Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Sturgeon sticks firmly with the policy of an independence referendum at the end of the Brexit negotiations
"Funny seeing how this is being reported as #indyref2 being withdrawn - not what I heard at all"
As I said the other day, I was fully ready to say I thought Nicola Sturgeon had made a terrible mistake if she reversed policy on an independence referendum, but I'm delighted and relieved to say I'm not going to have to do that, because the speech ticked absolutely every box I was looking for -
* Ms Sturgeon stressed that the SNP won the general election in Scotland and that this reinforced the mandate for a referendum initially received in the Holyrood election of May 2016.
* She upheld the policy that a referendum should be held at the end of the Brexit process.
* By stressing the mandate to hold a referendum within the current Holyrood parliament, she strongly hinted the vote should take place before May 2021.
* She gave a clear timetable (autumn 2018) for making a decision on the timing of a referendum, which removes the concern that today's decision is going to later mutate into an 'indefinite postponement'.
* She undertook to step up campaigning for independence even before a referendum is called - the complete reverse of assumptions that the topic is going to be "parked".
* Although she acknowledged that the Tories losing their majority reopened the possibility of a soft Brexit (which presumably would remove the need for a referendum altogether), she didn't pretend that this was a remotely likely outcome - I think her exact words were "however slim".
* Most importantly, she didn't renounce the decision on a referendum taken by the elected Scottish Parliament a few weeks ago, and she didn't revoke the request made for a Section 30 order on the basis of that vote. (She did note that the resolution of the request has become less urgent, but it remains active.)
As far as I can see, the one and only change in the SNP position is that the referendum bill will not be brought forward in the immediate future, but instead a decision about its exact timing will be taken next year. That is a change of process, not a substantive change of policy, and I have no great problem with it. (Although it's heartening to see Patrick Harvie and the Greens acting as a counterbalance against the unionist parties and media by keeping the pressure up for the speediest possible progress.)
G A Ponsonby said the other day that he had no concerns at all about what Nicola Sturgeon was going to say, but he had great concerns about what the media were going to pretend she had said. I now see his point entirely. The media and unionist parties have a problem, though - they clearly want to say Nicola Sturgeon has performed a "humiliating U-turn" on an independence referendum, but they also want to say that Nicola Sturgeon has "ignored the wishes of the people of Scotland" by "doubling down" on an independence referendum. I have a feeling some people out there are intelligent enough to spot that those two claims are not actually consistent with each other.
Monday, June 26, 2017
My concern for the SNP over the last couple of weeks has been the risk they might slip to second place in Westminster voting intentions - not behind the Tories, who have probably come pretty close to hitting their natural ceiling of support in Scotland, but behind Labour, who now have considerable momentum behind them.
There have only been a tiny handful of voting intention polls since the general election - probably because most polling firms called the election wrong, and there's little point in commissioning a poll from those that did until they've reviewed their methodology. However, that hasn't applied to Survation, who famously got the election right (in defiance of Andrew Neil's clueless sneering in this extraordinary clip which has been charitably described as his "Michael Fish moment"). The Scottish subsamples of the two post-election Survation polls show a contradictory picture - the online poll had the SNP still in the lead with Labour in second place, but the phone poll had Labour ahead with the SNP in second. The good news is that the phone subsample seemed to be very obviously skewed - Labour also had a significant lead on how people in Scotland recalled voting in the general election, when they should actually have been in third place on that measure. So as of yet there's no convincing evidence from Survation that Labour have edged ahead of the SNP.
On Saturday night, word came through of an enormous GB-wide Panelbase poll which had Labour on 46% and the Tories on 41%. A combined total of 87% for those two parties is unusually high, giving rise to the obvious concern that the SNP were being squeezed out in Scotland. However, now the datasets have been released, it appears that isn't the case at all. Irritatingly, there are no Scottish subsample figures, but there's enough information to make some educated guesswork. The most important fact is that, unlike the Liberal Democrats, the SNP have retained the support of well over 90% of the people who voted for them earlier this month. As you'd expect, the small minority of votes they've lost have essentially gone as a bloc to Labour, but that direct swing would be nowhere near enough on its own to push Labour into the lead. Some of the SNP losses have been offset by new support from elsewhere, and a very rough calculation suggests that the SNP's share of the vote has probably only slipped from 37% to something in the region of 35% or 36%. An extra 2% for Labour wouldn't even take them to 30%, so unless there has been very substantial movement from the Tories to Labour, it's hard to see how the SNP can possibly have been overtaken in this poll's Scottish subsample (which, it must be stressed, is an unusually large subsample of several hundred people).
After the relentless 'shock and awe' media propaganda campaign of the last couple of weeks which has attempted to finish off both the SNP and the Yes movement for good, I'd suggest it's hugely heartening if the SNP still have some sort of lead in Westminster voting intentions, even if that lead is fairly modest.
[Update : Either Panelbase have updated their datasets over the last couple of hours or I somehow missed the relevant part earlier, but the Scottish subsample is now available. The figures are pretty close to the assumptions I made above : SNP 34%, Conservatives 30%, Labour 29%, Liberal Democrats 5%, Greens 1%.]
Bear in mind that the favourable wind behind Jeremy Corbyn isn't going to last forever, and Scottish Labour's chances of seizing the moment have been dealt a severe blow today by the nauseating Tory-DUP agreement, which on the face of it leaves Theresa May in a fairly healthy arithmetical position in parliament...
Conservatives + DUP : 328
All other parties (excluding Sinn Féin) : 315
That's a majority of 13, which means that it would take 7 by-election defeats or defections to put the government in an untenable position. By-elections have become rarer in recent years, perhaps simply because general life expectancy has risen. There were only three by-elections in Conservative-held seats in the entire 2015-17 parliament, and all three were caused by resignations rather than by deaths. I'd suggest that at the very least it would take three years to wipe out the Tory/DUP majority, unless there is a sudden spate of defections from the Tories to either UKIP or the Lib Dems (or both).
On the other hand, the current situation has revived the old concept of a 'working majority', meaning a few seats over and above the total required for an overall majority. Unless relations between the Tories and the Lib Dems warm up considerably, there is no real 'buffer' for the government outwith their own ranks and the DUP ranks. The only opposition MP that would probably vote for them on a confidence vote is the independent Northern Ireland unionist Lady Hermon, on the basis that she wouldn't be able to accept Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister (although even she has very well-known anti-Tory leanings). If the government lost as few as four or five by-elections, they would arguably have lost their 'working majority' because they wouldn't be able to get their business through the House reliably, and a general election would perhaps become inevitable at that point. But even that would take quite a while.
So, for better or worse, it looks like the SNP will have plenty of time to steady the ship before facing the electorate again - which is another good reason why they shouldn't panic and needlessly reverse their policy on an independence referendum.
Sunday, June 25, 2017
Did I speak too soon last night in saying that any worries about the SNP making the historic error of reversing their referendum policy had receded? Today's Sunday Mail splashed with an "exclusive" claiming an indyref "U-turn", and suggesting that the plans for a vote "by 2019" are about to be scrapped. The reaction of independence supporters on social media has been interesting - most take the view that the Sunday Mail are playing games by misreporting a restatement of the original policy as a U-turn, but on the other extreme Ben Wray has taken the story at face value and accused Nicola Sturgeon of giving up Scotland's only leverage over Brexit.
