Sunday, February 25, 2018

Astonishing: London Tories double down on plans for a power-grab and send Scotland hurtling towards a constitutional crisis

Well, we can now say one thing for certain - Michael Settle's supposed exclusive in the Herald two weeks ago about how Westminster was running up the white flag on its plans for a power-grab from the Scottish Parliament, and how Nicola Sturgeon was poised to declare that she was satisfied with what's on offer, was a load of old hogwash.  It's clear from David Lidington's intervention in the Sunday Telegraph (apparently foreshadowing a key speech) that the London Tories still fully intend to take back some of the powers that were devolved to Scotland in July 1999, and more importantly that they're leaving themselves hardly any wriggle room for a dignified climbdown.  How can they declare today that a power-grab is essential for the UK's post-Brexit economic health, and then a few days or weeks later call the whole plan off?  Realistically, they can't.  And yet we already know that without some sort of substantive climbdown, the Scottish Parliament's pro-independence majority will almost certainly deny legislative consent for the EU Withdrawal Bill - and according to the Sewel Convention, the Bill should not proceed without that consent.  The convention is not legally binding (in spite of the con-trick of it being written into law in a completely unenforceable way), but if it's not honoured, "The Vow" will have been demonstrably betrayed.  In other words, the chances of a major constitutional crisis - one that would probably stiffen the resolve of the SNP to press ahead with an early indyref - have just increased markedly.

What's puzzling is the strategy behind London's latest move.  Whoever briefed Settle earlier this month was obviously guilty of a deception, but at least that person was plainly attempting to pave the way for a deal by giving the impression that Nicola Sturgeon had been given everything she wanted and that it would be totally unreasonable and irrational of her not to sign on the dotted line.  Suddenly we're hearing the complete opposite.  The new belligerent message that the success of Brexit depends on the powers of the Scottish Parliament being reduced will make it much easier for the SNP to simply say no.  Either this is simply dreadful psychology, with the Tories foolishly believing that the Scottish Government will for some reason buckle under pressure from pro-Brexit opinion south of the border, or they actually no longer even want a deal.  If it's the latter, hold onto your hats, because we could be moving into the endgame for the Union.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Fresh humiliation for hapless Ruth Davidson as Tories LOSE by-election in "safe" Scottish Borders ward

The full result from Selkirkshire hasn't been published yet, but I thought you might enjoy the headline while we're waiting.  Before you get too excited, the Tories were defeated by an independent candidate rather than the SNP, but even so.

UPDATE: Here's the result, and a finer advert you could never see for why it's so important for SNP supporters to use their lower preferences in local council elections.  The Tories were leading on first preferences by a seemingly comfortable six percentage points (albeit their share of the vote was sharply down on their result in the ward last May).  But they still lost, because enough SNP, Labour, Lib Dem and Green voters gave their lower preferences to the leading independent candidate.  The beauty of preferential voting is that even if your favourite candidate or party is well off the pace, you can still help prevent your least favourite party from claiming the seat, and that's exactly what happened here.  Well done to the progressive people of Selkirkshire for using the voting system correctly.

Selkirkshire by-election result (first preference votes):

Conservatives 35.7% (-6.4)
Independent - Penman 29.7% (n/a)
SNP 19.8% (-2.4)
Independent - Gunn 6.3% (-3.5)
Labour 3.8% (+0.1)
Liberal Democrats 2.7% (-0.6)
Greens 2.0% (-1.0)

Even after five counts (ie. after four candidates were eliminated) the Tories were still narrowly ahead by 1307 votes to 1231.  But the decisive moment came when the sizeable pile of SNP votes were transferred on the sixth count - 291 went to the independent, and only 35 went to the Tories, leaving the independent victorious by a margin of 1522 votes to 1342.  If no SNP voters at all had used their lower preferences, Selkirkshire would now be stuck with another Tory councillor.

There's always the fascination of seeing how Labour votes transfer when both the SNP and Tories are still in contention.  In this case the winning independent was the biggest beneficiary of Labour transfers, but nevertheless more than twice as many Labour voters transferred to the SNP as transferred to the Tories.  Clearly the much-vaunted unionist voting bloc has its limitations, even in territory such as the Borders where you'd think the anti-Nat pitch would have some purchase.

The slight fall in the Liberal Democrat vote from 3.3% to 2.7% may not look terribly significant - but when you realise this was a ward in which the Lib Dems took 19.7% of the vote as recently as 2012, it puts things in a completely different perspective.  In Westminster terms, this is part of a constituency that was a Lib Dem heartland until very recently.  So much for the "fightback".

Although the SNP vote fell a little, the fact that the Tory vote fell significantly more means there was technically a swing from Tory to SNP of approximately 2%.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Behold that legendary Smithsonian expertise

I was intrigued to spot the following observation on UKIP's prospects from Mike Smithson, known and loved by thousands of East Dunbartonshire residents as an 'impartial election expert' and avid letter-writer...

"If all goes to plan UKIP will lose all its MEPs on March 29th next year and its only elected politicians will be a few remaining local councillors and members of the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies, elected by the regional list, whose terms end in 2021."

Hmmm.  Well, of course there's no such thing as the "Scottish Assembly".  He may be referring to the Scottish Parliament by the wrong name, but if so, there's another snag - UKIP do not have a member of the Scottish Parliament and never have had.

