unionist candidates are left in contention for a particular seat.  If a seat has to be filled, and only unionist candidates are in the running for it, how do you think you're going to stop a unionist from being elected by effectively abstaining?  You can't - it's physically impossible.  But what you can do is influence the outcome, and and help prevent the most objectionable unionist candidate from winning.  It's possible you genuinely may not have any view at all on which unionist party is the most objectionable, and that's fine - but I do have a view, and deep down I think most of us do.  If it's a straight choice between a Lib Dem councillor and a Labour councillor, I would prefer Lib Dem.  If it's a straight choice between a Labour councillor and a Tory councillor, I would - just about - prefer Labour.

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There's also an anonymous commenter on this blog who has been putting out false information about how votes are transferred when candidates are eliminated - he or she is saying that if you rank the Greens first and the SNP second, only a portion of your second preference vote will transfer to the SNP if the Green candidate is eliminated.  That's simply untrue - your whole vote will transfer.  I don't think this is malicious misinformation - the commenter seems to be getting the procedure for eliminated candidates mixed up with what happens to 'surplus votes' from candidates who reach the quota early on and are declared elected.

Ranking the rank outsiders

I've been having a belated look at the full candidate list for my own ward in the May local elections.  One thing I'd forgotten about until I checked is that the ward is being expanded from three seats to four, which will make the STV process more interesting, and in theory should produce a slightly more proportional result.  The SNP are putting up three candidates and Labour are putting up two, which would often be a sign that both parties think the SNP are certain of winning two seats and Labour are locked in for one, leaving the final seat up for grabs.  However, given the political history of this area (it was a mini-stronghold for the SNP even in the days when the party was hardly winning anywhere else in the central belt) and bearing in mind the current circumstances, I struggle to imagine Labour coming out of this one with 2-2 parity.  It's probably more a case of Labour thinking their single seat is safe enough, and that there's no great harm in putting up a no-hoper second candidate for the sheer hell of it.

Two notable absences from the candidate list have made my life as a voter considerably easier - there are no independent candidates, which means I don't have to fight a losing battle against a search engine trying to work out the stance taken on the constitutional question by relatively obscure individuals, and there's also no UKIP candidate, which means I'm not faced with the nasty dilemma of whether I can bear to rank the Conservatives higher than one other party.  However, the SSP are making an intervention, having seemingly abandoned the RISE brand for the time being (I can't say I'm sorry to have a little rest from it), meaning I'm going to have to make a straight choice between two pro-independence parties for my highest non-SNP ranking.  In past years, I would have been strongly inclined to rank the SSP one place higher than the Greens, simply because the Greens have always been known to have a sizeable anti-independence minority faction.  However, at least for now, the Greens seem to have collectively reinvented themselves as the new indy fundamentalists (almost as the true heirs of Jim Sillars' former self!) so it's not quite such a clear-cut decision anymore.

Here's how I provisionally think I might fill in my ballot paper...

1 - SNP
2 - SNP
3 - SNP
4 - Greens
5 - SSP
6 - Labour
7 - Labour
8 - Conservatives

Any party putting up more than one candidate will generally have a 'vote management strategy', meaning they will put out leaflets setting out the desired order in which their own candidates should be ranked, with a view to maximising their tally of elected councillors.  I'll be following the advice in the SNP leaflet, but I'm not going to be too bothered about Labour's preferred order, because it won't make any practical difference on such low rankings anyway.  (I originally had a tongue-in-cheek comment here about messing with Labour's heads by doing the complete opposite of what they want, but I thought I'd better remove it in case it's taken too seriously!)

When I first thought about all this a few months ago, I was leaning towards the theory that it might be tactically wiser to rank Labour at the absolute bottom, just below the Tories, simply because Labour are the SNP's main rivals for power in North Lanarkshire.  But I've completely changed my mind since Theresa May framed these elections as a chance to send a message about an independence referendum, which has ensured that any Tory councillor elected anywhere in Scotland will be viewed as an outright endorsement of her stance.  Even in places like North Lanarkshire and Glasgow, if there's a straight fight between Labour and the Tories for a seat, I now think a Labour win would be the lesser of the two evils.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Why I Did It

A guest post by Glasgow Working Class

First of all, I want to sincerely thank James Kelly for allowing me this opportunity to set the record straight and to very briefly bid you all farewell.  I can imagine what a difficult decision it must have been for him after the trouble I've caused on his page.

As some of you know, "Glasgow Working Class" was a persona I created when I was working at Better Together headquarters in 2014.  I had several personal problems at the time, and my self-consciousness at being forty years older than most of the spotty teenagers in the building wasn't helping.  It was all too tempting to seek the easy way out, and when Blair McDougall went into hysterics after I introduced him to my new character who would taunt Cybernats with catchphrases like "Nat Sis" and "Mein Gott, up yer lederhosen", I saw a golden chance to continue paying off my mortgage without doing any more hard work.  I knew Rob Shorthouse would approve.  They agreed to pay me £1 for every ten words of trolling on nationalist blogs, with no maximum daily limit.  I even got a bonus when I made a Cybernat really lose it.  I had genuinely found my vocation.

All good things come to an end, but even when BT was no longer around to support me in the manner to which I had become accustomed, I found that I just couldn't let go of GWC.  Far from stopping, or posting less often, I was posting more and more.  I descended into a world of fantasy in which I almost became the monster I had created out of desperation.  Even during the rare moments when I was "back in the room", I could still hear McDougall's helpless cackles and was convinced the silent majority found my contributions equally hilarious.  It's only really been in the last three or four weeks that I've recovered my self-awareness, realised that I am extremely unfunny, and decided to stop for my own sanity and for yours.

To anyone I've hurt, offended or simply bored rigid, I want to say I'm sorry.  I truly mean that.  You have my word that I will not be posting on this blog again.  Thank you for reading this, and best wishes to you all.

Hoots man ra noo we British are still around ye ken ra noo. Scots wae Hae.

Glasgow Working Class was a regular commenter on this blog until April 2017.

Friday, March 31, 2017

New podcast on Brexit, and charting the course towards a vote on independence

Just a quick note to let you know that I'm the guest on this week's edition of the Newsnet podcast, hosted as always by Derek Bateman.  The topics discussed include the symbolism of the already-legendary photo of Nicola Sturgeon signing her letter to Theresa May, the prospects for the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, and the possible ways forward if the Prime Minister continues to be intransigent over an independence referendum.  You can listen to the podcast HERE.