It goes without saying that the Record and Sunday Mail must be regarded as hostile, cynical, and utterly unscrupulous actors in all this. It's perfectly possible that they've deliberately misrepresented the information they've received in pursuit of their anti-independence agenda. Apart from more mischief-making from Alex Neil (a former fundamentalist who has now practically reinvented himself as the one-man indy-sceptic wing of the SNP), the only fresh quotes in the article are from an anonymous source using very ambiguous language, which could be seen as vaguely consistent with the Sunday Mail's claims, but could just as easily be seen as merely pointing to a modest change of detail and emphasis as the existing referendum policy is essentially upheld.
If it's the latter, there's no problem. No-one is going to die in a ditch to keep open the theoretical possibility of a referendum in autumn 2018, as long as a date not too long after that remains firmly on the cards. By the same token, no-one is going to object if Nicola Sturgeon points out that the loss of the Tory majority has changed the dynamic on Brexit, and that we won't be 100% sure that a referendum is actually necessary until the possibility of maintaining membership of the single market is definitively excluded from the negotiations. (Incidentally, that change in circumstances would be an indisputable fact regardless of whether the SNP had won zero seats, fifty-nine, or absolutely any number in between.)
But if there is the slightest truth in the notion that Nicola Sturgeon will announce that a referendum has been 'called off for the time being' as a consequence of the general election result in Scotland, that would be a catastrophic error of judgement and an abandonment of the most basic democratic principles. It would mean repudiating a decision taken not by the SNP, but by the democratically-elected Scottish Parliament only a matter of weeks ago. It would not be done because the SNP had lost a subsequent election, but because their victory in that election had not been by a margin deemed acceptable by the unionist commentariat. Because Conservative votes in a minority of constituencies apparently carry more weight than SNP votes in the majority of constituencies. Capitulating to that grotesque logic would be a betrayal of the hundreds of thousands of people who helped the SNP win the election, and who did so in good faith on the basis that a majority of seats would complete a 'triple-lock' mandate for an independence referendum.
Here's what I don't understand : even looking at it from a hard-headed pragmatic point of view, what would be the point of waving the white flag now? If you think Indyref 2 cost the SNP votes in Aberdeenshire, that's all very well and good, but where's the time machine that's going to change what happened? The election is over, the hit has already been taken, and it probably isn't about to be undone. It's perfectly conceivable there won't be another election of any type until the Holyrood contest in May 2021 - very nearly four years away. Why wouldn't you get on with celebrating and defending the mandate you've just won in very difficult circumstances, rather than voluntarily surrendering that mandate as part of some 'grand bargain' with voters in the hope of winning a phantom election by an even bigger margin than you've just won the real election? I do fear that the hysteria of the last couple of weeks has led to a few people in the SNP losing their compass.
Peter A Bell said today that he would support any decision that Nicola Sturgeon takes, because it would be bound to be taken in the best interests of Scotland. I must say I take a somewhat different view - if I think a terrible mistake has been made, I'll say so. However, I await the actual announcement with interest, and I remain hopeful that the Sunday Mail are just spinning us a line, and that there will be no "U-turn" or "cancelling" of the referendum.
Saturday, June 24, 2017
Assuming Nicola Sturgeon isn't about to make the dreadful mistake of substantively changing the SNP's policy on an independence referendum (and, touch wood, that worry has receded somewhat after Ian Blackford's strong restatement of the policy in the Commons the other day), it's fair to say that the general election result has only made a referendum less likely to the extent that it's made a soft Brexit a little more likely. If, as the likes of Michael Portillo predict, Britain now remains in the single market, there will be no need for a referendum because Ms Sturgeon's red line won't have been crossed. But if, as seems much more probable, we're still heading towards a 'bespoke red white and blue Brexit' that falls well short of single market membership, the logic and mandate for a referendum will be inescapable. The Tories clearly want to block any vote from taking place before 2021, but they were saying much the same thing (albeit in a somewhat cagier fashion) even before the election.
So the big question remains exactly the same as it was a couple of months ago : if a referendum becomes necessary, and if the Tory government says no, what then? We've been told repeatedly that Nicola Sturgeon is not attracted to the idea of a consultative referendum held without the granting of a Section 30 order by Westminster. That seems odd, because Alex Salmond was preparing the ground for exactly that sort of referendum in his early years as First Minister, at a time when Ms Sturgeon was his deputy. It would be a fully legal referendum, not a 'wildcat vote' as STV once described it, because in order for it to happen the lawyers would have to successfully frame the legislation in such a way that the Presiding Officer would certify it as being within the parliament's powers. It might also have to survive a legal challenge. If it proved possible to reach that point, it's not hard to see the attractions -
1) The referendum would go ahead without the SNP having to cross any further electoral hurdles. Leader-writers in the Observer would be able to splutter indignantly to their hearts' content about the independence debate being "settled", but it wouldn't make any difference. The mandate for a referendum was received in the Holyrood election last spring, and the SNP's term of office still has almost four years to run.
2) As soon as a consultative referendum becomes a reality, the unionist parties will be faced with a monumental strategic dilemma. They'll either have to campaign full-bloodedly for a No vote, or boycott the referendum completely. If they do campaign, they'll effectively acknowledge the legitimacy of the vote, thus rendering the denial of a Section 30 order completely pointless.
3) If, on the other hand, there is a unionist boycott, a Yes majority will become inevitable, and the only task for the Yes campaign will be to produce a turnout on their own side that at least makes it look plausible that the victory could still have been won without the boycott. (It shouldn't be forgotten that Strathclyde Regional Council's consultative referendum on the water industry in 1994 stunned everyone with a turnout of more than 70%, in spite of an effective Tory boycott - the theory before the vote was that anything in the 40s would be decent enough.) OK, the unionists will brand the result illegitimate, but they'll be on a lot weaker ground than before - instead of arguing that the No vote in 2014 has settled everything, they'll be arguing that a much more recent Yes vote hasn't settled anything at all. We might even end up with the ultimate role reversal of the SNP fighting the 2021 Holyrood election on the basis that Indyref 3 isn't wanted or needed, and that the opposition parties should accept the result of Indyref 2 and move on.
Sounds like a win/win to me.
* * *
SNP's performance in Scotland :
Percentage of seats : 59.3%
Vote share : 36.9%
DUP's performance in Northern Ireland :
Percentage of seats : 55.6%
Vote share : 36.0%
Ouch. Bit of a mystery why the London government wants to have anything to do with a party that did even worse than the SNP. But then again, the Scottish Tories are still welcome in polite circles, so it appears exceptions can be made...
* * *
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Friday, June 23, 2017
Unfortunately, there isn't enough information in the datasets to draw such a strong conclusion. This is a GB-wide poll, and the SNP's abstention rate is not being compared with that of the Scottish Tories or Scottish Labour, but with the Tories and Labour across Britain as a whole. That's bound to give a misleading impression, because turnout in Scotland dropped by several points this year, whereas it rose south of the border.