But let's face it - these are minor, minor quibbles about a typically incisive piece of Smithson analysis, as the great man "cuts through the spin to see what the data really says".  As we all know, that data "forms the basis of all his predictions", so it'll be fascinating to see whether Mike predicts that UKIP will manage to hold onto their seats in the Scottish Parliament...you know, the ones that they don't actually have.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The BBC's bizarre attempt to eradicate the word 'Scotland' from the Olympics

If you haven't been astounded enough lately, try watching the video in this tweet, because it's extraordinary.  It's from the BBC coverage of the Winter Olympics, and features 2002 curling gold medallist Rhona Howie (formerly Rhona Martin) accidentally using the word 'Scotland' in relation to the Great Britain men's curling team.  The host Clare Balding's reaction is staggering - instead of just correcting the slip, she puts the whole programme on hold for several seconds to deliver the kind of patronising admonishment that a parent might give to a three-year-old girl who keeps chucking jam at her grandfather's pet gerbil.  Rhona Howie visibly shrinks into herself and mutters "sorry".  Balding wraps the whole tragic episode up with the words "that's OK" in a tone of voice that menacingly implies: "It's not OK.  Don't EVER do that again."

For the uninitiated, there are two basic points that will help to make sense of all this -

1) Clare Balding was technically correct - all Scottish athletes at the Olympics represent Great Britain, and Great Britain only, whether they like it or not.

2) Rhona Howie's slip was entirely innocent and understandable.  Every single person who has ever represented Great Britain at the Olympics in curling has been Scottish.  In every four-year cycle, there are nine major international curling events - four World Championships, four European Championships and one Olympic Games.  In eight of those nine, Scottish curlers represent Scotland.  It's only in the other one of the nine - the Olympics - that they represent Great Britain.  All of the GB curlers in the current Olympics represented Scotland at the European Championships just a few short weeks ago, and as it happens they all won medals for Scotland - the women took the gold, and the men took the silver.

All of that being true, the natural thing for Balding to do would have been to casually say "Great Britain, you mean?", in which case Howie would have said "Great Britain, sorry", and there would have been no great fuss.  But it's pretty obvious that either Balding or the person delivering instructions in her earpiece was 'triggered' by Howie's slip.  They felt that mistakenly referring to Great Britain as Scotland was something that had happened far too often, and they were sick of it, and it needed to be made an example of, and stamped out once and for all.  All of which raised a few eyebrows in Scotland, because in our whole lifetimes you could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of times a BBC presenter, commentator or summariser has ever referred to a Great Britain team as 'Scotland', whereas the BBC referring to Great Britain as 'England' happens as a matter of routine.  For example, last year, BBC Sport's official Twitter account tweeted about the "England" team in the Davis Cup - a truly jaw-dropping blunder given that Scottish players (including the not-exactly-obscure Andy Murray) have been the backbone of the Great Britain team in the Davis Cup for several years.  The tweet was eventually deleted, but I don't recall the person responsible for it being hauled onto our TV screens and forced to issue a humiliating apology.  There have been countless occasions when presenters such as Balding herself or John Inverdale have been guilty of the 'England' slip without making any sort of acknowledgement, apology or correction.

And yet we're expected to accept that the word Scotland being used too often is THE major problem that simply MUST be tackled by the BBC and be SEEN to be tackled?  I almost wonder if there is something rather sinister and political going on here.

I've been watching quite a bit of the BBC's Olympic curling coverage, and even before the Balding incident I had the distinct impression that some sort of edict had gone out strongly discouraging the commentators from using the words 'Scotland' and 'Scottish', in spite of the unavoidable Scottishness on prominent display before their eyes.  What made it obvious was Steve Cram's tortuous explanation of why Great Britain were absent from the new mixed doubles competition, which somehow managed to avoid making any mention of the fact that it was the Scotland team's responsibility to try to qualify Great Britain for the Games, and that they had narrowly failed.  But I suppose if you acknowledge Scotland's official role in the Olympic qualification process, you must also acknowledge that any medals won would effectively be a Scottish as well as a British effort...and that would never do, would it?  The only time I can recall hearing the existence of a Scotland curling team being mentioned in commentary was when Logan Gray launched into a prolonged anecdote about the use of corn brooms in the famous Canada v Scotland final at the 1991 World Championships.  "Really?" said Steve Cram in a disinterested tone, as he apparently tried to shut Gray down.

The double standard is simply breathtaking.  In a couple of months' time, the 2018 Commonwealth Games will take place in Australia.  There will be no Team GB at the event.  Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey will all compete as entirely separate teams.  And yet, on past form, the BBC presenters including Balding herself will try to downplay that division as a meaningless technicality, and will routinely refer to Scottish medals as "more success for the Home Nations".  You might remember that at Glasgow 2014, Matthew Pinsent (I think it was him, anyway) fronted a package that considered how "British" athletes' form at the Games might translate into success for Team GB once the temporary segregation was over - and remarkably didn't once acknowledge the elephant in the room, namely that Scotland was only a few weeks away from a referendum on independence that could have meant Scottish athletes would no longer compete for Team GB.  A "No" vote was, it seems, simply being taken as a given by BBC Sport.

But who knows, eh?  Perhaps Clare Balding has turned over a new leaf, and will sternly knock that sort of nonsense on the head in future.  Without fear or favour, Clare, without fear or favour.  Perish the thought that there is any sort of agenda here.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Buoyant SNP bag belter of a by-election win in bloomin' Bonnybridge

The SNP have had a frustrating run of local by-elections since the UK general election last year - they've had one or two creditable results in wards they were never going to win, but in wards where they should have been competitive they've fallen short of expectations.  At last tonight we can celebrate both a substantial increase in the SNP vote and an outright victory.

Bonnybridge & Larbert by-election result (15th February 2018):

SNP 38.6% (+4.9)
Conservatives 32.4% (+8.1)
Labour 24.2% (+8.5)
Greens 3.7% (-0.1)
UKIP 1.0% (n/a)

The SNP candidate was eventually declared the winner on the fifth count, and was presumably helped by the fact that the Tories were the main challengers.  Labour voters are less likely to transfer to the Tories than vice versa.