POLL : Devastating blow for Theresa May as overwhelming majority of Scottish public back the Scottish Parliament's right to call an independence referendum

Survation seem to conduct telephone polls in Scotland pretty regularly, but most of them are private polls (probably for a unionist party) that are not intended for publication.  Today's Survation telephone poll was commissioned by the SNP, but it's little wonder the results have been published, because they are nothing short of disastrous for Theresa May's "no, not now" strategy, which relies so heavily on using a tame media to build an illusion of public sympathy for her outrageous actions.

Who do you think should have the right to decide if there should be a referendum in Scotland that would allow the people of Scotland to choose between Brexit and independence?  Should it be...

The Scottish Parliament : 61%
The Westminster Parliament : 39%

Even before today, the broadcast media had no excuse for constantly parroting the myth that Ms May somehow had Scottish public opinion on her side, but they'll find people laughing at them if they attempt it again.  Just in case respondents didn't fully grasp the implications of what they were being asked, the Survation poll posed another question that addressed the issue in a way that left no room for ambiguity whatsoever -

Do you think the Westminster Parliament should have the right to block a plan for a referendum in Scotland, even if it is agreed on and voted for by the Scottish Parliament?

Yes 42%
No 58%

So respondents don't think that Theresa May should even have the right to do what she is attempting to do, let alone that she should actually do it.

Taking matters to an even more advanced level of 'belt and braces' super-clarity, a third question was asked just to check whether the people who didn't want Westminster to have a veto on the principle of a referendum had a completely different view on whether Westminster should be able to decide the timing.  Surprise surprise, they didn't.  (Or not in any great numbers, anyway.)

Who do you think should have the right to decide the timing of a referendum in Scotland that would allow the people of Scotland to choose between Brexit and Independence, if it were to happen? Should it be….

The Scottish Parliament : 56%
The Westminster Parliament : 44%

As you'd expect, there's a division between Yes and No voters from 2014 on all of these three questions - but surprisingly large minorities of No voters back the Scottish Government's stance.  For example, as many as 36.4% of No voters think Holyrood should decide on the principle of whether a referendum should be held.  What's particularly interesting is that there is largely a meeting of minds between Remain and Leave voters - the only question on which they disagree is the one about which parliament should decide on timing, and even on that Leave voters are more or less evenly split.  

The Survation poll comes hot on the heels of new survey findings from the National Centre for Social Research showing that by a narrow 51% to 47% margin, the Scottish public feel that Scotland is a nation and should not be forced out of the European Union as a result of a UK-wide referendum.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

All options for facing down Tyrannical Theresa must remain on the table

There was a fascinating moment on the BBC news channel yesterday afternoon, when Professor John Curtice raised (with much more seriousness than most commentators have done thus far) the possibility that the Scottish Government might hold a consultative independence referendum without Westminster permission, and pointed out that Alex Salmond had proposed to do exactly that when he was first elected to minority government in 2007.  The interviewer Huw Edwards noticeably shut him down very hurriedly and said "leaving that option aside, what do you think the SNP will do..?"

Without wanting to indulge any conspiracy theories, there did seem to be a determination from the BBC throughout yesterday to weave a narrative that Theresa May is Scotland's overlord, and if she says no, that's the end of the road.  On Sarah Smith's propaganda video (I use that term advisedly) for the evening news programmes, we were shown pro-independence demonstrators bursting into tears upon hearing that Holyrood had voted to hold an independence referendum - tears of joy, we were told, that would very soon turn to "disappointment" when the individuals concerned got real and accepted that Theresa's No Means No.  It didn't even seem to occur to Ms Smith that one reason the demonstrators were so happy may have been that they simply do not recognise the BBC narrative, and instead fully expect the Scottish Parliament to take all steps necessary to implement its own sovereign decision.

I've been trying to read the runes on what Nicola Sturgeon may be minded to do if she continues to be met by total instransigence from the most authoritarian Prime Minister since Mrs Thatcher.  I do take seriously the assessment of Brian Taylor and others that it's "unlikely" she would sanction a referendum without a Section 30, or an early Holyrood election to seek an outright mandate for independence.  That may very well be an accurate representation of her thinking at the moment...but then again I'm increasingly finding myself wondering whether her current thoughts are actually the most important thing.  There are so many people caught in a Section 30 trance, and who chant like a mantra that an Edinburgh Agreement-style process is the only proper way of doing this, but when you ask them how that can even happen if Westminster keeps rejecting it, you generally draw a blank.  It is surely inconceivable that any SNP leadership will accept for an indefinite period that London can just veto an exercise in Scottish self-determination, and so if Theresa May doesn't budge, simple logic will tell you that they'll eventually consider the other options, even if they themselves do not yet realise they will.  It's a straightforward 'unstoppable force meets immovable object' scenario, and something has to give.  The idea that we're all just going to obediently pack up and go home because London isn't in the mood for a referendum is, to use the favoured expression of a Downing Street source, "for the birds".

Don't forget that this is a moral issue and not just strategic.  Many people voted No in 2014 in good faith, after being told that it was the only way of retaining their EU citizenship.  An overwhelming majority of the Scottish public then voted to retain their EU citizenship last June.  If we tacitly accept May's ability to veto a referendum, even just for a few years, that citizenship is going to be stripped away from those people for a prolonged spell, in blatant contravention of the immaculate double mandate in favour of EU membership that has been obtained.  That is unacceptable, and I see no particular reason why we should accept it.

*  *  *

Events have moved so fast that our vocabulary hasn't quite caught up with them, and it's high time we updated the way we characterise certain political parties.  Scottish Labour, for example, should now quite properly be called an anti-European party - not in the sense of hating Germans or Italians, but in the more prosaic sense that they oppose our participation in European institutions.  There is no Labour proposal to reverse Brexit, and of course they dogmatically reject the only option that could keep Scotland in the EU after Brexit occurs.  They've gone all the way back to a position they last held in the 'longest suicide note in history' - their 1983 general election manifesto under Michael Foot.  They are separatists.  They want to build walls.  They think that what divides us from our European neighbours (ie. devotion to Blighty at all costs) is more important than what unites us.

