Sunday, February 26, 2017

Memo to Corbyn : the most recent polls show an INCREASE in support for independence

Jeremy Corbyn said a number of puzzling things in his dire speech to the Scottish Labour conference today (he surprised even himself by saying "well done to our SNPs!"), but none more so than this...

"Regular polling since Brexit has shown a drop in support for independence."

This begs the obvious question - what regular polling?  No firm has really carried out regular polling on independence since the referendum in September 2014.  The only possible exception is BMG, who recently seem to have started conducting polls on independence for the Herald at vaguely regular intervals.  So far, though, they've only done two polls that used the same question, and that are therefore directly comparable.  For what it's worth, the most recent poll in the series showed a 3.5% increase in support for independence.  That may well have been an illusion caused by sampling variation, but the only other poll we've had since then (from Panelbase) showed a very slight and statistically insignificant increase in support for Yes, rather than a decrease.

There is thus no planet on which it is possible to accurately claim that "regular polling" has shown a drop in support for independence.  You could say that it's shown an increase in support, or that there hasn't been enough regular polling to draw any firm conclusions.  There's no third option here.

Elsewhere, Adam Bienkov of Business Insider randomly trotted out the hoary old claim that the SNP are "the governing party in a near one-party state".  The word "near" covers a multitude of sins, because -

a)  Scotland is not a state.

b)  Five parties are represented in the Scottish Parliament.

c)  None of those parties has even a slight majority of the seats in parliament (unlike the governing party at Westminster, for example).

When these facts were pointed out to Adam, he hurriedly shifted the goalposts and insisted he had instead been referring to the SNP's total dominance of Scottish representation in the House of Commons.  But that makes even less sense.  The SNP are indeed a "governing party" of Scotland - albeit only a semi-autonomous government that is not permitted to hold the most important levers of power.  None of the powers they do hold are derived in any way from their relative strength at Westminster, where they have just 8% of MPs and are routinely outvoted by the party which possesses an absolute majority of seats (the Conservatives).

If this is a "near one-party state" that Adam is describing, he seems to have identified the wrong party and the wrong state. 

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Coping with Copeland

Before any important English by-election, I always try to work out which result would be best for us from a strategic point of view.  ("Strategic" isn't really the right word for something we have no control over, but you know what I mean.)  There are often arguments pointing in more than one direction, but for yesterday's double-header in Copeland and Stoke I had come to the firm conclusion that the most desirable outcome would be two Labour wins, and that Copeland was the more important of the two contests.  This was my reasoning...

* A win for the Tories in Copeland would reverse the cut in their slender majority they suffered at Richmond Park, and thus lessen the SNP's bargaining power in the Commons.  It would also reduce the chances of the majority being completely wiped out (or very substantially reduced) before 2020.

* Although a win for UKIP in Stoke would not officially increase the government majority, it would probably slightly weaken the chances of the government suffering defeats on the floor of the Commons, because ad hoc anti-government coalitions are harder to cobble together if UKIP are an indispensable part of them.

* It shouldn't have to be this way, but the SNP, UKIP and the Lib Dems are locked in a dogfight for recognition as the most important third party in the eyes of the London media.  Getting their leader into parliament would be a coup for UKIP and might weaken the SNP's hand somewhat.

* Whether it's because Jeremy Corbyn is genuinely a poor leader, or whether it's because Labour MPs and Labour-friendly commentators have made it impossible for him to lead the party effectively, there can't be much doubt that he has become an asset for the SNP and the wider independence movement, and that it would now be desirable for him to remain in harness for as long as humanly possible.  Defeat for Labour in one or both by-elections might hasten his departure date, and would therefore be a bad thing.

So taking all of those factors into consideration, what actually happened yesterday was grim news, although it could have been even worse if Stoke had fallen to UKIP.  The other consolation is that the slight strengthening of the government majority may make a snap general election prior to 2020 less likely. A working Tory majority of 16 is not a great situation to find ourselves in, and it offers only limited opportunities for the SNP to hold the balance of power on individual issues.  But it's a hell of a lot better than a majority of 200 - which is the sort of disaster we'd be looking at if there was an election any time soon.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Auntie Backwater?