Obviously the fly in the ointment here is that both the Labour and Tory vote increased more than the SNP vote did, meaning there was technically a swing from SNP to both Labour and Tory.  However, the reason for the increases across the board is that the independent councillor Billy Buchanan wasn't on the ballot paper this time, leaving his 20% of the vote up for grabs.  I gather that Buchanan is more associated with the unionist parties, so it may well be that his votes are predominantly unionist in character, and that you would have fully expected them to switch mostly to Labour and the Tories.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Why Pete Wishart is asking the wrong question about an independence referendum

As you may have seen, Pete Wishart has an opinion piece in today's issue of The National which effectively functions as his preliminary manifesto for the SNP depute leadership election.  The central thrust is a thinly-coded call for the party to allow its hard-won mandate for a second independence referendum to expire, and to instead try its luck at some unspecified point after 2021.  You won't be surprised to hear that I disagree with that entirely, which means that in spite of my huge regard for Pete Wishart, I'm almost certainly going to end up voting for someone else in the depute election.  Time will tell whether that'll be James Dornan or someone who has yet to throw his or her hat into the ring.

In fairness, Pete does half-heartedly leave open the possibility of supporting a referendum before 2021, but only if victory is "certain", which is an absurd threshold that is quite simply not going to be met.  Perhaps more pertinently, it's not going to be met after 2021 either.  We could wait twenty, thirty, forty years, but the fundamental point will not change - independence would be a rupture to the status quo, which means there will always be a considerable percentage of the population who fear it and instinctively oppose it.  The idea that gradual demographic changes or the long-term failures of Brexit are going to deliver us victory before we even fire the starting-gun is in the realms of fantasy.  Whenever the referendum happens, we'll go into the campaign uncertain of the outcome, and requiring a massive effort to emerge victorious.

Pete is correct in one limited respect - there is no guarantee that the big net swing to Yes during the 2014 campaign will be repeated next time.  The first independence referendum in Quebec in 1980 saw a substantial swing to No over the course of the campaign, while the second in 1995 saw a substantial swing to Yes.  It could very easily go either way, which means that all that can be said about the mid-40s showings for Yes in Scottish polls at the moment is that it leaves us within plausible striking distance of victory.  But the actual winning and losing will be done during the campaign, and that will be the case regardless of timing.  If we wait for certainty, we wait forever.  I'm not a big football fan, but I've heard it said of some football teams that they try to score the perfect goal and never actually shoot.  That's the first huge danger of Pete's strategy.

The second huge danger is that excessive patience may mean that we won't even be able to shoot for goal if we ever finally decide the timing is somehow 'optimal'.  It shouldn't be forgotten just how difficult it is to win a pro-independence majority in a Holyrood election fought under the Additional Member voting system.  Can you imagine the frustration if the SNP poll strongly in successive elections, but repeatedly fall just one, two or three seats short of a pro-indy majority, and consequently a referendum remains tantalisingly just out of reach for a couple of decades or more?  After the narrow defeat for Yes in the 1995 Quebec referendum, it was assumed it was only a matter of time before a third referendum would be called.  The sovereigntists duly won an overall majority in the 1998 election, but backed off from using that mandate - and as a result a referendum simply hasn't been possible for the last twenty years, because they haven't won a majority since.  They've been in power as a minority for a while during that period, but have never had the arithmetic to call a referendum.  I don't want the same fate to befall us.

Pete says the only question that matters is whether we win the next indyref.  But there's an even more important question that has to be placed before that - namely, "will we have the capacity to actually call an indyref?"  We know one thing for virtually certain - we'll have the arithmetic to call a referendum until May 2021.  We don't have a clue whether that will still be true at any point after May 2021.  Our window of opportunity is in this current parliament, and it would be a historic error to turn away from it.

Monday, February 12, 2018

James Today, Jam Tomorrow?

The dilemma thrown up by this year's SNP depute leadership contest is the same one we faced in 2014 - do we simply vote for the candidate with the strongest personal qualities, or do we base our vote on the candidates' views on the constitution and strategy, even though such matters are ultimately for the leader and not the depute leader to decide upon?  I suppose the logic for doing the latter is that the leader may regard this contest as a de facto consultation exercise, and will perhaps factor the outcome into her thinking.

I must say I've found the clarity of James Dornan's comments quite refreshing - ie. an independence referendum before the next Scottish election, possibly as early as next year, and a flat dismissal of the notion that the SNP's comfortable election win last June was somehow a rejection of a referendum.  That's bang in line with my own thoughts, and I'd find it very hard to vote against such a prospectus. 

By contrast, Pete Wishart's pitch is centred on the need to do something radical to court the minority of pro-indy and indy-curious voters who want to leave the European Union.  Specifically that means an independent Scotland would not seek full EU membership straight away.  I wouldn't dismiss that idea out of hand, because the problem of Leave voters jumping ship from Yes is a genuine one (if perhaps a little overstated).  But I do worry about the danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Independence as a life-raft to save our place in Europe is an incredibly powerful argument, and my gut feeling is that we undermine it at our peril.

So in the trivial battle for my own vote, I think it's fair to say it's currently Dornan 1, Wishart 0.  But I'm going to keep my mind firmly open as more ideas and candidates emerge.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The weasel-worded power grab

I suspect I'm not alone in finding Michael Settle's gossip-fuelled reporting for the Herald over the last 24 hours deeply unsatisfactory from a reader's point of view.  The first of the two articles claims that Westminster is about to reverse its plans for a power-grab that would undermine the existing devolution settlement, seemingly on the basis of a single anonymous source who is "close to the process".  Given that this source praises the UK government for supposedly doing everything that could possibly be wished of it, and criticises the Scottish government for daring to have a different interpretation of what is on offer, it can be reasonably inferred that the source is on the UK side of the fence.  So why does Settle not tell us that?  Why does he not explain his reasons for apparently believing this source can be regarded as authoritative despite not being an objective witness?  When this biased source paints the Scottish government's stated frustration with the process as being somehow disingenuous, why are we being implicitly asked to accept that an anonymous and self-interested briefing from one side is more credible than an on-the-record briefing from the other side?  And why are the Scottish government not given an opportunity to respond to the source's assertions?