It's interesting to recall that, in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum, some senior Scottish Labour figures did publicly ponder the idea of seeking a solution that might keep Scotland within the EU family in some form.  In retrospect, they only seem to have done that because they were briefly terrified that they would be faced with opinion polls showing an irresistible tidal wave in favour of independence, and in favour of a second indyref.  The fact that they ditched their pro-Europeanism as soon as they thought they might get away with it shows just how shallow their internationalist values have always been.  Dugdale, Baillie and Hothersall - the New Brexiteers.  It's been quite a revelation.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, are no longer pro-Europeans, and are instead Euro-ambivalents.  They nominally want to remain within the EU, but only under wildly implausible circumstances.  If they don't get exactly the solution they want, it seems they will reluctantly accept Brexit, at least for the time being.  That will put them in a very awkward position come the next indyref, and indeed the next Westminster and Holyrood elections.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Theresa May tried her best to say nothing in Scotland - but we did learn a little

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the International Business Times about what we learned from Theresa May's visit yesterday - even though it was like trying to get blood out of a source.  You can read the article HERE.

It's official, it's decisive : an independence referendum is the will of the elected Scottish Parliament

Scottish Parliament vote on holding an independence referendum :

Yes 69 (53.9%)
No 59 (46.1%)

The BBC argued that the 55%-45% vote against independence in 2014 was "decisive", so as this is very much the same sort of margin, I look forward to the same word being used (as opposed to "narrow", or something along those lines).

Monday, March 27, 2017

Should a national list be top of the list?

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at The National, pondering what the effect might be if the Holyrood regional lists were replaced by a national list (as Alex Salmond has proposed).  It will also doubtless irritate Morag by concluding that STV might be a better option from the SNP's point of view!  I'm not really a convert to the cause of STV, but there's not much doubt it would offer a better chance of an SNP overall majority than AMS does.  You can read the article HERE.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

If Ukraine don't back down, they must be banned from their own Eurovision

Apologies for a Eurovision post as early as March, but the events of the last couple of days have been truly extraordinary.  First of all, the Ukrainian authorities announced that the Russian entrant wouldn't be allowed into the country to compete in this year's contest (taking place in Kiev), because she performed in Crimea without their permission.  Russia of course now regards Crimea as an integral part of its own territory, so whatever you may think of that state of affairs, it would have been totally unrealistic to expect a Russian citizen to apply for Ukrainian permission before going there.

I suggested on Twitter yesterday that the EBU couldn't possibly accept a Ukrainian veto on who can compete for Russia, and that if there was no U-turn they would have to think about the unprecedented step of allowing Julia Samoilova to compete via a live feed.  After a little indecision, the EBU came to precisely that conclusion today.  But now the Ukrainians are apparently attempting to veto even that solution, and are saying that it would somehow be a breach of Ukrainian law to broadcast the Russian song if it is performed under these circumstances.

There is a very clear precedent covering this scenario.  In 2005, Lebanon seemed set to join the contest, and selected a beautiful (if a tad old-fashioned) entry in French called Quand tout s'enfuit.  I was really disappointed when they were forced to withdraw, but the logic was impossible to argue with - Lebanese law forbade the broadcast of the Israeli entry, and that would have made a mockery of the whole contest.  Exactly the same principle applies here.  It's probably too late to strip Ukraine of their hosting rights, but if they refuse to broadcast the properly-selected Russian entry, they shouldn't be allowed to participate in their own contest.  If they don't back down and they aren't banned, the integrity of the competition (stop laughing at the back) will be fatally undermined.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

If Theresa May can only "win" a referendum by stopping it taking place, then...

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the TalkRadio website about Theresa May's outrageous bid to overturn the long-standing British government policy that Scotland can only remain in the UK by democratic consent.  You can read the article HERE.

CONFIRMED : Last night's ludicrous Sky "poll" was not weighted by EU referendum vote

As you may have seen, Sky News made an exasperating attempt last night to distort the referendum debate with a wildly unreliable online "poll", conducted by themselves and using their own paying customers as respondents, which purported to show that Theresa May is significantly more popular in Scotland than Nicola Sturgeon - a finding that is light-years out of line with recent properly-conducted polls from firms affiliated to the British Polling Council. 

The numbers were so patently absurd that I didn't think they even warranted the effort of a blogpost, although I did post a tweet pointing out that it was a junk poll and should be disregarded.  That prompted a reaction this morning from Harry Carr, head of "Sky Data", who insisted that it was a nationally representative poll.  He also produced datasets which showed that some weighting had been done - but there was no obvious sign of many of the political weightings that are standard in Scottish online polls, such as by recalled indyref vote, recalled EU ref vote, or recalled Holyrood vote.

As the poll bears all the hallmarks of having far too many Leave voters in the sample, I asked Harry a simple question - had he weighted by EU ref vote?  His answer : No.  He had weighted by recalled 2015 general election vote, but not by EU ref vote.  I strongly suspect that also means he didn't bother weighting by recalled Holyrood vote or by recalled indyref vote.

There's your explanation for the poll's nonsense results right there.  A telephone or face-to-face poll can possibly get away without doing proper political weighting, and just relying on demographic weighting.  But an online poll - no chance.  Online polls are different because you know in advance that you're drawing from an unrepresentative pool of potential respondents - Sky customers, for example, may well have political leanings that are different from non-Sky customers, and you have to carefully weight to correct for that.  I literally can't think of a single British Polling Council firm that would have attempted to conduct an online poll in the way that Harry has done.  It also looks like he didn't bother weighting by country of birth - a failing that he has in common with only BMG.

I stand by my original assessment - junk poll, ignore.

By the way - here's a challenge for Harry.  Conduct a Scottish voting intention poll, and publish it even if it puts the Tories in the lead.  Then try to keep a straight face when you defend your methodology.  Go on, I dare you.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Greens' vote in favour of an independence referendum is fully consistent with their election manifesto

The latest desperate tactic of unionist politicians and journalists is to attempt to deligitimise the Greens' forthcoming vote in favour of an independence referendum by suggesting that it is somehow a betrayal of their own Holyrood manifesto from last year.  A frequently-heard claim is that the manifesto committed the party to only back a referendum if "one million" signatures had been collected demanding one.  That is completely and utterly untrue.  For one thing, you will search that manifesto in vain for the figure "one million", because it's not mentioned anywhere.  There isn't even a commitment that ANY signatures at all have to be collected - all that is said is that the Greens' "preferred way" of triggering a referendum is by an "appropriate number" of people signing a petition.  The phrase "preferred way" was an implicit acknowledgement that the Greens were going to continue to be a minority party within a parliament elected by proportional representation, and that holding a referendum would therefore require listening to the "preferred ways" of other parties, and then reaching an agreement on which one would be adopted.  Absolutely nothing in the manifesto precludes the Greens from backing an option that is not their own first preference.

