Saturday, March 10, 2018

Leonard left red-faced as Labour propaganda site admits SNP is still ahead in internal polling

The new Scottish Labour and anti-independence propaganda site The Red Robin has until now been best known for the inexplicable decision of CommonSpace (an ostensibly pro-independence news outlet) to actively promote it as if it was practically a sister site.  But tonight it's gaining new attention by breathlessly claiming an exclusive about "Labour internal polling" that supposedly shows the party has "dramatically closed the gap on the SNP".

Yeah, up to a point, Lord Copper.  The polling was conducted by Moonlight Research, and if the name doesn't sound familiar to you, there's a good reason for that. I cannot recall them ever having conducted a political poll before - or at least not one that's seen the light of day.  The Red Robin are correct in stating that Moonlight are members of the British Polling Council [see below for an update on that point], so it would be wrong to dismiss them out of hand as some sort of Mickey Mouse outfit.  But with no track-record whatsoever, it's impossible to know how likely their figures are to be even vaguely close to the truth.  And because they have never conducted a published Scottish political poll before, there are no baseline figures to measure percentage changes from, which means The Red Robin's repeated claims that Labour have gained ground in the poll are quite simply wrong.  Because of house effects and methodological differences, you simply can't look at two polls conducted by different firms and measure percentage changes from one to the other.  It just doesn't work that way.  You can only measure from previous polls conducted by the same firm - and in this case there aren't any.  For all we know, Moonlight may have a Labour-friendly methodology that would have produced very similar results at any time during the last few months.

As a general rule, "internal polling" is always less satisfactory than public polls commissioned by media organisations, because we only get to see internal figures if they're favourable for the party that commissioned them.  So, for example, in a series of eight internal polls you might only see the one that happened to be most favourable for Labour, which could well give you a completely distorted impression of the significance of an outlier result.  But at least with internal polling that is properly published, it's brought into the open, and we eventually get to see the datasets, allowing us to judge how much credibility to give the figures.  This particular case falls well short of that standard, because it looks as if Labour have no intention of publishing the poll, but have just conveniently decided to leak partial figures to a friendly website.  We don't even have a clue whether the figures are being accurately reported, let alone whether the sample size was sufficient, or a hundred other questions we'd need to know the answer to.

For what it's worth, these are the purported figures for Westminster voting intention: SNP 34%, Labour 30%, Conservatives 24%.  Take those with a bucketload of salt.

*  *  *

UPDATE: As you may have seen, Nick Moon of Moonlight Research has told Wings Over Scotland that his firm is not in fact a member of the British Polling Council, and is not even eligible for membership as it only has one client (presumably the Labour party).  He implies that the confusion has an innocent cause, because as an individual he has a senior role in the BPC.  I don't think that's good enough, because the organisation's website specifically lists Moon as the "company representative" of Moonlight Research on the BPC.  That gives a grossly misleading impression, to put it generously - any reasonable person would feel entitled to conclude that Moonlight are full BPC members and are bound by BPC rules.

The Parable of the Reasonable Tory Thieves

Tories:  Hey, Scotland!  We're going to have to break into your house soon and steal 111 items.  Don't worry, we'll only be taking what we need, and you'll still have plenty.  Next Tuesday suit you?

Scotland:  This is absolutely outrageous.  Stealing is totally unacceptable in a civilised society.   Please keep your hands off our possessions.

Tories:  OK, OK, maybe 111 is a bit excessive.  We'll only steal 25.  So, next Tuesday?

Scotland:  It is not acceptable for you to steal anything at all.

Tories:  Come on, be reasonable.  We're offering you a very substantial compromise.

Scotland:  We're sorry, but if you don't stop talking about breaking into our house and stealing our possessions, we'll have no option but to reinforce the locks on our doors, and to install advanced anti-intruder devices.