Because the announcement of the new "BBC Scotland" channel was genuinely unexpected, I've been struggling to get my head around it and work out what I think.  First of all, I find it hard to understand why some past supporters of a Scottish Six are now saying that this new package is somehow superior.  (Those people are in the minority but they do exist.)  No matter what happens from here, we can very safely say that the audience for the "Scottish Nine" will be a tiny fraction of what the Scottish Six would have attracted.  The point of having this programme is not the sheer satisfaction of knowing that it exists - if it isn't watched, it's a complete waste of time.  So without a doubt, this is an inferior consolation prize.

Beyond that, all I really have are a series of questions -

1) Will there be some sort of token content on the channel during the hours of the day when it is not properly on air?  BBC Alba currently does that, and it's surely a necessary step in building up and retaining an audience.  If this is to be a genuinely part-time channel, it will suffer from an enormous handicap.

2) Is this channel being set up to fail?  In other words, will the BBC take direct responsibility for making sure people watch the channel by relentlessly promoting its content on BBC1, BBC2, BBC radio stations, and the BBC website?  Or will it be ignored, thus sealing its fate as a minority backwater channel, and allowing the BBC hierarchy to use its "failure" as proof that there is no demand for Scottish-produced news or drama?

3) Will the diversion of Scottish programming from BBC2 help to build prestige and credibility for the new channel, or will the reverse happen?  Will the audience figures for those programmes be allowed to tumble?

4) Will Pacific Quay embrace the channel as their flagship operation, or will they still regard scraps from the table on the network channels as being more important?

I'm sure there must be plenty of other questions, but those are the ones that immediately spring to mind.

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Westminster rocked as majority of Scottish public demands second independence referendum in earth-shaking Panelbase poll

As we've discussed on this blog a number of times, the recent Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times holds the world record for being more distorted more often by more people than any other poll in human history.  It showed that more than 49% of the public wanted a second independence referendum within a maximum of TWO YEARS, and yet it was somehow reported as showing that support for a referendum had "dropped to 27%".  Mercifully, for the new Panelbase poll commissioned by Wings, a new question format has been used, which will make such extreme misreporting somewhat harder (although I dare say not impossible).  There are now an equal number of pro-referendum and anti-referendum options offered - two on each side.  A total of 51.2% of respondents support a referendum taking place either before Britain leaves the EU, or afterwards.  A total of 48.8% of respondents either do not want a referendum to take place at any point, or think it should not happen for at least twenty years.

The observant among you will spot that this means there is a narrow majority in favour of holding another independence referendum within the foreseeable future - a finding that will prove rather problematic for unionist politicians and journalists the next time they say "the people of Scotland don't want a referendum, so get on with your day job".  It's also a reversal of the last Panelbase poll which found a razor-thin majority against an early referendum - although the change in format means that the two polls cannot be directly compared.  The previous wording was far from ideal, because it effectively forced anyone who didn't want a referendum within just two years to pick the anti-referendum option.

The most popular of the four individual options in the new poll is that there should be a referendum before Brexit occurs - a proposition supported by 32% of respondents.  On the face of it, that's an increase from the 27% of people in the previous poll who said they wanted a referendum before Brexit negotiations are concluded.  However, that poll specified (perhaps misleadingly) that this would entail a referendum within "one or two years", whereas the new poll doesn't.  That can probably explain much of the apparent increase, and just goes to show how susceptible people can be to little nudges from the question wording.  The misreporting of a "fall in support to 27%" a couple of weeks ago failed to take any account of the fact that the wording had just been changed from "two or three years" to "one or two years".