As far as the one million figure is concerned, it's true that Patrick Harvie was asked what an "appropriate number" might be, and one million is what he came up with.  But the unionists can't have it both ways - if they're going to treat a manifesto like a sacred text and beat a party over the head with it, they actually do have to look at the words that are contained within it, and not at extraneous material.  There is no definition provided in the manifesto for the phrase "appropriate number" - it could be a million signatures, it could be twelve.  It could certainly be a low enough figure to be achieved comfortably within an afternoon or two.

As I understand it, the Greens' own explanation of their current stance rests primarily on the part of the manifesto that stated in general terms that if a referendum is to happen, it must come about by "the will of the people".  The will of the Scottish people as expressed in the referendum last June is to remain within the European Union, which is no longer compatible with their earlier desire to remain within the United Kingdom.  A second independence referendum is therefore the only way of resolving the incompatibility, and determining what the will of the people actually is when faced with a straight choice between the UK and the EU.  That logic looks watertight to me.

I think most of us would agree that it would have been better if the Green manifesto had used stronger wording, and had explicitly referred to the possibility of an early referendum being triggered by Brexit.  Nevertheless, the wording was more than adequate, for the following reasons -

* It acknowledged the prospect of a second independence referendum, and committed the Greens to campaigning for a Yes vote when it takes place.

* It did not exclude the possibility of a referendum taking place within the 2016-21 parliament.

* It imposed no specific pre-conditions on Green support for a referendum within the 2016-21 parliament.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

HALF of Scottish public want an independence referendum within just TWO YEARS, confirms extraordinary Panelbase poll

Today brings word of the first full-scale Scottish poll to be wholly conducted since Nicola Sturgeon fired the starting-gun for a second independence referendum.  It's a Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times, and although the datasets have yet to appear, it looks as if the question about the timing of the referendum used identical wording to the last Panelbase poll for the same client a few weeks ago.  As I noted at the time, that wording is extremely poor.  Respondents are asked to choose between a referendum in "the next year or two", a referendum "in about two years", or no referendum "in the next few years".  The latter timescale implies a period of longer than two years, which means that people who want a referendum in three years' time (2020 has, after all, been mentioned as a possible compromise date) do not have an option that represents their views - they're effectively forced to choose an option they don't really believe in.  However, within those inadequate confines, there is a roughly even split between those who say they want a referendum within two years, and those who say they don't want one within the next few years - exactly as there was in the last poll.

The combined support for the two 'within two years' options is 50%, while support for 'not within the next few years' is 51%.  The apparent incompatibilty of those numbers is caused by the effect of rounding.  That suggests support for an early referendum on the raw numbers is fractionally below 50%, perhaps similar to the 49.4% recorded in the last poll - but that would, of course, be well within the standard 3% margin of error, meaning it's impossible to know whether the true figure is a little above 50%, or a little below.

In spite of the continuation of the basic 50/50 split, this isn't a no change poll by any means - there has been considerable movement within the half of the sample that wants an early referendum, with a sharp 5% increase in support for the 'hardline' option of a referendum "in the next year or two" while Brexit negotiations are still ongoing.  That figure now stands at 32%.  There has been a corresponding 5% drop in support (to 18%) for the more 'moderate' option of a referendum "in about two years", after negotiations have been completed.  Ironically, the latter option is closest to Nicola Sturgeon's own stated plans, so almost a third of the population actually feel that she is not moving quite fast enough.  You probably won't hear about that on the mainstream media, though.

I don't pay the Murdoch Levy, so in the absence of the Panelbase datasets I'm not sure whether respondents were also asked whether Theresa May should grant a Section 30 order allowing the referendum to take place on the same basis as the 2014 vote.  However, there is a Britain-wide ComRes poll out today which asked whether respondents agreed or disagreed with the following statement -

Theresa May should insist that any second Scottish referendum on independence takes place only once Britain has completed the process of leaving the EU.

The results among the Scottish subsample (excluding Don't Knows) were...

Agree : 48%
Disagree : 52%

Subsample results cannot be regarded as reliable, of course, but as it happens those numbers are bang in line with the most recent full-scale Scottish YouGov poll (conducted mostly before Nicola Sturgeon's referendum announcement), which found that 52% of the public think the London government should agree to a referendum if Sturgeon asks for one.

Panelbase also asked a voting intention question on independence itself...

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 44% (-2)
No 56% (+2)

Some unionists are beside themselves with excitement at that result, taking it as proof that the YouGov poll showing Yes 43%, No 57% wasn't such an outlier after all.  Well...up to a point, Lord Copper.  It's true that we now have a first non-YouGov poll since autumn 2014 to show the Yes vote slightly lower than the 45% actually achieved in Indyref 1.  It's also true that YouGov no longer looks like an extreme outlier, but it is still very much at the No-friendly far end of the spectrum.  YouGov's inexplicable refusal to include 16 and 17 year olds in their sample may in itself explain the difference between their findings and Panelbase's.

As far as Panelbase are concerned, there were signs even before today's poll that they might be starting to slot into the No-friendly zone - the previous poll from the firm had Yes stuck on 46%, even though polls from Ipsos-Mori and BMG at around the same time showed Yes surging to 48-50%.

Of the last seven polls conducted by all firms, three (two from BMG and one from Ipsos-Mori) have shown an unusually high Yes vote, two (one from Panelbase and one from Survation) have shown a figure within the familiar range of recent times, and two (one from YouGov and today's from Panelbase) have shown an unusually low Yes vote.  It would be totally irrational to conclude on the basis of that evidence that there has definitely been a drop in the Yes vote - the opposite may have happened, or there may well have been no change at all.