When the source said that powers that should be returning automatically to Holyrood will now be "put...more directly into the hands of the devolved administrations", was he or she challenged on the obvious point that 'more directly' are weasel words implying that the powers will not 'entirely directly' be controlled by Holyrood?  When the source chucked in the enormous caveat that the UK Government will be empowered "to put in appropriate safeguards to protect the internal market as and when they are required", was he or she challenged on the sinister implication that this will be an enforced principle, not one agreed on an equal and voluntary basis by Holyrood and Westminster? Was it put to him or her that all of the above may be a pretty straightforward explanation for why the Scottish goverment genuinely feel that any concessions so far are inadequate?  And if the source was challenged, as he or she surely should have been, why were we not provided with the response?

Even more mysteriously, Settle's second article does a complete about-face on the "Scottish government rejecting the concessions unreasonably" stuff, and instead claims that Nicola Sturgeon is now totally cool with what's on offer and will shortly be declaring victory.  For all I know that could be true, but where's the evidence?  As far as I can see no source is cited at all this time, whether anonymous or on-the-record.  Did the information come to Settle in a dream?  Did he consult a psychic?  Does he just feel it in his bones?

None of this strikes me as being remotely good enough.  It's hard not to feel that there's a puppet-master behind the scenes who wants to frame this story in a particular way, and that Settle is happy enough being the puppet.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The birthplace of valour, the country of worth

Just a quick (and belated) note to let you know that I have an article in the February issue of iScot magazine, which also features contributions from Alyn Smith MEP, Derek Bateman, Paul Kavanagh and many others.  If you're not a subscriber to the print edition, a digital copy can be inexpensively purchased HERE

The front cover features a verse by Robert Burns - "my heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here" - which oddly enough I'm fairly sure I first encountered in uber-mournful form in the Italian film The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza).  But here's a much less gloomy version performed by Fara at the Orkney Folk Festival.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

It's now thirty years and counting since a Scot last represented the UK at Eurovision

I was half-thinking of foregoing the Eurovision posts altogether this year, because some people seem to get weirdly irate when I do them.  But as Bill Palmer of the US went out of his way the other night to ask for some Eurovision blogging, consider this a 'request post'.  To answer his specific question: no, Scotland does not take part in the contest and has always been nominally represented by the UK entry, which is selected by the BBC (or by a process devised and overseen by the BBC).  The corporation would probably argue that the rules make it impossible for there to be a Scottish entry for as long as Scotland is part of the UK, because each entry is put forward by a national broadcaster that is a paid-up member of the European Broadcasting Union.  However, a special exception is made for Australia, and given that the BBC are one of the contest's biggest financial backers, I'm not totally convinced that they would fail if they were to vigorously push the suggestion that the four Home Nations should be separately represented.  The obvious compromise would be for the UK to give up its automatic place in the grand final in return for four places in the semi-finals.  But it's the BBC we're talking about here, and with the upholding of British nationalism effectively written into the BBC Charter, it's highly unlikely they would ever make that case.  So the dream words "Écosse, douze points" will almost certainly have to wait until after independence.

What you'd think the BBC might do, though, is make sure individual Scots are at least given a fair crack of the whip at representing the UK in the contest.  But not a bit of it.  The last Scot to sing for the UK was Scott Fitzgerald exactly thirty years ago, when he famously lost to Celine Dion by just one point after the final national jury failed to award him any points at all.  As I always point out, and incredible though it may seem, both France and Cyprus have been represented by Scots more recently than the UK has.  (Karen Matheson of Capercaillie sang for France in the Breton language in 1996.)  What's truly shocking, though, is that in all of the UK national selection finals since 1988, there seem to have only been two Scottish acts - Do Re Mi featuring the late Kerry McGregor in 1997, and City Chix in 2006.  I don't know whether such an obscene under-representation says more about the southern-centricity of the BBC or of the British music industry, but it's certainly not happening by random chance.

To turn to tonight's national selection for 2018, I wasn't totally unhappy with it - I voted for the winning song for the second year in a row, and the overall standard seemed a little higher than in past years.  It's heartening to see the selection being given a prime-time slot on a mainstream channel (albeit BBC2 rather than BBC1) - gone are the dark days at the turn of the century when it had a graveyard slot early on Sunday afternoon.  What I couldn't understand is why the announcement of the winner was once again so truncated - with the use of a 50/50 jury/public vote system, there was obvious scope to crank up the tension with a gradual reveal of points.  (And given that the eventual winner started the night as a rank outsider, that might have worked particularly well.)  The voting segment is one of the things people love about the Eurovision itself, and with a full ninety minutes to play with, it's hard to see why it was excluded.

Overall verdict: the UK have ended up with a decent entry, but barring miraculously effective staging or a very weak field, it's unlikely to be an outright winner.  It's the sort of song you could maybe imagine finishing a creditable sixth or seventh on a good night.

"Oooh, you little fibbers!" Shock and disbelief as Scotsman newspaper is caught MISLEADING ITS READERS about an independence poll

The days of me religiously following the Scotsman newspaper (at least via its website) have long since passed. But I did vaguely register that at some point last year, an incoming editor announced that the paper would no longer have a political affiliation - individual columnists would still be free to express their own partisan views, but there would no longer be an editorial line on independence, or in favour of any particular political party.  As with the broadcast media, though, you really have to judge a newspaper by its words and deeds, and not by its nominal protestations of neutrality.  There was, for example, a very puzzling headline in January about the annual Social Attitudes Survey: "Majority of Scots want to end freedom of movement post-Brexit".  That seemed intended to give the false impression that public opinion on Brexit in Scotland is not all that different from public opinion south of the border.  In fact, the survey showed that almost two-thirds of the Scottish public would accept freedom of movement as a price worth paying for free trade - a significantly higher figure than in the rest of the UK.  It also showed clear majority backing for the Scottish government's insistence that EU powers over devolved matters should be repatriated to Edinburgh rather than London after Brexit.  Although not technically inaccurate, the Scotsman's headline was exactly the one you would have expected a rabidly anti-independence publication to use when trying to put a positive gloss on survey figures that were, on the whole, extremely unhelpful to its case.