Adam Tomkins:  Reinforcing the locks on your doors simply because someone is threatening to steal from you is an unnecessary, ill-thought-through, incoherent and provocative step.  Scotland must stop sulking, fling its doors wide open, and rejoice at every item that is generously left behind by the benevolent intruders.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

You'd be forgiven for thinking the London Tories actually WANT an early independence referendum

Regular readers of the Herald will be aware that Iain Macwhirter has rarely missed an opportunity in his recent columns to state, supposedly as an established fact, that there isn't going to be another independence referendum any time soon.  I believe he's wrong about that, although obviously I would be foolish to completely exclude the possibility that he knows something the rest of us don't, because he's very well-connected.  However, I thought it was interesting in his most recent piece that he seemed to be relying mainly on gossip from the Westminster side of the equation - ie. that the UK government have convinced themselves that Nicola Sturgeon doesn't have the "authority" to push for a referendum.  Why doesn't she?  Perhaps because she "only" leads a minority government.  (Just as Theresa May does without fretting for a moment about "authority".)  Or perhaps because the SNP lost 19 seats at the general election.  (An election the SNP nevertheless won by a 1987 Thatcher-style landslide majority.)

If it's true that the London Tories have got carried away with the bogus narrative of Nicola Sturgeon losing her capacity to act, that could explain the seemingly insane decision today to curtail negotiations with the Scottish government and unilaterally press ahead with plans to reduce the Scottish Parliament's powers, thus driving a coach and horses through the Sewel Convention, which has been faithfully upheld for nineteen years.  They must truly believe that they can get away with just about anything without having to worry about triggering an independence referendum.

In that they're mistaken.  My own guess (and it is only a guess) is that Nicola Sturgeon has always been genuine about the possibility of a pre-2021 referendum.  But even if by any chance it turns out she hasn't been genuine, it would still be the case that she and the wider independence movement have their breaking-point.  The idea that Scotland can be dragged out of the EU, the single market and the customs union against its will and the Scottish Parliament's powers can be reduced in defiance of the Sewel Convention and the UK government can go to court to get a law of the Scottish Parliament overturned and all of the above can happen despite the Scottish government making efforts in good faith to reach a negotiated settlement...SNP members will be screaming to themselves "if that isn't the change in circumstances that demands a second indyref, what on earth would be?"  The pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to act would be overwhelming, and I doubt if she'd even want to resist it. 

We now have a precedent of a Bill being introduced in spite of doubts over the Scottish Parliament's competence to pass it.  There's no reason why a Bill to legislate for a consultative independence referendum couldn't be brought forward in similar circumstances, with the SNP content to try their luck in the courts.  The current constitutional crisis could well be taking us in that direction - unless, ironically, the Supreme Court or the House of Lords step in over the coming weeks to save the Tories from themselves.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

London's legal challenge to the Continuity Bill perfectly illustrates how "The Vow" was betrayed

Something suddenly crystallised in my mind the other day when I saw a tweet stating that the UK government were going to court in a bid to grab powers back from the Scottish Parliament.  Of course strictly speaking that isn't what's happening (or what's seemingly just about to happen) - the legal challenge to the Continuity Bill will be based on the technical argument that the Scottish Parliament doesn't currently have the legal right to depart from EU law, and won't have until the day after Britain leaves the European Union.  Theoretically, if the UK government win the challenge, all the Scottish government would have to do is wait until immediately after Brexit, and they would then be perfectly free to introduce exactly the same Continuity Bill without legal impediment.  But the snag, as we all know, is that by then Westminster's EU Withdrawal Bill will have been passed, and the Scottish Parliament will have been stripped of some of its current powers and thus will no longer be able to pass the Continuity Bill in its current form.  To all intents and purposes, then, the legal challenge may as well be a bid to destroy the devolution settlement, because if the Supreme Court doesn't uphold the Continuity Act, the Scottish Parliament will be left utterly defenceless in the face of a power-grab.  (The only remaining hope would be a blocking move in the House of Lords.)

And you remember something?  A major strand of the Smith process which followed on from "The Vow" in 2014 was about supposedly putting the Sewel Convention on a statutory footing.  The convention, among other things, forbids the UK government from removing powers from Holyrood without consent.  If that principle had been meaningfully written into law as promised, it would have been possible for the Scottish Government to go to the Supreme Court to block the power-grab.  Instead, the British government are somehow able to go to the Supreme Court in an attempt to effectively enable the power-grab.  It's utterly grotesque - and that's what betrayal looks like.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Scot Goes Pop: the fifth most-read alternative media site in Scotland?