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The poll also found (unsurprisingly) that Flower of Scotland is the overwhelming choice for Scotland's national anthem, with Dougie MacLean's Caledonia in a distant second place.  However, this tune (Hey Tuttie Tatie, known in France as La Marche des Soldats de Robert Bruce) wasn't included as one of the options.  As we discussed a couple of years ago, in many ways it's our most natural anthem - it was supposedly played by the Scottish army prior to the Battle of Bannockburn, and also by the Scottish soldiers who fought for Joan of Arc at the Siege of OrlĂ©ans.  For centuries, it served as unofficial national anthem due to the words of Scots Wha Hae being set to a slower version.  As you can hear in the above link, the faster version is much more inspiring.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Pro-independence vote increases to 46.1% in perspicacious Panelbase poll

It turns out that I was wrong in my guesswork last night - when Panelbase said there was "no real change" in their latest independence poll, what they meant was that there was no change at all.  Actually, to be fair, there was a slight change of sorts - one of the many advantages to having a poll commissioned by Wings is that Stuart often publishes the datasets straight away (not exactly something that would happen in the Telegraph), and from that I can see that the unrounded Yes vote has in fact increased, by...well, by 0.5%.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 46.1% (+0.5)
No 53.9% (-0.5)

Before anyone jumps down my throat - no, of course a 0.5% swing is not remotely statistically significant, and yes, these results are firmly within Panelbase's normal range.  So this poll fails to corroborate the potentially more significant surge we saw in the BMG poll, and thus increases the likelihood that the pro-Yes swing in BMG was an illusion caused by normal sampling variation.  Nevertheless, it's not that long at all since the media were trying to convince anyone who would listen (on the basis of very little evidence) that the Yes vote was undoubtedly on a downward trajectory.  This poll, especially when taken in conjunction with BMG, inconveniently contradicts that narrative as well.

There's a belief in some quarters that recent referendums and elections have proved that supplementary questions sometimes give you a better idea of the state of the race than the headline voting intention question does.  For example, it can be argued that Ed Miliband's poor personal ratings, and Labour's poor ratings on economic competence, were the giveaway clues that the voting intention figures in the 2015 election were leading us astray.  So unionist critics would be wise not to be too dismissive of three more nuanced questions Stuart invited Panelbase to ask, tying the independence question to views on Europe, or to the potential for neverending Tory rule from Westminster.  Those are points that may well be at the forefront of voters' minds by the end of an indyref campaign, even if they aren't at the start.

There's a mixture of good news and bad news on those questions.  When a four-option question on constitutional preferences (indy inside EU, indy outside EU, no indy inside EU, or no indy outside EU) was first asked in July 2015, the two independence options were almost as popular (48.3%) as the two anti-independence alternatives (51.7%).  That gap has now widened to 44.4% for the pro-independence options and 55.6% for the anti-independence options - slightly worse than on the headline independence question.

But as Stuart points out, the four-option question is hopelessly outdated anyway, because the idea of Scotland remaining in the EU as part of the UK is no longer a runner (except in Lib Dem fantasies).  The more realistic three-option question does produce a majority for the two pro-independence options.  After Don't Knows are stripped out, 52.5% of respondents want an independent Scotland either inside or outside the EU, while only 47.5% want Scotland to remain part of a UK that has left the EU.  The snag, of course, is that for this narrow advantage to be pressed home at the next indyref, we'll need to convince all or most of the anti-EU independence supporters that it's still worth voting for independence even if that means remaining within the EU - either that or we'll have to bring across some pro-EU people who haven't seriously considered independence yet.  In reality, it'll probably need to be a blend of the two.

The question that invites people to assume that Labour will never again win a UK general election (not as fanciful an idea as we might have once thought) produces a small boost for Yes - with Don't Knows excluded, it narrows the race to Yes 47.1%, No 52.9%.  So it looks like perpetual Tory rule will not be a decisive argument in itself, but even the smallest of tractions is not to be sniffed at in a close contest like this one.  Stuart also notes that there are seemingly irrational movements within the subsamples for that question, which may cast doubt on whether some of the respondents really grasped what they were being asked.

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A Scot Goes Pop reader sent me the following email a few hours ago -

"Just to let you know I have just completed a Populus survey on independence. Lots of questions on the UK Gov rejecting a second ref."