A one-off reversion to the bad habits of the past?  I'm afraid not.  A couple of days ago, the Scotsman reported the findings of a Survation poll which asked a rare multi-option question on the constitution.  17% of respondents backed Devo Max, 32% backed full independence, and 36% favoured the status quo.  As ever with nuanced results of that type, you can spin them any way you want - you could put a pro-independence gloss on them by saying voters were decisively rejecting the status quo, and were demanding massive new powers for the Scottish Parliament by a margin of 49% to 36%.  Or you could argue that voters were rejecting independence by a margin of 53% to 32% - that would be intellectually dishonest, because Devo Max is not on offer and many of its supporters would be likely to vote Yes to independence in a binary-choice referendum, but you wouldn't be directly lying if you said that.  But incredibly, the Scotsman weren't even content with that - they went further still and stepped over the boundary into outright falsehood.  This was their headline: "Status quo preferable to independence for most Scots".  That could only have been true if the question asked by the poll had been something like "If faced with a straight choice, would you prefer independence or the current constitutional arrangements?", and if the majority had favoured the latter.  Instead, a little over one-third of respondents preferred the status quo to two other options, and very nearly half of respondents did not.  The headline is not only untrue, it's pretty damn close to being the complete opposite of the truth.

If this is what the Scotsman looks like when it practices studied neutrality on constitutional matters, the mind boggles as to what it would come up with if it actually nailed its colours to the mast.

Friday, February 2, 2018

More on the new Survation poll

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article in The National, with some more analysis of the new Survation poll showing support for independence steady at 46%, and an increase in the SNP's vote.  You can read the article HERE.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Mainstream media's narrative lies in TATTERS as SNP vote increases across the board in sensational new Survation poll

"Mike Smithson, calling Mike Smithson...Mike Smithson, come in please."  If you happen to be sitting next to a certain 'impartial election expert' who demonstrated such an inspiring willingness to 'help' the voters of East Dunbartonshire last year, you might want to give him a wee nudge.  Before tonight, there had been six full-scale Scottish polls since the general election, of which four could reasonably be described as good for the SNP - ie. they showed the SNP on a higher share of the Westminster vote than was achieved in June.  Mr Smithson literally pretended those four didn't exist (and even made mind-boggling comments such as "in the complete absence of any Scottish polling...").  He was all over the other two polls like a rash.  But I'm sure that this apparent pattern is just totally coincidental, and that he'll set our minds to rest first thing in the morning with a big splash on Stormfront Lite about tonight's remarkable Survation poll, which shows the SNP making progress at both Westminster and Holyrood level.

Scottish voting intentions for next Westminster election:

SNP 39% (+1)
Labour 27% (-2)
Conservatives 24% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 7% (n/c)

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 42% (+3)
Labour 25% (-3)
Conservatives 25% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 33% (+1)
Conservatives 23% (+2)
Labour 23% (-1)
Greens 9% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-2)
UKIP 3% (n/c)

Don't be thrown off the scent by the fact that the Tory vote has proved reasonably stable between the last Survation poll and this one.  The single most important fact about Scottish polling at the moment is that the gap between the SNP and the Tories at Westminster level has undoubtedly widened since the general election, meaning there is every chance that some of the Tory gains last June will be reversed if there is another general election any time soon.  If this particular poll is correct, the SNP lead over the Tories has essentially doubled from eight points in June to fifteen points now, but no post-election poll has had the gap at less than twelve points.

By contrast, although this poll suggests that the SNP lead over Labour has also increased since the election, it's harder to be sure whether that's what has really happened.  Three of the seven post-election Scottish polls have shown Labour making minor inroads into the SNP's lead, so there may have been a small swing in either direction.  Because the SNP and Labour both hold seats with wafer-thin margins over each other, either party would be equally justified in feeling optimistic about making significant gains in SNP-Labour battleground areas.  But obviously if tonight's poll is exactly right, the SNP would be in luck and would take seats from both the Tories and Labour, increasing its tally of Westminster seats from 35 to well over 40.

Now, I know some people will caution that the SNP's improvement in this poll could easily be margin of error 'noise', and that's undoubtedly true.  The 3% swing from Labour to SNP on the Holyrood constituency vote looks more dramatic than changes elsewhere in the poll, but even that could potentially be explained by margin of error effects.  But in a sense that misses the crucial point - what really matters about this poll is that the SNP's vote hasn't fallen.  You might recall that there was a YouGov poll that took us by surprise recently by showing a sharp 4-point drop in the SNP's vote to 36% - the first time the party had fallen below the 37% share recorded at the general election.  (The aforementioned Mr Smithson wasted no time in painting that as an unmitigated disaster for Nicola Sturgeon.)  If Survation had shown something similar tonight, it would have looked very likely that YouGov had been the first to detect a genuine new trend.  As it is, it now looks more probable that the changes reported by YouGov were just a margin of error illusion, and that the SNP's Westminster vote has held steady - perhaps somewhere in the high 30s.

Oddly enough, Labour have more or less re-established themselves as Scotland's second party at Westminster level, but have failed to do so at Holyrood level.  Five of the seven post-election polls, including tonight's, have had Labour ahead of the Tories at Westminster.  But five of the seven have also had the Tories either ahead of Labour, or level with Labour, on the Holyrood constituency vote.  The explanation for this phenomenon is probably a small degree of cross-voting - ie. a modest percentage of people who would vote SNP on the Holyrood constituency ballot, and either SNP or Green on the Holyrood list ballot, are backing Labour at Westminster.  That's proving just enough for the moment to keep Labour ahead of the Tories in Westminster terms.