The most that can be said, therefore, is that this poll is consistent with the theory that the SNP suffered from differential turnout, but it doesn't provide proof. If that is what happened, presumably there were independence supporters who were fired up in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 referendum, but who this time weren't sufficiently inspired by the rather vague (and bland?) "Stronger for Scotland" message. I suspect the SNP missed a trick by downplaying independence during the campaign - they were probably worried about losing No voters, but the pre-election polls suggested most of those people had already drifted off anyway.
The poll's oddest finding is that, even after abstainers are excluded, only 33% of people who voted Plaid Cymru in 2015 stuck with the party this year. The equivalent figure for the SNP is 71%. It's hard not to be sceptical about that finding, because Plaid's vote share only slipped 1.7% (and they made a net gain of one seat!).
* * *
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Ruth is reeling after stunning ScotPulse poll finds majority of Scots are open to the idea of an independence referendum
After last week's dodgy poll from the Daily Record with the leading question, we have a more neutrally-worded poll from ScotPulse on an independence referendum, and unsurprisingly it produces a radically different result.
A total of 30% of respondents want an independence referendum either before or after Brexit. A further 22% say their view on a referendum will depend on how Brexit works out. The speed-counters among you will already have spotted that this means a slim majority (52%) are open to the idea of a referendum. Only 48% are opposed.
For the avoidance of doubt, the actual results of this poll are good news. After the relentless and almost comical propaganda of the last couple of weeks, you'd expect support for a referendum to be at an unusual low (not least because natural supporters of a referendum will be feeling cowed at the moment). So for a poll to show a majority are still open to the idea is very heartening.
The bad news, however, is that we know of old that ScotPulse polls are not correctly weighted, so how much credibility today's results have is anyone's guess.
* * *
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
As you may remember, I was doing my best in the early months of this year to promote this blog's last fundraiser from 2015, which remained open for new donations. Progress was fairly slow, but nevertheless I'm hugely grateful for all the extra donations received, because they've been just about enough to keep everything afloat over the last few extraordinary weeks. During the month up to June 8th, the blog received more visitors than in all but one previous month in its history. That kind of performance simply wouldn't have been possible without your help - blogging during an election period is incredibly time-consuming, and the fundraiser money gave me the freedom and flexibility to drop everything and write when required.
I abruptly stopped promoting the donation link altogether in March, because I didn't want to distract from the fundraising efforts for ScotRef, or later for the SNP general election campaign. However, as a result of that, I have now reached the point where in the immortal words of Liam Byrne "there is no money left". That means I can't even risk returning to the previous fundraiser, because back in the winter Indiegogo missed their 4-weekly payment schedule, and I didn't receive some of the funds for two months. I've no idea how common that sort of glitch is, but if it happened again I might be waiting until mid-August, which would come pretty close to defeating the whole point of the exercise. So instead I've started afresh with a new fundraiser on a different platform. I'm going to give GoFundMe a try and see how it works out.
I never plan things out too much in advance, other than the fact that I intend to continue writing regularly in some form - probably on this blog, perhaps on other websites, or perhaps I'll follow the example of other pro-indy bloggers by taking time out to write a book for self-publication. Rather than pitching the last fundraiser as a chance to finance "465 blogposts over the next eight months" or whatever, I suggested that it should instead be seen as a chance to "buy me a hot chocolate" if you'd enjoyed my writing or found it useful. But blogging is hungry as well as thirsty work, and I do like nothing more than a ham-and-cheese toastie (alternative fillings simply don't compare) with my hot chocolate. So feel free to see the 2017 fundraiser as a way of addressing the equally important toastie side of the equation.
After I suggested the other day that someone on the pro-indy side should urgently commission an opinion poll to counterbalance the dodgy poll in the Record, a number of you urged that I should use fundraiser money to do it myself. That's probably not a realistic idea, because past fundraisers have generally only barely met their targets, so the chances are pretty slim that enough would be raised to cover the basic amount needed plus an opinion poll on top of that. However, in the unlikely event that the new fundraiser significantly exceeds its target, I'll certainly consider the possibility.
As always, please don’t feel under any pressure to make a donation. Scot Goes Pop isn’t a newspaper or a magazine – it’s a blog, and there’s absolutely no charge to read it. The option to donate is there if you want to, but it’s only an option. And, of course, if you have a spare minute or two you can always pass on the word to others – every tweet or Facebook share helps enormously!
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Sunday, June 18, 2017
Friday, June 16, 2017
An open suggestion : if anyone on the pro-indy side has ever thought about commissioning an opinion poll, this would be the optimum moment to do it
"Opinion polls are a device for influencing public opinion, not a device for measuring it. Crack that, and it all makes sense."
That is, of course, a massive over-generalisation. Almost all of the voting intention polls we saw in the run-up to the general election were genuine, if mostly extremely poor, attempts at measuring public opinion. Based on the past history of polls having an in-built pro-Labour skew, ICM and ComRes honestly believed they were improving accuracy with their extreme Tory-friendly methodologies. It's doubtful whether the polling errors worked in the Tories' favour anyway - if people had actually known that Labour were only a couple of points behind the Tories, it's likely that scare stories about a Corbyn premiership would have had far greater potency.
There's a 'but' here, though. Voting intention polls using standard, neutral wording are one thing, but non-standard, non-neutral poll questions about other matters have an entirely different purpose. Even more famous than Hitchens' quote is the Yes, Minister scene in which Sir Humphrey demonstrates how it's easily possible to get exactly the same poll respondents to say that they both support and oppose the reintroduction of National Service. All you need to do is use wording which makes the desired answer seem like the 'natural', 'obvious' one.
In Scotland we've just seen a particularly sinister example of that dark use of opinion polls, with the Daily Record commissioning Survation to ask a ludicrously leading question designed to produce a result that made it seem as if Scotland had turned decisively against a second independence referendum. Whether or not the stunt was done in direct collusion with the Tories, it may as well have been, because within a few short hours Ruth Davidson was brandishing the poll at First Minister's Questions as 'proof' that her narrative about the meaning of the election result was the correct one.
And there you see pretty plainly what the function of the poll was - it's no exaggeration to say that it formed part of a 'soft coup'. You can't steal people's votes with a poll, but what you can do (especially in our present quasi-colonial set-up) is steal the meaning of their votes. You can turn black into white, and establish a narrative that people were somehow voting against the flagship policy of the winning party. So how was it done? Obviously the first indispensable step was a 2014-style 'shock and awe' media propaganda campaign that relentlessly portrayed the SNP's election victory as an unmitigated disaster for the party. Bang in the middle of that hysteria, you run a poll that doesn't ask about an independence referendum as a matter of principle, but specifically ties it to the general election result - thus inviting people to agree that it's only 'natural' that a referendum should not take place in the light of the general election result, as helpfully interpreted by the media. In order to dispute that such a conclusion is 'natural', a respondent would have to consciously resist the near-unanimous media verdict on the election, which is not easy to do, particularly given that the SNP did not challenge it strongly enough themselves.
It doesn't end there, though. The proposition was also framed negatively - respondents had to agree or disagree with the statement that "Following the General Election result, Nicola Sturgeon should remove her demand for a second independence referendum". Given that 'demand' is a pejorative word, and that groundwork had been done to establish in people's minds that Nicola Sturgeon was the loser of the election she won, it would take a good bit of psychological effort to actively disagree with what is intentionally presented as a 'perfectly reasonable' point of view. Indeed, to indicate disagreement, a respondent would have had to check the box next to the following faintly ridiculous formulation of words : "Following the General Election result, Nicola Sturgeon should not remove her demand for a second independence referendum". The result of the poll was utterly predictable, and that was the Record's plan from the start.