*  *  *

SCOT GOES POP POLL OF POLLS

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 46.4% (-0.4)
No 53.6% (+0.4)

(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each firm that has reported at least once within the last three months. The firms included in the current sample are Panelbase, BMG, Ipsos-Mori, YouGov and Survation.)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

How an early Scottish election can be triggered

Opinions differ on how possible/probable the options of a consultative referendum or early Holyrood election are in the event that Theresa May remains intransigent.  Brian Taylor of the BBC, for example, acknowledges that both options are on the table, but insists that both are "unlikely" because Nicola Sturgeon would regard them as "gestures".  Whether he's being led by his own assumptions and preconceptions, or whether he's been reliably briefed to that effect, is anyone's guess.

However, as there seems to be some confusion over exactly how an early Holyrood election can be brought about, it might be worth refreshing our memories by looking at the relevant part of the Scotland Act.

"The Presiding Officer shall propose a day for the holding of a poll if—

(a) the Parliament resolves that it should be dissolved and, if the resolution is passed on a division, the number of members voting in favour of it is not less than two-thirds of the total number of seats for members of the Parliament, or

(b) any period during which the Parliament is required under section 46 to nominate one of its members for appointment as First Minister ends without such a nomination being made."

The crucial word is "or". Options a) and b) are either/or - they don't both have to be met.  In other words, if the First Minister resigns and is not replaced within 28 days, an election is triggered without the need for a two-thirds majority, and the unionist parties would not have the opportunity to form a blocking minority.

There is, however, a small catch.  If there is an election for First Minister during the 28 days and only one unionist candidate is nominated, there will be an "affirmative vote" and that person will be rejected.  If, however, at least two candidates come forward (say, Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale), it wouldn't be possible to stop one of them from being elected.  That's basically because the rules are a bit silly.  If Davidson received the votes of the 31 Tory MSPs, and Dugdale received the votes of the 24 Labour MSPs, the vote would be declared valid and Davidson would technically become First Minister.  That's not a problem in itself, because the "Davidson government" would, within a few short days, be ousted by a vote of no confidence.  However, that would simply start the 28-day process all over again, and in theory we could go round in circles into infinity.

In practice, that wouldn't happen, because the unionist parties would be worried about making themselves look ridiculous, and people would be chanting "politics is not a game" at them.  However, we should probably be prepared for them to attempt the stunt at least once.  Personally, I don't think that would be the end of the world.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Theresa is tanking : blow for autocrat PM as YouGov poll shows pro-independence parties have an absolute majority of the vote

I have to say I find it pretty incredible that a YouGov poll in which the headline Yes vote was unusually low has been so good for us in a variety of other ways. As I've already mentioned, it shows a 52% to 48% majority in favour of Westminster allowing an independence referendum to be held (a finding studiously ignored by a mainstream media hellbent on sticking with their beloved "the Jocks don't even want a referendum" narrative, in defiance of all evidence). A batch of newly-released figures from the poll show increasing support for the SNP, improved personal ratings for Nicola Sturgeon, a drop in popularity for both Theresa May and Ruth Davidson, and a giant raspberry for the notion that Scotland needs the UK more than it needs the EU.

Let's start with the Holyrood voting intention numbers, which shows a boost for the SNP vote on both ballots, an absolute majority of the vote for the SNP on the constituency ballot, and an absolute majority for the pro-independence parties on the list ballot.  It also suggests that the once-dominant Labour party is now in severe danger of slipping to fourth place on the list vote, behind even the Greens - although that hasn't happened quite yet.

Constituency ballot :

SNP 51% (+3)
Conservatives 24% (-1)
Labour 14% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)
Greens 4% (+1)
UKIP 1% (n/c)

Regional list ballot :

SNP 40% (+1)
Conservatives 25% (+1)
Labour 14% (n/c)
Greens 12% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 5% (-1)
UKIP 2% (-2)
RISE 1% (n/c)

The absolute majority for pro-indy parties on both ballots may be of some interest as we ponder the possibility of an early Holyrood election functioning as a de facto independence referendum.  And once again, I don't think it's unreasonable to pose the question - given that the headline Yes vote in this poll looks implausibly low, and given that YouGov didn't even bother interviewing 16 and 17 year olds, is it just possible that the above figures may even underestimate the SNP?

As far as personal ratings of leading politicians are concerned, there are two ways of judging the pecking-order - one is based on the percentage of respondents who have a positive view of each politician, and the other is a net rating, calculated by subtracting the percentage of respondents who have a negative view from those who have a positive view.  Nicola Sturgeon has the lead on one measure, and is in a close second place on the other - but she has improved her standing in both.  Meanwhile, Ruth Davidson has gone backwards on both measures, and Theresa May's net rating has dropped significantly, entirely due to a sharp increase in the number of people who view her negatively.  There's still a tendency south of the border to talk about the "Theresa May honeymoon", but in Scotland that's something we refer to in the past tense - the more people see her, the less they like her.  My guess is that Hard Brexit and her antics in attempting to block an independence referendum will eventually see her hit Thatcher-style levels of unpopularity, although admittedly she still has a long way to go before that happens.

Positive ratings :

Nicola Sturgeon 53% (+3)
Ruth Davidson 47% (-2)
Theresa May 37% (+2)
Kezia Dugdale 26% (+3)
Jeremy Corbyn 13% (-7)

Net ratings :

Ruth Davidson +18 (-7)
Nicola Sturgeon +16 (+5)
Theresa May -10 (-5)
Kezia Dugdale -16 (+5)
Jeremy Corbyn -56 (-21)

It's been speculated in recent elections and referendums that supplementary questions may sometimes give a better indication of how a vote is likely to pan out than the headline voting intention question.  If there's some truth in that, the Tory government should be deeply concerned by the response to a question that asks whether the EU or the UK is the more important trade partner for Scotland - which in many ways goes to the heart of what the next independence referendum will be all about.  Respondents were split down the middle - with one-quarter of No voters from 2014 saying that the EU is more valuable.

*  *  *

I was tickled by the Herald's write-up of the "everything but the kitchen sink" list of pre-conditions laid down by defeated opposition leader Ruth Davidson for the elected government being allowed to hold a referendum.  One is that there has to be agreement across the parties - which means that even if the Tories and Labour agreed, Willie Rennie would still have a veto.  (Thank heavens the Scottish Senior Citizens' Unity party is no longer around, otherwise even their bloke would be able to single-handedly prevent his millions of fellow citizens from having a say.)