Survation also asked the independence question...

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 46% (n/c)
No 54% (n/c)

In a sense that corroborates YouGov's findings, which also suggested there has been no statistically significant changes in public opinion on independence.  The difference, however, is that YouGov continued to suggest the Yes vote is slightly lower than the 45% recorded in the 2014 referendum, whereas Survation are continuing to suggest it is slightly higher than 45%.  There seem to be 'house effects' at play here.  But whichever firm you choose to believe, the post-election bandwagon effect for No that was predicted by some has plainly failed to materialise.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

An independence referendum in 2019 or 2020 is looking increasingly likely

Somebody with more patience than I have will doubtless work their way line-by-line through Gerry Hassan's latest update of 'The Article'.  There are the familiar highlights - the claims that Nicola Sturgeon was "out-manoeuvred by Theresa May" during the spring of 2017 (presumably by the tactical brilliance of May calling an unnecessary election and throwing her majority away) and that the SNP are too "proprietorial" about the indy cause and don't give enough space to "independent initiatives" such as Common Weal and RISE.  (It's an abuse of the language to call RISE an "initiative" - it was/is a fully-fledged political party set up with the intention of taking list votes from the SNP and possibly depriving them of an overall majority at Holyrood.)

What really made my jaw drop to the floor, though, was this passage -

"It is understandable that Nicola Sturgeon hasn’t taken a future indy referendum officially off the table. Not only does it work as a discipline on SNP and indy supporters; critically it acts as a hypothetical big stick towards the UK Government in relation to Brexit. Yet, what the SNP leadership has failed to point out is that there is next to no chance of an indy referendum in 2019 or indeed before 2021 (and before the next Scottish elections)."

There is of course a very good reason why the SNP leadership have "failed to point that out" - ie. it isn't actually true.  It's the polar opposite of the truth.  I have no doubt that there are people in the SNP, including at quite a senior level, who wish that the whole idea of a second indyref before 2021 would just go away so that they can get on with other things.  But all of the mood music suggests that those people have lost the internal argument and that Nicola Sturgeon is serious about the option of a referendum in 2019 or 2020.  That doesn't necessarily mean it will happen - she's made clear that continued single market membership is her main red line, so if that improbable outcome emerges from the negotiations, an indyref will presumably be off the table until after 2021.  But the fact that the party leadership have made no effort whatever to downplay expectations that an indyref will be called if Scotland is dragged out of the single market is highly significant.  The idea that this is just empty talk intended to function as a "discipline" and a "big stick" just doesn't stack up - they would have been far, far cagier with their language if they were secretly gearing themselves up for a massive climbdown this autumn, because they know full well what the consequences for SNP internal unity would be if members feel they have been led up the garden path.  If anything, the statements have only been getting bolder in recent weeks.

Now, it's true that the mainstream media (especially in London but also in Scotland) have been paying precious little attention to the SNP's public comments about an indyref, and will probably be completely stunned if and when the starting-gun is fired.  But on the balance of probability, that is what appears set to happen.

Monday, January 22, 2018

'I don't know what a sense of Britishness is anymore'

Sorry that blogging has been light recently - I've been a bit under the weather and rushed off my feet, which is never a great combination. Here are a couple of things to tide you over, though - firstly, my new article on the TalkRadio website, entitled 'Time to wake up to the false realities of Jeremy Corbyn and Ruth Davidson'. You can read it HERE.

And secondly, here's the latest in the Journey to Yes series from PhantomPower, featuring a couple who decided to move to Scotland from the north-east of England as a result of the Brexit vote.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The ultimate betrayal: Scottish Tory MPs vote to destroy the devolution settlement as we have known it for the last twenty years

I wasn't following the notorious events in the Commons the other night very closely, so I was intrigued to see what the wording of the Labour amendment on protecting devolution actually was.  Hansard is murderously hard to make sense of sometimes, but as far as I can see this is the one -

"(4) The Secretary of State must lay before each House of Parliament proposals for replacing European frameworks with UK ones.

(5) UK-wide frameworks shall be proposed if and only if they are necessary to—

(a) enable the functioning of the UK internal market,

(b) ensure compliance with international obligations,

(c) ensure the UK can negotiate, enter into and implement new trade agreements and international treaties,

(d) enable the management of common resources,

(e) administer and provide access to justice in cases with a cross-border element, or

(f) safeguard the security of the UK.

(6) Ministers of the Crown shall create UK-wide frameworks only if they have consulted with, and secured the agreement of, the affected devolved administrations."

And the explanatory note on the effect of the amendment -

"This amendment removes the Bill’s proposed restrictions on the ability of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly to legislate on devolved ​matters and creates new collaborative procedures for the creation of UK-wide frameworks for retained EU law."

As you can see, the amendment would not, if it had been passed, have changed the status quo in respect of devolution - it would instead have upheld the status quo, and rectified the parts of the EU Withdrawal Bill that are intended to repeal the central principle of the Scotland Act 1998, namely that anything not specifically reserved to Westminster is fully devolved, without exceptions.  (You might recall that this principle has been so watertight until now that it was discovered a few years ago that powers relating to Antarctica had been devolved to Holyrood in 1999 without anyone even noticing.)

As has been well-rehearsed, if the Scottish Tory MPs had voted as a bloc for the amendment, it would have narrowly passed by two votes, and the devolution settlement they are supposed to regard as sacred would have been preserved.  Instead, they voted against what they claim to believe in, and the amendment was defeated by twenty-four votes.  It's important to stress that the Bill has now entirely completed its passage through the elected chamber, and will automatically pass into law in its current devolution-busting form unless the Lords amend it, which self-evidently is something that Scottish Tory MPs (let alone SNP MPs) can have no direct control over.  It is literally the case that the Scottish Tories have voted to rip apart the devolved settlement as we have known it for the last twenty years, and are now relying on a ragtag of hereditary peers, Anglican bishops and Tony's Cronies to put it back together again for us.  And this is standing up for Scotland, Ruth?  This is "bloody well getting it done", is it?  This is what "producing results that the SNP's grievance politics can't" looks like, yeah?