So how do we combat this cynical tactic? The only way would be for someone on the pro-indy side to commission their own poll as a matter of urgency. In theory it could use a scrupulously neutral question, such as "Do you think there should be an independence referendum within the next five/ten years?". In my view, that would probably produce a majority against a referendum in the current mad climate, but I doubt if the size of the majority would be anything like the one found in the Record's dodgy poll. Probably more useful, though, would be to deliberately approach the issue from a different angle - someone suggested today on Twitter that people should be asked whether the Scottish Parliament or the UK government should decide the timing of a referendum. We've had polls like that in the past which have shown decisive majorities backing the Scottish Parliament's right to choose, and it would be very helpful to have that principle reinforced in a post-election poll.
Here are another couple of possibilities -
Q. At the recent general election, the SNP won 35 Scottish seats, the Conservatives won 13, Labour won 7 and the Liberal Democrats won 4. Who do you think won the election in Scotland?
d) Liberal Democrats
e) Nobody won
Q. At the recent general election, the SNP won 60% of the Scottish seats at Westminster. Do you think this gives them a mandate to call an independence referendum once the terms of Brexit are known?
One thing is for sure - we're at a crucial turning-point in Scottish history, and dark forces are stopping at nothing in their attempts to neutralise our pro-indy movement for good. A 'counter-poll' would be a very useful tool to deploy, and as soon as possible.
Thursday, June 15, 2017
SNP vote shares in each election :
2010 UK general election : 19.9%
2011 Scottish Parliament election : 45.4% (constituency), 44.0% (list)
2012 Local elections : 32.3%
2014 European election : 29.0%
2015 UK general election : 50.0%
2016 Scottish Parliament election : 46.5% (constituency), 41.7% (list)
2017 Local elections : 32.3%
2017 UK general election : 36.9%
As you can see, the SNP's performance last Thursday was actually significantly better than in no fewer than four of the other seven elections that have taken place since 2010. It was also better than in any set of local elections in history (the 32.3% in both 2012 and 2017 is the high watermark to date), and better than in any European election in history (32.6% in 1994 is the all-time high). It was better than the 32.9% of the constituency vote and 31.0% of the list vote achieved when the party won its first Holyrood election in 2007. And it was far better than the vote share achieved in any UK general election prior to 2015 - the previous record had been just 30.4% in October 1974.
When you bear in mind that UK general elections tend to be the toughest contests that the SNP faces (due to voters becoming transfixed with the Tory v Labour battle for power in London), hopefully you can see how 37% of the vote last week and a comfortable 8.3% lead over the second-placed party was an extremely creditable performance. It may have been below pre-election expectations, but it wasn't below-par in any other sense.
* * *
Michael Portillo made two confident predictions on tonight's This Week that completely startled me : 1) that Theresa May will not even survive as Prime Minister until the autumn conference season, and 2) that the government will decide to keep Britain in both the single market and the customs union. I've been strongly convinced that the opposite is true, and it has to be said that plenty of Portillo's predictions have proved wrong in the past, but let's suppose just for a moment that he's right. The most obvious consequence would be that an early general election would become much more likely. A new Tory leader might seek a personal mandate, but even if they don't, a bona fide Soft Brexit (as opposed to a fudge that falls short of single market membership) will surely lead to at least a few Eurosceptic Tory MPs resigning the whip on the grounds that the British public has been betrayed. They might even jump direct to UKIP if Nigel Farage becomes active again and gets his party back in the game. The arithmetic supporting the Tory-DUP pact would then become severely imperilled.
Survation poll reinforces the need for the SNP to strongly speak up for their mandate to hold a referendum
In spite of the poll's extreme shortcomings, though, it's important to note that it flatly contradicts the findings of a poll only a few weeks ago that found the public thought that the SNP would have a clear mandate for a referendum if they won a majority of Scottish seats at the general election. This apparently irrational 180 degree shift in public opinion would suggest that the SNP have been extremely foolish in not strongly challenging the narrative of their opponents and the mainstream media that their victory at the general election was somehow a rebuff for a referendum. Yes, it's incredibly difficult to fight against the tide when even the BBC abandon all pretence at objectivity and describe a landslide SNP triumph as a "rejection of independence", but nevertheless it seems likely that the problem could at least have been ameliorated if the SNP had stood up for the mandate they had just received in the hours following the election. It would have been perfectly possible to acknowledge painful setbacks in certain regions of Scotland while emphasising that the nationwide SNP victory reinforced the mandate for a referendum.
Having made that tactical error, though, the important thing now is that the SNP hold their nerve in the face of polls like this. We know that polls conducted immediately after an election tend to produce extreme results which are often quickly reversed as politics returns to normal. (Witness the Panelbase and Survation polls in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum showing a majority for independence - presumably they were one of the reasons that Kezia Dugdale panicked and almost reversed Labour's stance on an indyref.) If everyone just holds tight, it's not unreasonable to suppose that we'll soon see a return to the status quo ante as far as attitudes towards both independence and a referendum are concerned. Even in this poll, there is still a 43% Yes vote, which suggests an extraordinary resilience in support for independence.
For the reasons I've given previously, it would be a historic error for the SNP to panic in the face of this media onslaught and abandon their commitment to an independence referendum at the end of the Brexit process. This is a difficult moment, but it will soon pass. Let's make sure we've kept the flame alight for when it does.
Of the SNP's landslide victory last week, Alastair says : "Nor was this a narrow defeat." The new post-arithmetic politics is getting rather comical.
Alastair also expands on his theory from yesterday that the Tories can safely regard the SNP as "reliable enemies", because both parties will be desperate to avoid an early election. He reckons that this will allow Labour the opportunity to present themselves as a more authentically anti-Tory party than the SNP. All of this is in the realms of utter fantasy. For the avoidance of doubt, if there is a vote on the floor of the House of Commons to bring the government down, then regardless of strategic judgements over whether an early election would be in the SNP's interests, they will walk through the lobbies with Labour to bring that election about. Anyone who thinks otherwise just doesn't 'get' Scottish politics, and certainly doesn't understand the long-term penalty that any centre-left party in Scotland would pay for helping to keep the Tories in power for even a week longer than necessary.
Stormfront Lite is of course heavily dominated by Tory contributors, and it does appear that Alastair is lulling them into a false sense of security. If any smaller parties are going to sustain Tory rule for five years, it'll be the DUP, Lady Hermon, and maybe the Lib Dems after Brexit. But the SNP...you can forget it, I'm afraid. Just not going to happen.
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
"The SNP also seem to be staring down the barrel of a gun. Unless their poll ratings recover markedly, they look set to lose many more seats at the next election simply because those voters who wish to defend the union now have a clear route map which party to back in most constituencies. So there looks likely to be an enduring majority opposed to an early election, with or without the DUP."