Well, it's been several years since I last did a self-indulgent stats post, so it's probably long overdue.  I spotted that a few hours ago the Indyref2 site had compiled a list of "the top six alternative-media sites" based on traffic estimates from the helpfully-titled Traffic Estimate website. I was a bit surprised that Scot Goes Pop wasn't on it, because I knew from having looked into this subject in the past that this blog has very similar traffic levels to both Wee Ginger Dug and Indyref2. So I punched the Scot Goes Pop web address into Traffic Estimate, and found that, sure enough, it should have been on the list, just below Wee Ginger Dug but ahead of CommonSpace. Assuming nobody else has been accidentally left off, this is the correct top seven -

1) Wings Over Scotland: 215,900 unique visitors in the last 30 days
2) Craig Murray: 128,000 unique visitors in the last 30 days
3) Bella Caledonia: 112,200 unique visitors in the last 30 days
4) Wee Ginger Dug: 75,500 unique visitors in the last 30 days
5) Scot Goes Pop: 74,200 unique visitors in the last 30 days
6) CommonSpace: 59,800 unique visitors in the last 30 days
7) Indyref2: 30,800 unique visitors in the last 30 days

In all honesty I'm a bit sceptical about those figures.  I use Google Analytics, and the figures I get there are significantly less than an average of 74,200 per month.  Admittedly there's some traffic that Analytics doesn't pick up, but even so.  It's also intuitively difficult to believe that CommonSpace, a multi-author site that is updated far more frequently than Scot Goes Pop, and that gets free advertising on the mainstream media of the sort that the rest of us can only dream of, is only in sixth place.  Possibly the above figures are just ballpark estimates with a very wide margin of error.  Nevertheless, I can certainly believe that Scot Goes Pop is at least competitive with the likes of CommonSpace and Bella, which is pretty incredible for a one-man operation.

*Self-indulgent post ends*

Monday, March 5, 2018


I had an exchange with Peter A Bell last night about his "#Referendum2018" hashtag, the frequent use of which he thinks is an important tool to establish support for an early independence referendum.  I told him that I wished I could get behind that hashtag, but I couldn't, because I believe 2018 has already been timed out as a possible date for the vote, and that 2019 or 2020 are now much more probable.  I suggested something like "#ScotRefBefore2021" as a better alternative.  He replied (and this was not a surprise because he's said it many times before) that I might as well opt for #ReferendumNever, because if there isn't a referendum by the autumn of this year, the British state will take some unspecified action to make a vote impossible to hold, or unwinnable.

I think on its own merits the #Referendum2018 thing is harmless enough.  It's pretty obvious that its adherents are heading very shortly for a 'Free by 93' moment, but that's not the end of the world.  However, it becomes more problematical when anyone who doesn't sign up to the 2018 date is told that they effectively oppose an early referendum.  That creates a needless split among people who are essentially on the same side of the debate about timing.  The real debate is between those who think the SNP's mandate for a referendum before the May 2021 election should be honoured, and those who either don't think that or are extremely sceptical.  A unity of purpose among the supporters of a pre-2021 referendum is important, because as we've seen, we'll need to make our case against at least a few well-known and influential people within the SNP who are minded to allow the mandate to expire.  The last thing we need is some artificial division among ourselves over the exact date.  I also worry that Peter is getting himself so boxed in with his insistence on the absolute necessity of a September 2018 vote that he might give up on campaigning for a referendum when he finally accepts his preferred timing isn't going to happen (and that moment can't be far off).  He might even react angrily towards those of us who are continuing to push for an early referendum, which could be rather unhelpful at a time when the prize may be closer than ever.

#ScotRefBefore2021 is just a suggestion, and it may be too unwieldy.  But please, let's come up with a more inclusive hashtag than #Referendum2018 - one that we can all get behind full-bloodedly, and hopefully get trending.