It's become the fashion among unionist commentators to scoff at the notion that the pre-referendum "Vow" was never implemented. One frequently-heard (and extremely cynical) argument is that the promises made were so vague and unspecific that the UK government could have done or not done pretty much anything and still accurately claimed to have delivered the Vow. But let's take one component of the Vow that was pretty specific, namely that "the Scottish Parliament is permanent". No reasonable person would have taken that to mean "there will permanently be an institution called the Scottish Parliament, but whether it retains any or all the powers it currently has will be decided at the whim of the UK government". The pledge was quite properly interpreted as meaning that the powers held by the Scottish Parliament in 2014 were the minimum that could now be regarded as permanently protected. As things stand, the EU Withdrawal Bill that the Scottish Tories have just voted through will therefore directly breach the Vow. That's the default position Ruth Davidson's handiwork has left us with. But perhaps the 7th Marquess of Salisbury and the Bishop of Durham will step in and save the day? Fingers crossed, eh?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Body blow for hapless Leonard as Labour slip back in first Scottish poll of 2018

Many thanks to Stuart Dickson for alerting me to the first full-scale Scottish poll of the New Year, conducted by YouGov for the Scottish edition of The Times.

Scottish voting intentions for the next Westminster general election (YouGov, 12th-16th January):

SNP 36% (-4)
Labour 28% (-2)
Conservatives 23% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 6% (+1)
Greens 3% (+2)
UKIP 3% (+2)

Scottish Parliament voting intentions (constituency ballot):

SNP 38% (-4)
Conservatives 26% (+1)
Labour 23% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+2)
Greens 3% (+1)
UKIP 2% (+1)

Scottish Parliament voting intentions (regional list ballot):

SNP 32% (-3)
Conservatives 25% (+2)
Labour 22% (-2)
Greens 10% (+4)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+1)
UKIP 3% (+2)
SSP 2% (-1)

It may seem obvious that a drop of four points for the SNP is significant, but it's impossible to know that for certain.  If, for example, support for the party in Westminster terms has remained steady at around 38%, the margin of error could have flattered them by two points in the last YouGov poll in October, and understated them by two points in this poll, thus producing an entirely illusory four-point shift.  It's also conceivable that there has been a genuine drop, but that margin of error effects are exaggerating it.  Certainly there was no sign at all of the SNP going backwards in the Survation poll conducted in early December, so I'd be more inclined to the view that nothing much has changed - at least until we see another poll confirming the trend reported by YouGov.

Should Scotland be an independent country?  

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

The Times' interpretation of the above finding is ludicrous to the point of being almost embarrassing - they claim that support for independence has "dwindled", but in fact a 1% drop is of no statistical significance whatever in a poll with a margin of error of 3 points.  The 43% share for Yes is firmly within the 'normal range' produced by recent YouGov polls - indeed the last-but-one YouGov poll had Yes on exactly 43%.  So this is essentially a no change result, and categorically not a "setback for Yes".

We'll have to see the datasets to be sure, but the likelihood is that YouGov have persevered with their reprehensible practice of excluding 16 and 17 year olds from their independence polling, which leaves open the theoretical possibility that the reported Yes vote is 1% lower than it should be (after rounding).

Much is being made of the finding that 36% of respondents want an independence referendum within the next five years, and 54% don't - but that just appears to be a 'house effect' of YouGov's polling.  They've been asking that question for quite a while and have always produced a negative result, in complete contrast to the 50/50 splits that have often been reported in Panelbase's polling on whether there should be an independence referendum within as little as a couple of years.  We can only speculate as to whether YouGov's panel is for some reason more hostile to a referendum than Panelbase's, or whether there's something about the way YouGov pose the question that produces such markedly different results.

In fairness to The Times, it's not just the SNP and the independence movement they're spinning against - they're also reading far too much into a small drop in Labour support that may or may not prove to be genuine.  However, one detail from the poll can't even conceivably be explained away by the margin of error - Jeremy Corbyn's net personal rating has dropped catastrophically from +20 in October to -3 now.  I would imagine that has been caused quite simply by the fact that we're three months further away from the hoo-ha of the general election campaign, and that people are gradually reverting to the view they held of Corbyn before the Labour surge during May and June.  The million dollar question is whether they would once again swing to a more favourable opinion in the heat of a general election campaign - and on the answer to that question may hang the fate of several SNP-Labour marginal seats.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Do the SNP have three times as many members as the unionist parties combined?

Just thought I'd pass on a snippet of information sent to me by Stuart Dickson.  He spotted on Stormfront Lite that the ESRC-funded Party Members Project has found that 5% of Labour members live in Scotland, as do 6% of Liberal Democrat members, and 10% of Conservative members.  If those numbers are accurate (ie. if they're not a wildly misleading approximation or out of date), it's possible to use the UK-wide membership numbers to estimate how many members each party has in Scotland.  It would put the Lib Dems on roughly 6500, Labour on about 28,500, and the Tories on about 10,000.  That compares to an SNP membership of 118,000 as of August - roughly three times as much as the apparent combined membership of the unionist parties.

The Labour figure may seem a little higher than expected, but it's broadly in line with what we learned at the leadership election a few weeks ago, in which 17,664 full members cast a vote on a turnout of 62.3%.  The party does seem to have demonstrated a certain cockroach-like resilience during its historic crisis over the last three-and-a-half years.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Cable to the unknown

Just for the sake of completeness, and also because it happens to be a favourable one, here's what is presumably the last Scottish subsample from a GB-wide poll that was conducted during 2017.  It's from YouGov...