Could be an innocent poll for the mainstream media, but then again Populus have been known to act as a private pollster for the Tories.  Are the UK government seriously trying to work out whether they might just get away with Michael Fallon's "forget it, Jocks" message?  Good luck to them if they are - they'll need it.

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Take your bully-boy tactics elsewhere, Mr Robertson

As you may have seen, I wrote a blogpost yesterday that criticised a columnist for joking that Donald Trump should be "kicked in the balls".  I defy anyone to read that post and say it was in any way "misogynistic" - and if anyone did say that, I would certainly defy them to justify that claim in any credible way.  I discovered a few weeks ago that some people seem to see "harassment" in their own shadows, but as I took great care not to even name the columnist in question, there is no conceivable way that the blogpost can be branded as harassment either.  (And given that I was making a generalised point about the trivialisation of violence against men, the identity of the columnist wasn't particularly important in any case.)

It was, in a nutshell, a legitimate blogpost making a legitimate point about a comment made in a public space.  People were free to disagree with the point I made, and to take issue with it as vociferously as they liked.  But there was absolutely no excuse for abusing me simply for having written the post.  

This was what I woke up to on Twitter this morning...







No, actually, I don't dish it out.  This was a totally unprovoked, highly abusive, bullying attempt to shut down a legitimate point of view.  I gather that Iain Robertson is a reasonably well-known actor (a Bafta winner, no less).  Frankly, he could be the Pope for all I care, because this sort of thing is just not on.  I want to take this opportunity yet again to make clear that I will not be intimidated into staying silent on certain topics.  It's just not going to happen.

I have no doubt that all of the usual suspects will once again pile in and attempt to pathologise my response to Mr Robertson in this blogpost as 'weird', 'self-indulgent', 'creepy', 'ego-centric', 'obsessive', 'unhinged', etc, etc, etc, but frankly, I have passed the point of caring.  I am not ashamed of standing up to bully-boy tactics when I encounter them, I am proud of doing so.  If these people implicitly endorse Mr Robertson's words by attempting to deligitimise my right to reply, that's a matter for their own consciences.

There was an extraordinary moment elsewhere in the exchange when Mr Robertson theatrically produced a photo of the 1930s fascist leader Oswald Mosley being punched to the ground, and challenged me to say I had a problem with it - the implication being that any decent, right-thinking person would celebrate this particular form of political violence.  My response was that if someone had punched Mosley in direct self-defence, that would be fine, but if it wasn't self-defence, why would anyone applaud it?  This was Mr Robertson's retort-


Once again, I feel no sense of shame in saying that I am simply not that sort of person.  I abhor violence unless there is no way that it can be avoided.  I abhor the celebration of violence in all circumstances. That's one reason why just about my most fundamental political belief is opposition to the death penalty - a topic I've written about on this blog many, many times.

I must say, though, that it has been a genuine eye-opener for me over the last 24 hours to discover just how many supposedly progressive people are in favour of unprovoked political violence in the 'right' circumstances.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's vapourisation for doomed Dugdale after devastating Panelbase poll

Someone said to me a couple of weeks ago that I'd be kept busy as May approaches, because of a flurry of opinion polls for the local elections.  I had to explain that dedicated polls for local elections are very rarely published, and that I wouldn't be surprised if there were none at all.  So well done to Stuart Campbell for proving me wrong as early as Valentine's Day by commissioning a Panelbase/Wings local election poll.  What leaps out straight away is that there's precious little difference between Westminster voting intention and local council voting intention - the figures are almost identical to Panelbase's recent Westminster poll, apart from the fact that the Greens and UKIP are both doing a bit better.

Panelbase poll of local council voting intentions (percentage changes are from last local elections in May 2012) :

SNP 47% (+15)
Conservatives 26% (+13)
Labour 14% (-17)
Liberal Democrats 5% (-2)
Greens 4% (+2)
UKIP 3% (+3)

Now you're probably thinking that those percentage changes don't make a great deal of intuitive sense - both the SNP and the Tories seem to be making a lot of their gains out of thin air.  The explanation, of course, is that many of the people who say they plan to vote SNP or Tory voted for an independent candidate in 2012, and whatever they may currently believe or tell a pollster, a lot of them will do exactly the same thing again this time.  I would very confidently predict that the SNP will fall short of 47% in the popular vote, and I would also predict with a reasonable amount of confidence that the Tories will fall short of 26%. Essentially people weren't thinking properly about the question they were actually asked, and were giving a 'parliamentary' answer instead.