I'm still not convinced that Davidson has put quite enough roadblocks in the way, though.  Allow me to suggest a few more perfectly reasonable pre-conditions -

* There cannot be an independence referendum until Bashar al-Assad gives the nod.

* There cannot be an independence referendum until Nicola Sturgeon pays a £100 million deposit "in good faith".

* There cannot be an independence referendum until a psychic medium checks to make sure Princess Diana is OK with it.

* There cannot be an independence referendum until 200 billion signatures of Scottish residents have been collected and verified.

* There cannot be an independence referendum until NASA confirms there are no asteroid collisions due until at least 2150, because Theresa May mustn't be distracted in the face of impending global catastrophe.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

What are Nicola Sturgeon's options for holding a vote on independence without Westminster's agreement?

Nicola Sturgeon said tonight she was determined to hold a vote on Scotland's future on the reasonable timescale she has already set out, and that she would "consider her options" if Theresa May tries to block it (which is clearly what will happen).  So what are the options for holding a vote without a Section 30 order, and which is Sturgeon most likely to plump for?

1) A consultative referendum without Westminster permission.  This would probably be the best option IF any legal obstacles can be overcome (opinions differ on how easy or difficult that would be).  It would essentially be lose/lose for Theresa May - if the Tories and other unionist parties actively campaign in the referendum, they will give it legitimacy and they may as well have just granted the Section 30 (and they will also look stupid and anti-democratic for having not done so).  But if they boycott the referendum, a Yes vote will be assured, quite possibly on a respectable turnout, and the moral authority of the 2014 result will be surrendered.

2) An early Holyrood election to obtain an outright mandate for independence, with the SNP and Greens placing an explicit commitment to independence (without any need for a further referendum) in their manifestos.  This option has the beauty of being legally watertight - there's nothing London can realistically do to stop it, short of dismantling devolution.  It would probably mean we'd be chasing 50%+ of the popular vote on both the constituency and list ballots, which is a very tough target - but remember the SNP and Greens took an outright majority of votes in Scotland at the UK general election in 2015.

3) SNP MPs or constituency MSPs (or both) resign en masse, and trigger by-elections across Scotland to obtain a mandate for independence.  This idea has been floated a few times, but is unlikely to happen because a Scotland-wide mandate would be required to bring about independence.  The SNP (and allied "independents") hold all but three Scottish seats at Westminster - but those three would be enough to ruin the legitimacy of any mandate, unless the vote obtained is implausibly decisive.  As the option of a Holyrood general election exists and is superior, there's simply no point in going down the by-election road.

4) Play the long game, implicitly accept Theresa May's decision, and wait until 2021 to obtain a mandate with which to beg her (or her successor) for a referendum all over again, with no guarantee that she will prove to be any more reasonable.  This is exactly what May and Davidson want us to do - which might be a little clue as to why it's a very, very bad idea.

Verdict : Obviously it'll either have to be the consultative referendum or the snap Holyrood election.  The only other way forward I can see would be an early Holyrood election to obtain an even more emphatic mandate for a Section 30 order than the one we already have - but if Theresa May is just going to keep mindlessly saying no, what's the point?  We'll have to take the bull by the horns eventually, and dragging voters to the polls one more time than is strictly necessary might prove counter-productive.

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Random thought : Is Scotland the only "democratic" country in the world where the defeated opposition leader gets to announce what the elected government won't be allowed to do?

This is now a hostage situation - Theresa May attempts to abolish Scottish democracy...and the Scottish Government must take bold action to stop her

If the 'sources' chatter from journalists is correct, Theresa May will this afternoon reverse decades of British government policy and announce that Scotland does not have the right to democratic self-determination.  There is, she will apparently say, no longer any democratic path to independence - the UK government has unilaterally decided that Scotland is to remain in the UK, regardless of the views of the Scottish people.

Two obvious conclusions follow from this -

1) In any universe where the media do not pat her on the head for her constant contradictions and U-turns, Ruth Davidson's position as Scottish Tory leader would now be utterly untenable.  She has stated on numerous occasions that, while she is vigorously opposed to a second independence referendum, it would be wrong for London to block one if the Scottish Parliament voted in favour.

2) In my view, the Scottish Government must now start stating openly that they will ensure the Scottish people are allowed to make a decision on independence, even if a Section 30 order is not granted.  This could take the form of a consultative referendum, or of an early Holyrood election in which the SNP manifesto seeks an outright mandate for independence.  I'm reasonably sure contingency planning must have been done for one of those options, but it's still important to make a public announcement as soon as possible, to prevent the narrative being established that "the Jocks asked for a referendum, the headteacher said no, end of story".  There may be the temptation to go through the motions of formally requesting a Section 30 order, waiting for a formal rejection, and then formally requesting a rethink, etc, etc...and that would be a great mistake.  The Scottish Government must not allow themselves to look impotent by running around in circles to no great effect, especially when they have high-ranking cards they could be playing. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

YouGov poll : Hammerblow for Theresa May as Scottish public demand Westminster MUST allow an independence referendum

The datasets for last night's downright weird YouGov poll are now out, and there is actually some good news to be found in them.  (Most of this was probably already revealed in the Times report long before I went to bed, but I don't pay the Murdoch levy so I was none the wiser.)  Most importantly, respondents were asked whether the UK government should "agree" to an independence referendum if Nicola Sturgeon asks for one.  Inconveniently for Theresa May's "the Jocks don't even want a vote" narrative, the answer was a narrow "yes".

If Nicola Sturgeon calls for a second independence referendum, do you think the UK government should or should not agree to one taking place?

Should agree : 52%
Should not agree : 48%

That's the first time I can recall seeing the question posed in that way, and it probably produces more meaningful results than the misleading "Should there be a referendum before Brexit negotiations are concluded?" questions we've seen in a few other polls (misleading because Nicola Sturgeon is not actually proposing such an early referendum).  It's also worth bearing in mind that YouGov's sample is, for whatever reason, unusually "No-heavy" - so if it turns out they're understating the Yes vote, it's not unreasonable to suppose that the majority in favour of a referendum is also somewhat bigger than they're reporting.  However, most of the fieldwork for this poll was conducted before Nicola Sturgeon actually went ahead and called for a Section 30 order to be granted, so it remains to be seen what effect that development will have on public opinion.