With all due respect to Alastair, this is a classic case of a southern commentator not really 'getting' the political realities in Scotland. As I said in my article in The National the other day, I do think the SNP would probably prefer there not to be an election for a while, but it's a much more finely-balanced call than Alastair thinks - lots of SNP seats are vulnerable to Labour, but there are also a hell of a lot of new Tory seats that look very precarious, and in which the SNP are the only realistic challengers. If you can imagine the psychological impact of Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson reclaiming their seats (what would Peter "only Salmond's result matters" Kellner say then?!), you can see why the SNP might reckon that an early election is not an entirely unattractive prospect, especially if Tory support starts to drop even a little.
There are two other key points - firstly, although Alastair is correct that SNP seats in the central belt look vulnerable to Labour, he's largely wrong about the reason. "Defending the union" tactical voting obsessives were not exactly thin on the ground in the campaign we've just had, so it's hard to see how that problem is suddenly going to get dramatically worse. No, the real problem is the sheer momentum behind Corbyn, and the way it may carry along left-wing voters who in many cases actually believe in independence. From that point of view, an October election could look a tad scary, but the momentum may well have fizzled out if things drag on until next year or beyond.
Secondly, regardless of the strategic judgement on whether an election is in the SNP's best interests, there is no real doubt that they will vote in favour of one if they get a chance, and that they will vote against the Tory government in any vote of no confidence. Yes, they abstained on the calling of the election we've just had, but they were able to justify that on the basis that it looked overwhelmingly likely that the Tories would significantly increase their majority. If there looks to be the remotest chance of getting the Tories out, they will have no choice at all - the long-term consequences of being seen to "keep the Tories in" hardly bear thinking about.
All of this is fairly academic, because the arithmetic supporting a Tory-DUP deal is reasonably secure - even if the Tories suffer a string of by-election defeats, it would probably take at least three years before there would be any chance of a defeat on a vote of confidence. That's unless there are defections - Alastair dismisses that notion on the grounds of the wide ideological gap between the parties, but I would have thought the Liberal Democrats might start to look like a tempting alternative home for one or two liberal Tory MPs if the Brexit negotiations go badly.
More realistically, though, if an early election happens it will not be because the Tories have literally been brought down - it'll be because they can't get their business through the Commons, and start looking for an escape route, or because Theresa May is replaced and the new leader decides to gamble (and it would obviously be a huge gamble) on gaining a personal mandate.
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
The SNP mustn't allow itself to become hobbled for decades by the legend of a "defeat" that never actually happened
Saturday, June 10, 2017
1) You can't march people to the top of the hill, march them straight back down again, and expect that not to have consequences. It's only three months since Nicola Sturgeon announced a firm plan for an independence referendum, and indeed launched a fundraising drive which if memory serves me right collected a six-figure sum. We were told that the mandate for a referendum had already been secured, and that winning a majority of Scottish seats at the general election (30 or more) would reinforce that mandate even further. That was duly achieved on Thursday. If the whole thing is now shelved for no easily defensible reason, many people who contributed (either financially, or by registering their support on the website, or even by voting SNP on Thursday) will feel betrayed. Not everyone, by any means - others will always trust the leadership to make decisions that eventually get Scotland to the intended destination. But a great many will turn their backs on the SNP, and either give up on the independence movement altogether, or seek an alternative party/organisation (however fringe) that retains the commitment to a referendum within the intended timescale. They'll think to themselves : "if we can't trust the SNP to stick to their principles when they win an election, how can we trust them to see it through when the going really gets tough?" It's all very well clinging to the dubious hope that ditching a referendum might stop scaring the horses in rural Aberdeenshire, but if you lose a fair bit of your most passionate support base in the process, it's doubtful whether that constitutes progress.
2) It would be democratically indefensible to capitulate to the argument that the Scottish Tories "won" this election on a pledge to stop a referendum, and that the SNP "lost" the election on the pledge to hold a referendum. I'm sure I don't need to reiterate the numbers, but the SNP won roughly 60% of the seats in Scotland, and the Tories took fewer than one-quarter. What I would have expected the leadership to say is something along the lines of : "We've suffered some very painful losses tonight and ended up with a mandate that is smaller than the huge one we secured in 2015, but nevertheless it is still a very, very clear mandate. In many ways it's a more valuable mandate than our previous one because it was hard-won in the full public knowledge that we were planning a referendum. It must now be fully respected." Instead, they gave a degree of comfort to the argument of the Tories and other unionist parties that Scotland was somehow voting against a referendum by not giving the SNP a big enough majority - effectively arguing that anti-referendum votes and seats carry far more weight than pro-independence votes and seats. That attitude voluntarily surrenders the victory won and converts it into a defeat. Again, I can't think of a quicker way of alienating your core support than to tell them that even if they vote for a manifesto in good faith and help deliver a thumping win, it still counts for absolutely nothing.
I'm also very troubled that Nicola Sturgeon reportedly agreed that there was some "force" to the argument that unionist parties had outpolled the SNP on the popular vote. It is completely unrealistic to expect a single party to routinely receive 50% of the vote - it very rarely happens in any established democracy (South Africa being an obvious exception). In Westminster elections, Scotland effectively reverts to being a four-party system in which three parties are anti-independence and only one is pro-independence. It's obvious that in most cases the most popular party will be outpolled by the combined votes for the other three - that's completely normal.
3) The problem in this election campaign has been wrongly diagnosed. What seems to be behind the talk of a change in policy is the discovery that some people on the doorstep were 'scunnered' by the plan for another referendum. But that's to fall into the Ed Miliband trap of thinking that just removing policies that annoy certain people will somehow help you win more votes. You actually have to give people something positive to vote for - or, if you're Ruth Davidson, give them a really scary bogey-man to vote against. After the disappointing result in the local elections, I suggested that the SNP needed to urgently fire up the pro-independence vote in the same way that the Tories (and to a lesser extent Labour and the Lib Dems) had already fired up the anti-independence vote. There was no point in playing it safe - the genie was out of the bottle, the election was going to be dominated by the constitution whether we liked it or not, so we might as well make a virtue out of necessity. Instead, the opposite was done, and we ended up with a campaign that struck me as being remarkably similar to the campaign in 2005 that won only six seats - lots of talk of "strong voices standing up for Scotland", but no convincing explanation of what that would actually achieve in concrete terms. One of the few times I found myself nodding along to a BBC attack line against the SNP was when Glenn Campbell asked Nicola Sturgeon what a large SNP contingent at Westminster could possibly achieve in a parliament with a large Tory majority, given their relative powerlessness in a parliament over the last couple of years that had a small Tory majority. Her response was to point to examples of the influence they've had - which almost seemed to be saying "vote SNP for more of the same at Westminster". That was scarcely likely to inspire anyone.
2015 was an unusual case because everyone thought they knew that the SNP were going to hold the balance of power, so it wasn't implausible to talk about making a real difference at Westminster. But this time, ironically, hardly anyone believed we were heading for a hung parliament, so the "strong voices" pitch was never likely to resonate.
4) Ditching the referendum will not actually make the "referendum problem" go away. If anyone thinks Ruth Davidson is ever going to stop running on the "stop a referendum" line, they are deluding themselves. You could see it as soon as Nicola Sturgeon said she would "reflect" on the election result - Davidson immediately said that wasn't enough, and that the referendum had to be taken off the table completely. If it actually is taken off the table completely, Davidson will then say that still isn't enough, because until the SNP drop their support for independence altogether, that means they are still secretly planning to hold a referendum, and people have to vote Tory to stop the secret plans for a referendum. This will literally never end. You can't beat Davidson by appeasing her. It just won't work.