The good news for Labour is that they suffer less than the other parties from competition with independent candidates, because their strength (such as it is) is to be found mainly in urban areas.  So this poll may not be overstating their true position.  The bad news is that 14% is an absolutely desperate position.  Their vote has seemingly more than halved in the last five years, and even assuming they pick up a reasonable amount of transfers from people who give their first preference votes to the Tories, there surely isn't a cat in hell's chance that they're going to retain majority control of any council at all.

Incidentally, Panelbase are blazing a trail with this poll - as far as I'm aware, this is the first Scottish poll from any firm to put people born in other EU countries into their own distinct category, and presumably weight them separately.  As it turns out, they didn't need to be either upweighted or downweighted significantly in this particular poll, and even if an adjustment had been required, it wouldn't have had much impact on the party political numbers.  But this innovation should lead to greater accuracy in future independence polls - because we know anecdotally that there has been a particularly strong swing to Yes among EU citizens.  Hopefully other polling firms will now follow Panelbase's good practice.

UPDATE : I've just caught up with Stuart Campbell's tweet from 24 hours ago, which implies the poll also asked an independence question that has yet to be released.  Panelbase have apparently said it shows "no real change" in public opinion - that's measured from a 46% Yes vote in the last poll from the firm.  I'll indulge in some wild speculation here and suggest that this probably means there has been a 1% or 2% change since the last poll, and that a small increase in the Yes vote is more likely than a small decrease.  (My reasoning is that a small decrease would take Yes to 45% or 44%, and as that would be unusually low by post-indyref standards, I doubt if that would be casually dismissed as "no real change".)

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No, it's not OK to joke about inflicting violence on Donald Trump. Even Donald Trump.

I've no wish to reignite a dormant feud, but I feel very strongly about this so I'm going to say it anyway.  Last night, a certain radical left columnist said on Twitter that if Donald Trump ever offered Nicola Sturgeon the same "weirdo handshake" he offered Justin Trudeau, she should "kick him in the balls".  Now, clearly that was intended as a whimsical joke, and judging from the response a large number of people found it extremely funny.  But I would just ask you to ponder what the reaction would have been (not least from the self-same columnist) if Hillary Clinton had won the election, and a male Twitter user had then made a joke about a male politician inflicting physical violence upon the female President of the United States.  For a clue as to how things might have played out, we don't need to look much further than the strong condemnation of Owen Smith for his "smash Theresa May back on her heels" boast.  For some reason, the instinctive reaction to a metaphor about male-on-female violence is outrage, and the instinctive reaction to a joke about female-on-male violence is amusement and merriment.

That sort of joke trivialises violence against men.  If you trivialise something, you legitimise it.  If you legitimise something, you ultimately make it more likely to happen in the real world.  Is that OK?  No, it's not OK.  Domestic violence against men, for example, is a significant social problem, not least because men find it hard to come forward about what has happened to them, and fear that they will not be taken remotely seriously if they do.  The apparent acceptability of a thoughtless crack about a woman kicking a man "in the balls" goes a long way towards explaining why that is the case.

There endeth the lesson.

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Labour nearly slump to single figures in latest Scottish subsample from ComRes

I wouldn't normally post about an individual Scottish subsample from a Britain-wide poll (although I used to do that circa 2009), but it's probably worth making an exception for one from ComRes that Stuart Dickson has alerted me to.  It has Scottish Labour down to just 10% of the vote.  Obviously that's an underestimate caused by the inherent unreliability of subsamples, but I would imagine it's almost certainly an all-time low.