The other piece of good news looks like bad news at first glance - by a 60-40 margin, respondents say the Scottish Government should not campaign for independence over the next two years.  That represents substantial progress since exactly the same question was asked a few months ago, when the margin was a much bigger 64-36.  I suspect Nicola Sturgeon's announcement may have a further impact on those numbers as Yes supporters rally behind her decision, but time will tell.

Let's turn now to the really burning question : is there any explanation in the datasets for the oddity of the Yes vote in this poll being lower than in any poll conducted by any firm since the autumn of 2014, in spite of the fact that a telephone poll only last week put Yes in the lead?  To a limited extent there is.  To my surprise, and utterly incomprehensibly, the datasets confirm that YouGov have stopped interviewing 16 and 17 year olds, even though they must know that the minimum voting age at the next referendum will almost certainly be 16, just as it was in the last one.  Now, it's true that 16 and 17 year olds make up only a relatively small percentage of the electorate, and that a poll of over-18s probably isn't going to produce radically different results from a poll of over-16s.  But it might well make a small difference.  If the correct electorate had been polled, it's quite possible that the Yes vote would have been 1% higher and the No vote would have been 1% lower.  So it's entirely wrong for YouGov, the Times and the wider mainstream media to present Yes 43%, No 57% as being reliable and relatively precise voting intention numbers.  Perhaps even more importantly, it's grossly misleading to suggest that the Yes vote has fallen slightly since the last YouGov poll, given that 16 and 17 year olds were interviewed last time around.  If the two polls had used the same minimum age, they might well have produced identical results.

As I've said before, I don't think this is a conspiracy from YouGov - I just think it's a mixture of Anglocentricity and institutional laziness.  Because they usually poll over-18s only, it seems they simply can't be bothered making special arrangements for Jock polls.  If the voting age for Westminster elections had been reduced to 16 in 2014, there's no way on Earth they'd still be polling the wrong electorate a whole three years later.

There are no other obvious smoking guns in the datasets - the question asked looks fine, and is exactly the same one YouGov have been using for years.  Very little weighting has had to be done by recalled 2014 referendum vote, although that in itself raises a few questions, because it must mean that YouGov are sending out invitations in a very careful and extraordinarily controlled way.  So if there is something fishy going on, perhaps it's at the invitation stage.  The notorious "Kellner Correction" made an artificial adjustment to the sample of SNP voters to make sure that they were the "right sort" of SNP voters - could something similar be happening now, but this time using the invitation stage as a filter?  It's possible, but it's also completely impossible to tell, because that sort of information isn't publicly available.

By far the most suspicious feature of the datasets (although not proof of dodgy methodology) is that the No vote is much stronger among the least affluent respondents.  That's entirely counterintuitive, and is the opposite of what we see in most polls.  OK, sometimes you just get weird subsamples which cancel each other out to some extent (for example too many female Yes voters in a sample might be partly offset by the presence of an excess number of male No voters), but the problem is that less affluent voters are generally less likely to take part in polls, and therefore their responses usually need to be weighted up, while the responses of affluent voters are weighted down.  That weighting usually works in favour of Yes, but in this particular case the opposite is true - the No-friendly raw sample of 397 less affluent respondents has been upweighted to count as 493 'virtual' respondents.  So if there is something wrong with the raw sample (and it's hard to escape the conclusion that there must be), that problem will have been sharply magnified by the weighting.

To give an example of what I'm talking about - in the most recent Panelbase poll, the Yes vote among the less affluent part of the sample was 11% higher than among the more affluent part.  A very similar pattern was seen in the Ipsos-Mori poll last week, and the BMG poll at the weekend.  And yet in the YouGov poll the Yes vote is 12% lower among the less affluent than it is among the more affluent.  It simply doesn't pass the 'smell test'.

Significant Survation survey puts Yes on a solid 47% - leaving YouGov totally isolated

For the love of God, will you give me a chance to draw breath, chaps?  This is the third poll in the space of an hour!  The Survation one is kind of middling news for the independence movement - it doesn't corroborate the suggestions from BMG and Ipsos-Mori that there has been a recent swing towards independence (possibly even one that nudges Yes into a slight lead).  But on the other hand it leaves tonight's YouGov poll looking even more like an extreme outlier - Survation's figures are pretty close to BMG's, and somewhat closer to Ipsos-Mori's than to YouGov's.  Survation's fieldwork is also more up-to-date than YouGov's, so there's no obvious reason to suppose that YouGov are just blazing a trail in picking up a trend that other firms haven't yet had a chance to detect.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Survation)

Yes 47% (n/c)
No 53% (n/c)

This is the first poll from any firm to have been entirely conducted after Nicola Sturgeon pulled the trigger for Indyref 2.  Obviously it's important not to rely too much on any individual poll, but on the face of it the suggestions that Monday's announcement might backfire have proved wide of the mark.  And, in fairness, it also looks like the excitement of a second referendum has yet to produce any sort of bandwagon effect for Yes either.

It should be noted that Survation were the firm that conducted the Sunday Post's recent pensioners-only poll, so tonight's figures should assuage any concerns that the swing to No in the Post poll might have been symptomatic of a similar swing across the wider population.  But we'll have to wait for the datasets from the new poll to discover whether there is an unusually high No vote among the oldest age group (if there is, it obviously must have been offset by Yes doing better among younger people).

*  *  *

SCOT GOES POP POLL OF POLLS

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 46.8% (-1.2)
No 53.2% (+1.2)

(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each firm that has reported at least once within the last three months. The firms included in the current sample are Panelbase, BMG, Ipsos-Mori, YouGov and Survation.)

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UPDATE : The Survation datasets have now been released, and it looks like the information we were given about the fieldwork dates was false - the poll was actually conducted at around the same time as the YouGov poll.  So we're still awaiting the first poll to have been wholly conducted after Nicola Sturgeon's announcement - which will obviously be a key moment when it arrives.

Independence support hits all-time high in your super soaraway Social Attitudes Survey

For almost twenty years, the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey has been asking an annual question on constitutional preferences for Scotland - a question that would, if asked by a regular pollster, be rightly blasted as being absurdly leading, and pejorative about independence.  However, the advantage of rigidly sticking with such an ill-judged question is that we can be sure than any long-term change in public opinion is genuine, rather than an illusion caused by a tweaking of the words.  The change we've seen in recent times is therefore not only quite staggering, it's also meaningful.