SNP 38%, Conservatives 24%, Labour 24%, Liberal Democrats 9%, UKIP 5%

Thirty-two of the last thirty-five subsamples have now put the SNP in the lead.

In the Britain-wide results of the poll's supplementary questions, one thing that leaps out at me is that Vince Cable clearly isn't setting the heather alight.  19% of respondents think he's doing a good job as Lib Dem leader, 29% think he's doing a bad job, and 53% don't know.  The stock excuse for the high level of don't knows on personal ratings for a new Lib Dem leader is that he hasn't had a chance to build up his profile yet, but that doesn't really apply to a readymade household name like Cable.  I'm inclined to wonder whether the bulk of those 53% of people weren't actually aware that he's become leader.  Either that or they can't think off the top of their heads of a single thing he's said or done as leader.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

To lead or not to lead - that is the question

As you may have seen, there's been a new outbreak of the intra-Yes culture wars today, triggered by a post on Wings about another question from the Panelbase poll, showing that by a margin of 58% to 18% the Scottish public are opposed to the proposal that individuals should have the right to change their own legally-recognised gender without reference to anyone else.  I'm not going to get involved in any discussion on the substance of this issue - life's too short (elements of the radical left have spent a fair bit of the last twelve months complaining about me writing a light-hearted Christmas poem, for pity's sake), and as it happens my views on this particular subject aren't especially well-developed anyway.  However, what I do want to offer a view on is the dispute over whether the question the Wings poll asked was "leading" or not.  Here it is in full -

A new government review of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 has proposed that people should in future be allowed to legally decide which sex they are simply by self-definition, without the current medical or psychological assessments which can take two years or more.  This would mean abolishing all current single-sex public spaces, such as women-only changing rooms and men-only toilets, and it would become a hate crime to disagree with someone about which sex they were.  Broadly speaking, what is your view of this proposal?

My simple verdict is: yes, of course that's a leading question, but that doesn't make it an illegitimate question.  This is an unfamiliar topic for most people, which means you're not going to get a considered response from them unless the question goes into a reasonable amount of detail about what the proposal actually is.  And as soon as there's detail, there's a bias, because the person framing the question is effectively making an editorial judgement about what to put in and what to leave out.  There's no such thing as absolute neutrality in such a long question.  This particular question was clearly framed by someone who thinks that the perceived negative consequences of the proposal are more worthy of mention than any positive effects.  Personally, I'd say the final bit about 'hate crimes' seems a bit gratuitous - it reads as a 'chucking in the kitchen sink' addition.  Nevertheless, it's valuable to learn how people react when confronted with the perceived negatives, and it would be equally interesting to see how people react when confronted with the positives - presumably other polls can enlighten us on the latter point.  I think, however, that it would be naive to assume that the result would be dramatically different even if the most favourable and reassuring slant was put on the question.  We know from the debate over equal marriage that social attitudes can sometimes change very, very rapidly, and that may well prove to be the case once again.  But as of right now, at this very moment in January 2018, legally-binding self-definition of gender doesn't seem to be something that the majority of the public are ready to fully embrace.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

"Don't you DARE try to stop us!" say Scots in landmark Panelbase poll that REJECTS any Westminster veto on an independence referendum

OK, you've probably already seen this story earlier today on Wings, but you know me - I just couldn't resist the headline.  (It's a fond tribute to a characteristically unhinged headline that was run by either the Express or the Mail - God knows which - not long after Indyref 1.)

Which government do you think should make the decision about whether there should be a new referendum on Scottish independence? (Panelbase, Don't Knows excluded)

The Scottish government: 57%
The UK government: 43%

Tellingly, even if Don't Knows are taken into account, there is still an absolute majority (51%) in favour of the Scottish Government making the decision.

One of the problems we've had since the EU referendum is that a lot of voters seem quite ambivalent on whether a second vote on independence should take place over the next few years, meaning that polls asking about that point produce very different results depending on exactly how the question is framed.  As most polls are commissioned by anti-independence clients, it's unsurprising that in the majority of cases the question is worded in a way that produces a result that can be spun negatively.  That has given the UK government some cover for their "now is not the time" delaying tactics, but of course what those polls generally don't bother asking is whether this should even be any of the UK government's business.  Quite clearly, the majority view is that it should not be.

Indeed, given that it's common knowledge that the SNP are minded to hold a referendum in the relatively near future, it's highly significant that an absolute majority of voters are content that the Scottish government - not even the parliament as a whole, but a government consisting of the SNP only - should be left to make a unilateral decision.  That finding may well come in very useful over the months to come, depending on exactly what Nicola Sturgeon and her advisers have in mind.

*  *  *

I have a new article in the January issue of iScot magazine, and it's considerably more topical than I expected it to be, because it's partly about Neil Oliver.  If you're not a subscriber to the print edition of the magazine, a preview of the article can be found on Twitter HERE, and a full digital copy can be purchased HERE.

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year hammerblow for the pro-nuclear wing of CND as Leonard fails to move Scottish Labour out of third place in latest Panelbase poll

I'm fairly certain I've never done this on New Year's Day before, but here is the latest Scottish Parliament voting intention poll, gleaned from datasets published today on Wings.

Scottish Parliament voting intention, constituency ballot (Panelbase):

SNP 39% (-3)
Conservatives 26% (-2)
Labour 25% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)
Greens 2% (n/c)

Percentage changes are from the last Panelbase poll a few months ago. 

We've been gradually getting used to the idea that Labour have regained their previous place as Scotland's second party and have pushed the Tories back to third, but perhaps we should hold our horses.  Across all firms, this is actually the fourth of the last five polls to show a virtual dead heat for second place in the Holyrood constituency vote, which suggests that Labour have made progress in recent months, but that it hasn't been sufficient to even get them over the first big hurdle as of yet.