SNP 56%
Conservatives 22%
Labour 10%
Liberal Democrats 7%
UKIP 4%
Greens 2%

More realistically, Labour are in the mid-to-high teens.  But it's important to recognise that their position has significantly worsened even since the shock of being overtaken in terms of seats by the Tories at last May's Holyrood election.  They actually outpolled the Tories on the constituency ballot in that election - a feat that would be almost unthinkable now, a mere nine months later.  For better or for worse (and there are obvious reasons for thinking it may be bad for the forces of unionism), the Tories have well and truly cemented their status as the main opposition to the SNP.

Elsewhere in the poll, there is the customary sharp divergence between Scottish and British public opinion on a number of topics.  Inexplicably, Theresa May is still enjoying something of a honeymoon period south of the border, and has a +9 net satisfaction rating across Britain as a whole.  In Scotland she has a negative rating of -13.  As you'd expect after the extraordinary revelations that he tried to win a knighthood by making an anti-independence statement in 2014, David Beckham is now considerably less popular in Scotland (+2) than across Britain (+14).

Astonishingly, though, a plurality in both Britain and Scotland believe in the fairy-tale that the British economy will perform more strongly after Article 50 is triggered.  Maybe they think it will put an end to a period of uncertainty - if so, they're self-evidently wrong, but it's the only way I can make much sense of those figures.

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Bombshell on BBC bias : BMG poll reveals that less than a quarter of the Scottish public actively reject suggestions of BBC bias against independence

As you may have seen overnight, it turns out that the BMG/Herald poll also asked a question about BBC bias against independence.  Because the poll was not commissioned by a pro-independence client, it's going to be hard for the corporation to dismiss the results out of hand.  36% of respondents agreed with the statement that "the BBC tends to report news that is biased against the cause of Scottish independence", and only 23% disagreed, with the remainder (41%) apparently saying they neither agreed nor disagreed. The datasets haven't been released yet (and as it's the weekend we'll probably have to wait at least a couple of days), but the Herald article reveals that belief in BBC bias is heavily concentrated among people who voted Yes, and to a lesser extent among the young - presumably because there's a fair amount of overlap between those two groups.

If you'd told me a poll on this subject was coming, I think I would have been able to predict that a third or more of people think the BBC is biased. The real shock, and what should genuinely alarm the corporation's bosses, is the fact that less than a quarter of respondents actively dismissed the notion of bias. Judging by the affected incredulity the BBC adopted when brushing off the accusations of one-sidedness in 2014, this is an institution that has remained fairly relaxed about the loyalty of its 'natural constituency' - ie. the people who are supposed to reflexively dismiss any notion that the BBC isn't scrupulously fair and impartial as the ravings of brainwashed lunatics. You can see from the reaction of opposition parties in the Herald piece ("celebrate the BBC!" demands Willie Rennie) that they also still believe that the impulse to defend the BBC to the death is alive and well among Scotland's silent majority - but this poll suggests they're wrong. Even without seeing the datasets, basic arithmetic will tell you that more than half of No voters presumably declined to actively reject the suggestion of bias.

And in all honesty, that's hardly surprising, given that No voters saw the same BBC coverage as the rest of us during the crucial penultimate week of the 2014 campaign. BBC news at network level seemed to have been sleepwalking through the campaign until the YouGov poll putting Yes ahead was published on the penultimate Saturday night. Lorry-loads of London journalists then suddenly descended upon Glasgow and Edinburgh, and having had no experience of covering the issue, they imagined they were somehow being impartial by putting out wall-to-wall coverage of "warnings of economic Armageddon if Scotland becomes independent" stories, just so long as they always gave the Yes campaign a defensive right of reply to the "warnings". After a week of this unmitigated hysteria, they finally seemed to take a step back and put their house in order to a limited extent, but by that time the damage was largely done - both to the Yes campaign, and ironically, to the BBC's own reputation in Scotland.

They say that the first step towards solving a problem is to recognise that it exists. Donalda MacKinnon has gone further down that road than anyone before her, but she still seemed to be saying that the problem was that people believed the BBC was biased, rather than that bias existed. It can only be hoped that there's considerably more self-awareness in private than there is in the BBC's public pronouncements.

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