5) Abandoning the referendum would be a betrayal of EU citizens who have put their faith in the SNP and the wider Yes movement to preserve their current status in Scotland. Holding an indyref at the end of the Brexit process is first and foremost not a strategic call, it's a moral imperative. It's the only way to give the people of Scotland (whatever their country of origin) an opportunity to retain their right to free movement and remain within the single market. That basic principle has not changed in the slightest. For all the wild talk about how the loss of the Tory majority might lead to a watering down of the plans for Hard Brexit, the simple fact is that both the Conservatives and the Labour party are opposed to the continuation of free movement, so remaining within the single market as part of the UK still appears to be a complete non-starter.
6) If the SNP put independence on the backburner specifically to concentrate on the "day-job" (again, framing it in that way is a capitulation to the Tories' attack lines), they're putting all their eggs in the basket of being viewed as more competent than their opponents for an indefinite period. That would seem to be wildly optimistic given what we know about the inevitable changing of the seasons in politics. If by 2021 Scottish Labour get their act together and put forward a radical Corbynite manifesto for Holyrood, and if the Tories are still banging on about "stopping Nicola Sturgeon's secret plans for a referendum", and if the SNP have parked their USP and are instead pitching for votes as the most competent managers after fourteen years in office, that would strike me as an obvious recipe for a unionist majority to be elected. It wouldn't necessarily lead to Davidson or Dugdale as First Minister, but the Sturgeon government would be dramatically weakened. The SNP would then presumably go off and "reflect" on the setback - and perhaps reach precisely the wrong conclusions all over again.
Friday, June 9, 2017
It also means the SNP have taken roughly 60% of the seats in Scotland. For the avoidance of doubt, a result like that can quite properly be called a landslide victory. Here's how it compares with various historical landslides at UK-wide level...
2017 (SNP landslide, Scotland only) :
All other parties 40.7%
1945 (Attlee landslide) :
All other parties 38.6%
1959 (Macmillan landslide) :
All other parties 42.1%
1966 (Wilson landslide) :
All other parties 42.2%
1983 (Thatcher landslide) :
All other parties 38.9%
1987 (Thatcher landslide) :
All other parties 42.2%
1997 (Blair landslide) :
All other parties 36.6%
2001 (Blair landslide) :
All other parties 37.5%
Even the SNP's popular vote share of 37% compares favourably with some previous UK majority governments - it's identical to the mandate received by the Tories in 2015, and on which they've been governing us over the last two years. It's also better than the 35% mandate on which Labour governed for a full five-year term between 2005 and 2010.
* * *
I'm beginning to have my doubts about whether there's going to be another election any time soon. The polling companies will doubtless hold yet another inquiry, and will presumably this time move methodology in a much more Labour-friendly direction, with less aggressive turnout weighting from the likes of ICM and ComRes. That makes it significantly less likely that a Tory Prime Minister will be able to convince herself or himself that a snap election is winnable on the basis of the polling evidence. We could be in for a John Major-style scenario where a weak Tory government holds on for grim death over a period of years, while being ground down by defeats in by-elections and being constantly held to ransom by extremist backbenchers and Northern Ireland unionists. In fact, it'll be even worse this time, because at least John Major had a small majority to play with.
* * *
As some of you may have seen, I took part in Independence Live's election show last night. The whole thing (six hours' worth!) is available to watch HERE - I'm on about 58 minutes in.
Thursday, June 8, 2017
Exit Poll predicts SNP have 'triple lock' mandate for independence referendum, and perhaps the balance of power in a hung parliament
Liberal Democrats 14
Plaid Cymru 3
Northern Ireland Parties 18
There are two key points that need to be borne in mind about the exit poll -
1) There is a significant chance that it will throw up a major shock. That's happened in all of the last three general elections. The 2005 exit poll forecast Tony Blair's majority to be "only" 66 seats, which was significantly lower than most people expected. In 2010, it was predicted that the Cleggasm had melted away and left the Liberal Democrats with fewer seats than they started with - something that hardly anyone had entertained as a serious possibility. And in 2015, expectations were completely turned on their heads as the Conservatives were predicted to have achieved a net gain, Labour were predicted to have suffered a net loss, and the SNP were forecast to have taken all but one seat in Scotland.
2) If a shock is predicted, it's highly likely to be reflected in the actual result. In 2005, Labour ended up with exactly the 66 majority that was suggested. And I'm sure we all remember Paddy Ashdown simply refusing to accept the exit poll's pessimistic estimates for the Lib Dems in both 2010 and 2015, and how he was later forced to eat his words.
So this is my worry. We're all a little bit too cosy in our assumptions about the minimum number of seats we think the SNP are practically guaranteed to win. Based on previous shocks, we should really be braced for almost any number to flash up on the screen - it could be below 40, in theory it could even be below 30. And if the prediction is much worse than expected, we'll almost immediately have to reconcile ourselves with the likelihood that we're not looking at a 1992-style dud poll, but rather at a reasonably accurate prediction.
It's not too hard to construct a case for why the SNP might underperform expectations. The polls we saw last night basically put the SNP in the same position - or perhaps a marginally worse position - than they were in at the time of the local elections. None of us need any reminders that the SNP's lead over the Tories in those elections was only 7%, rather than the 10-15% that the polls would have led us to anticipate. If you factor in the impact of independent candidates standing in areas where the Tories are strong, it's arguable that the SNP's de facto lead on the day was even lower than 7%. Now, we've tended to assume that the SNP only suffered in those elections because of particularly extreme differential turnout - Tory supporters were whipped up into a frenzy over the issue of an independence referendum, while the SNP fought a rather bland campaign that didn't motivate their own core support. I still think that's an extremely plausible theory...but what if it's wrong? What if, plain and simply, the polls have been systemically and significantly overstating the SNP's true lead over the Tories? In that case, all bets would be off for tonight.
That's the pessimistic side of the coin, but here's the optimistic side. A couple of threads ago, Calum identified some of the SNP-to-Labour switchers among his own peer group - young people who support independence, but who wrongly believe that a vote for Labour is the most effective way of getting the Tories out. I have a sneaking suspicion that if those people lived in Moray or in Perth & North Perthshire, they would be well aware by now, either from leaflets or through word of mouth, of the folly of that way of thinking in the context of the local battle. It's just possible that the polarisation of this campaign along Tory v anti-Tory lines is actually working in the SNP's favour in Tory-SNP battleground seats, with natural Corbyn supporters swinging heavily behind the SNP. If that's happening, the swing to Labour must be disproportionately taking place in ex-Labour heartlands - but even if that's true, the numbers might still be insufficient for Labour to take back very many seats from the SNP. They're starting from such a long way back almost everywhere.
So that's the scenario in which it's feasible that the SNP might just about get the strong mid-40s result that everyone seems to be expecting - but if it does happen, it looks like it could be a bit of a tightrope-walk.