For the second year in a row, the new survey has produced a record high figure of support for independence.  On both occasions, the previous record has not just been broken - it's been completely obliterated.  The latest figure of 46% is an incredible 11% higher than any survey up to and including 2015 had recorded.

Independence 46% (+7)
Devolution 42% (-7)
Direct rule from London 8% (+2)

One of the great mysteries of the 2014 referendum campaign was the cause of the Great Polling Convergence right at the end.  Were online firms like Panelbase correct that there had been only fairly modest movement towards Yes over the course of the long campaign?  Or were the face-to-face polling firms like Ipsos-Mori and TNS (plus YouGov, the odd one out of the online world) correct in reporting that there had been a massive swing?  Or was the truth somewhere in between the two extremes?

The Social Attitudes Survey is conducted in a different way from regular polls, and the pejorative language used in the question about independence also makes it very hard for respondents to express support unless they are truly committed.  The results tonight therefore lend some credence to the notion that the mind-boggling and lasting swing towards Yes we've seen in face-to-face polls over the last three years (and confirmed again by last week's Ipsos-Mori poll) has been caused by genuine movement in public opinion on the ground, and that online polls may not have fully picked up on the sea-change that has occurred.

Elsewhere in the survey, there's evidence of surprising levels of Euroscepticism among Remain voters from last year, which leads Professor Curtice to conclude that pro-EU sentiment may be too weak to make No voters from 2014 switch to Yes.  However, it should be noted that one-third of respondents who are currently both pro-EU and anti-independence did not say that they feel the EU should have fewer powers.  If the Yes campaign can make serious inroads among those people, it may be enough to build up a decisive lead.

More realistically, Yes are probably going to need the support of a significant minority of Leave voters, which will cause some strategic difficulties in terms of messaging.  But I struggle with Professor Curtice's argument that this means the SNP have misjudged the timing of a second referendum and should instead have waited for demographic shifts to work in their favour.  Curtice of all people should know that Yes cannot just 'bank' the support it already has, and complacently wait for older No voters to die.  The bullish fifty-something Yes voter of today may be a No-voting sixty-something of tomorrow, newly fearful about his or her pension.  Current Yes supporters of all ages may think twice about embracing another major constitutional upheaval after several years of turmoil caused by a Hard Brexit.  And in any case, the "right time" to hold a referendum can only ever fall during a period when there is a pro-referendum majority at Holyrood.  We're living through one of those periods at the moment, but there's far from being any guarantee that we will be a decade from now.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

YouGov produce bizarre outlier poll putting the Yes vote at implausibly low 43%

After a sequence of polls from other firms strongly suggesting that support for independence has increased over the last few weeks, YouGov have finally broken their months-long drought with a poll that bizarrely marches off in completely the opposite direction.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

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

Self-evidently, those figures are not easily reconcilable with last week's Ipsos-Mori poll giving Yes a very slight lead.  The fieldwork is more recent, but it looks like only a minority of interviews took place after Nicola Sturgeon's announcement of a second independence referendum.  It'll be tempting for some people to suggest that the reality of a second vote has caused a sudden backlash, but I'd suggest it's much more likely there's a YouGov-specific methodological issue at play here.  Is it really just coincidence that YouGov's last two polls, conducted several months apart, have been the only two polls from any firm to put support for independence lower than the 45% achieved in September 2014?  It seems improbable.
 
The datasets aren't out yet, so I can only speculate as to what might be going on.  Long-term readers will recall that YouGov made a controversial and extremely convoluted adjustment to their results during Indyref 1, dubbed the "Kellner Correction", and were also frustratingly secretive about the exact impact that it was having.  There's bound to be suspicions that they've quietly started doing something similar once again, but let's not jump to conclusions.  It may just be that YouGov's volunteer polling panel has spontaneously become a little more No-friendly than others.

A graph released on Twitter suggests that only over-18s were interviewed for the new poll.  That would seem odd, given that YouGov finally got their act together in the autumn and started polling 16 and 17 year olds.  My guess is that it's unlikely they've taken a step backwards.  If by any chance they have, though, it's obviously possible that the failure to interview the correct electorate may in itself have led to a slight underestimate of the Yes vote.

UPDATE : Remarkably, it turns out that YouGov did NOT interview 16 and 17 year olds - you can read more HERE.

The Tories simply cannot win on the "mandate" point

It's been obvious for some time that the Tories' number one objective is to push back the timetable for the independence referendum, but it's now becoming clear that at least one of the notorious Tory "sources" has also been floating the idea that they might demand there needs to be a fresh mandate at the 2021 Holyrood election before a long-delayed referendum can finally take place.  This story has appeared in two slightly different forms - the Spectator claim that the pro-independence parties between them would have to win an overall majority (ie. a repeat of exactly the same mandate they've already got), while the Times claim that the SNP alone would have to win an overall majority in their own right (a plainly indefensible idea if several parties are all standing on a pro-referendum platform).  Either way, if this is to be based on hair-splitting objections to the mandate for a referendum that currently exists, it's hard to see how the line can hold, because the facts are stacked against the Tories -

* The SNP manifesto last year contained a specific pledge that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to call a referendum in the event of Brexit.

* That manifesto was backed by the biggest percentage vote that any party has received in the history of devolution.

* The SNP's share of the vote was roughly 10% higher than the Conservatives achieved at the UK general election in 2015.  If the SNP do not have a mandate to implement their own manifesto, then by definition neither do the UK Tories.  (That would mean there was no mandate to hold the EU referendum, for example.)

* 69 pro-independence MSPs were elected, and only 60 anti-independence MSPs were elected.

* That majority will be formally confirmed next week when the Scottish Parliament votes in favour of holding an independence referendum.

* The Scottish Parliament elected Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister by an overwhelming margin of 63 votes to 5, on the specific basis that she would be forming a single-party SNP government.

It doesn't even end there, though.  Regardless of any implausible objection raised by the Tories to that impeccable mandate, the SNP would always have the option of calling their bluff by bringing about an early Holyrood election to satisfy any arbitrary conditions that are set for the 2021 vote.  If that is successfully done, the excuses for thwarting a referendum on a reasonable timescale will run out.