* * *
As long-term readers know, I have a great regard for the predictive powers of Stephen Bush (in spite of the brief slanging-match I had with him after the Brexit referendum). So I've been waiting with bated breath to hear his verdict on the suggestions that English Labour are doing much worse on the ground than the opinion polls suggest. Intriguingly, he departs from the conventional wisdom in saying that the Labour surge is real, and that he's found evidence of it from speaking to local organisers. However, he also thinks the extra votes are very inefficiently distributed and that Labour still face a net loss of seats even if their vote share increases markedly.
In a perverse way, I take some heart from that assessment. If there's to be even the remotest chance of a hung parliament, the number one prerequisite is that the change in public opinion detected by the polls at least has to be real.
Liberal Democrats 6%
The obvious health warning here is that Survation have established themselves as the most Labour-friendly pollster at GB-wide level, so if that (potential) skew has carried through to their Scottish polling, they may well be overstating Labour in this poll. Which, ironically, would actually be good news for Labour, because the only party that is going to benefit from a Labour surge of this type in Scotland is the Conservative party. If SNP voters are switching to Labour in SNP/Tory marginal seats because they think it's going to help get the Tories out...well, it's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry.
As you may have seen in the previous post, the average of tonight's six Scottish subsamples is more in line with the recent full-scale poll from YouGov. It puts the SNP on 42%, the Tories on 27% and Labour on 24%.
* * *
UPDATE : A new full-scale poll from Panelbase shows a vaguely similar trend to Survation, but because of the different starting-point it still puts Labour in a distant third place.
Scottish voting intentions for the UK general election (Panelbase) :
SNP 41% (-1)
Conservatives 30% (n/c)
Labour 22% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 5% (n/c)
Obviously it's a bit troubling to have two polls showing SNP leads of 10% and 11% on the eve of the election - but the odd thing is that, because there's a different party in second place in each one, averaging them produces a more favourable picture...
Average of Survation and Panelbase polls :
Liberal Democrats 5.5%
* * *
UPDATE II : There's also been a full-scale Scottish poll from BMG published tonight, but as with the last one from the same firm, it's of limited use because the fieldwork is out of date. It was conducted between the 27th and 31st of May, and as we know, there may have been further movement to Labour since then.
Scottish voting intentions for the UK general election (BMG) :
SNP 42% (-1)
Conservatives 27% (-3)
Labour 21% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 8% (+3)
One thing we can do with these numbers is make a comparison with the Survation and Panelbase polls that were conducted at roughly the same time. A 15% SNP lead is higher than either of those two firms were showing (Panelbase had a 12% lead and Survation had a 13% lead), which at least raises the possibility that a more up-to-date BMG poll might have shown a slightly bigger SNP lead than we've seen from Panelbase and Survation tonight. That's highly speculative, but it's perhaps a minor point of reassurance. It certainly looks unlikely that a BMG poll conducted this week would have put Labour in second place.
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
The average of the six Scottish subsamples that have appeared tonight is...
Liberal Democrats 5.7%
Those numbers are eerily close to the findings of recent full-scale Scottish polls. Due to the even split in the unionist vote, they'd probably produce a pretty decent result for the SNP in terms of seat numbers.
YouGov's Election Eve projection suggests the SNP are on course to win three-quarters of Scottish seats
At UK-wide level, the situation is utterly bizarre. The consensus among pundits and "sources" that Labour are set for a pounding tomorrow is growing ever stronger, and you'd think eventually that would start to be reflected in what YouGov are hearing from their respondents. Instead, today's update shows the Tories slipping to yet another new low - just 33 seats ahead of Labour in a hung parliament.
UK-wide seats projection (YouGov) :
Liberal Democrats 12
Plaid Cymru 2
Northern Ireland Parties 18
HUNG PARLIAMENT : Conservatives short by 24, Labour short by 57
Even the Conservatives' ceiling would only put them on 334 seats, which would be an overall majority of just 18 seats (or perhaps 20 after John Bercow is taken into account) - barely any improvement at all on what David Cameron achieved two years ago. I have to say these numbers aren't really passing the smell test, but we'll find out soon enough.
Will you be needing a new leader to INTERVIEW, Ruth? Staggering SurveyMonkey poll suggests Theresa May's majority could be EXTIRPATED
GB-wide voting intentions (SurveyMonkey) :
Conservatives 42% (-2)
Labour 38% (n/c)
(Other parties' vote shares are not available yet.)
To put SurveyMonkey's limited track-record into perspective, in their final 2015 poll they put the Tories on 34% and Labour on 28%, which meant they slightly underestimated both parties but got the Tory lead almost exactly right. It's possible they may have just got freakishly lucky in that individual poll due to sampling variation, but it has to be said there were hardly any other polls that were so close to being accurate (with the famous unpublished Survation poll being an obvious exception).
* * *
You might be interested in Alasdair Soussi's article on the Al Jazeera website about the battle for Scottish seats at the general election - it features quotes from myself, Simon Pia, Ian Duncan and Professor James Mitchell. You can read it HERE.
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Is the WRITING on the WALL for Retoxified Ruth? New SHOCK YouGov data suggests Scottish Tory DREAMS could be SHATTERED
You might remember that at the weekend, I mentioned that Scottish data from the YouGov projection model had been revealed on Twitter, and it showed voting intentions of : SNP 42%, Conservatives 26%, Labour 25%. The reaction of our resident Tory troll Aldo was "Not a poll. Nothing to see here." Well, here's the bad news, Aldo - a full-scale Scottish poll was released by YouGov today, and it shows almost identical figures.
Scottish voting intentions for the UK general election (YouGov) :
SNP 41% (-1)
Conservatives 26% (-3)
Labour 25% (+6)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)
Greens 1% (-1)
Regardless of whether the projection model is technically "not a poll", the GB-wide voting intention numbers it's been producing are strikingly similar to YouGov's regular polling, so it's no great surprise to discover that the same is true in Scotland. Nevertheless, it's still very reassuring to see more evidence that the Scottish Tories haven't been immune to the slump suffered by their colleagues in England and Wales.
On the face of it, this poll suggests that the SNP's support has been extraordinarily stable throughout the campaign. The first YouGov poll after Theresa May called the election put the SNP on 41%, the second put them on 42%, and today's puts them back to 41%. That looks very much like trivial fluctuation caused by margin of error noise. However, we shouldn't forget that both Panelbase and Survation have reported a modest SNP dip as Labour have recovered, so it's possible that the margin of error is actually masking a similar SNP dip in the YouGov poll. Labour have a slight lead among 18-24 year olds, and it's hard to believe a surge like that could happen without harming the SNP's overall vote at least a bit (unless it's been offset by the SNP regaining some votes direct from the Tories). But you'd be a brave person to look at the evidence we have so far and conclude that Labour's recovery has harmed the SNP more than the Tories. On balance, it looks like the opposite may be true - today's 15% gap between SNP and Tory is the joint-biggest that any of the familiar online pollsters have reported during the campaign in a conventional poll.
The first question that formed in my mind when I saw today's poll was "what were the fieldwork dates?" Yesterday's update of the projection model gave the distinct impression that SNP support may have slipped very recently, which obviously meant that a poll with older fieldwork wouldn't offer much reassurance. It turns out that it was conducted between Thursday and yesterday, so quite a bit of it was before the Corbyn v May Question Time special, and also before the tragedy in London. However, the fears raised by the projection model have eased for the time being anyway, because the central figures in today's update show the SNP bouncing back from 42 to 46 seats. Perhaps even more significantly, the SNP's floor (the minimum number of seats they'd be expected to win within a 95% confidence interval) has jumped back up from 17 to 32. That implies the gap between SNP and Labour in the popular vote has widened - although whether that's because of strengthening SNP support or Labour slippage is hard to say (short of obsessively checking the projected percentages from all of the individual constituencies, which I haven't been doing).
There doesn't appear to have been Labour slippage south of the border, though. The updated projection shows the lowest number of Tory seats to date, and suggests for the first time that the SNP and Labour in combination would outnumber the Tories in a hung parliament.
UK-wide seats projection (YouGov) :
Liberal Democrats 12
Plaid Cymru 2
Northern Ireland Parties 18
HUNG PARLIAMENT : Conservatives short by 22, Labour short by 60
On those figures (which may well be in the realms of fantasy, but who can say for sure?) it's unlikely that either a Tory or Labour government would be viable in the long-term - instead there would effectively be a caretaker government until a new election could be called, probably in the autumn. But it's interesting to speculate who would lead that caretaker government. Strictly speaking, it really ought to be Jeremy Corbyn - by constitutional convention, the Queen is supposed to appoint a Prime Minister who can command a majority in the House, and if the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Greens and SDLP all clearly signalled that they preferred Corbyn to May, it would leave Corbyn with the stronger case. But you could be sure that the Tories would be claiming that the largest single party should automatically get the nod if an opposition alliance can't muster an absolute majority, and you might well see right-wing Labour MPs sabotaging Corbyn by publicly agreeing with that line of argument (echoing the extraordinary behaviour of Tom Harris immediately after the 2010 election).
1) A new article has appeared on the Labour Uncut website claiming that Labour's canvass returns are wildly out of line with the opinion polls, and that the true state of affairs is that the party is facing a "nuclear winter" outside of London.
2) Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are both making campaign appearances in what ought to be safe Labour seats, rather than in what would be battleground seats if there was the remotest chance of a hung parliament.
3) There is no sign of "panic" in the Tory high command.
The last of those three reasons is by the far the silliest, because I'm not sure any of us can even say for sure what Tory panic would look like if it was happening - there are a number of different ways in which it might manifest itself. For example, Scottish Labour reacted to their 2015 crisis mainly by going into a state of deep denial and just doing the same things over and over again in the hope they might suddenly start working. That wasn't a sign of inner peace. Proper insights into the current thinking of the campaigns will probably not be on offer until after the election is over.
The list of campaign stops for the leaders may tell us something important, but the electoral realignment caused by Brexit makes that sort of thing harder to read - it's possible that Labour's woes in Leave-voting heartland seats may be at least partly offset elsewhere. In any case, what should we have taken from the fact that Hillary Clinton didn't pay much attention to the Rust Belt states that cost her the US presidential election? Ultimately, all it proved is that her campaign was totally clueless about what was actually happening on the ground.
The only truly compelling reason for Tory supporters' cockiness is the information about Labour canvass returns, although some caution is warranted even on that front - Labour Uncut is a rabidly anti-Corbyn website which undoubtedly would like to see Labour lose this election badly so the 'rebuilding' process can start under a Blairite leader. The new article was written by Atul Hatwal, who notoriously predicted that Jeremy Corbyn would finish a distant fourth in the 2015 leadership contest at a time when it was already blindingly obvious to almost everyone else that Corbyn had a very good chance of winning outright. However, that dud prediction was of the "it's true because I say it has to be" variety, whereas Hatwal's claims about canvass returns seem much more credibly supported. The extreme negativity in the article about Labour's prospects is probably exaggerated, but nevertheless there does seem to be more than a grain of truth in the contention that the party's candidates and foot-soldiers at least believe they are heading for a worse drubbing than the current polling average would suggest.
That belief doesn't in itself prove anything. In 2015, the Liberal Democrats firmly believed they were on course to hold dozens of seats, and they were wrong. In 2010 the Tories expected to secure a majority and in 2015 they expected to fall short - weirdly they were wrong on both occasions. Canvass data and internal polling does seem to have its limitations.
However, let's say for the sake of argument that the theory is correct and Labour is about to significantly underperform its polling yet again. What would that mean from a pro-independence perspective? Basically it would ensure that we're going to get a handsome Tory victory at UK-wide level coupled with seat losses in Scotland (we don't know exactly how many) for the SNP - not an especially appetising combination. But the silver lining is that Labour's recent recovery in Scotland is directly linked to the party's surge throughout Britain, and if that surge proves to be a mirage on one side of the border, it's reasonable to suspect it may prove to be a mirage on the other side as well.
Why is that important? Mainly because it would remove the risk, however small, that the SNP might not come out of this election with a majority of Scottish seats. Yes, it would still be possible that if the polls are overestimating the SNP there could be some shock Tory gains in long-shot seats that will leave us traumatised for months. But no matter how long you spend totting up the constituencies that are theoretically just about within range for the Tories and Lib Dems, you simply won't find a scenario in which the SNP can be reduced below thirty seats without a major contribution from Labour.
The saving grace of Labour's "nuclear winter" from our point of view would thus be the guarantee of a further five years of SNP majority representation at Westminster (barring more snap elections), and the completion of the 'triple-lock' mandate for an independence referendum.
* * *
Both the Tories and the Lib Dems ought to be careful what they wish for. If the Tories get their hearts' desire and dislodge Angus Robertson in Moray, it's just conceivable that Theresa May could find herself facing Alex Salmond at Prime Minister's Questions. It's perhaps not likely that Salmond would want to resume a leadership role at this stage in his career, but it wouldn't be the first time he's made an unexpected comeback. And if the Lib Dems do as well in Scotland as they hope, the predicted losses in England could see them being led by Alistair Carmichael or Christine Jardine before the summer is out. The mind boggles.
Monday, June 5, 2017
It turns out that the result of the Survation online poll the other day was not a fluke, because a new telephone poll from the same firm tonight shows exactly the same thing - that the Tory lead has been virtually wiped out.
GB-wide voting intentions (Survation, telephone fieldwork) :
Conservatives 41.5% (-1.6)
Labour 40.4% (+3.1)
(Other parties' vote shares not available yet.)
It's important to stress that these figures do not in any way represent the start of a new polling consensus - they're instead the extreme Labour-friendly end of a spectrum that stretches all the way to a 12-point Tory lead with ComRes, which if correct would translate into a three-figure landslide majority for Theresa May. There is no sign at all that the more Tory-friendly pollsters are about to converge with the others - the most recent ICM and ComRes polls both showed a very stable picture. So unless there is a decisive swing back to the Tories over the coming days, it looks very possible that we will go into polling day with some firms pointing to a hung parliament, others pointing to a Tory landslide, and perhaps a third group suggesting a middling Tory majority. If so, we literally won't have a clue what is going to happen until Big Ben strikes 10 and the exit poll is revealed - although admittedly we're not exactly short of establishment commentators who claim to already know for sure that ICM and ComRes are right, and that "it's over".