Friday, December 2, 2016
It was widely noted that, technically, it was next to impossible to guarantee either the permanence of the parliament or the inviolability of the Sewel Convention, because the sovereignty of the Westminster parliament means that any constitutional law can simply be repealed later on. Nevertheless, the UK government insisted that the Scotland Act 2016 provided as much assurance as was humanly possible to give within the UK constitutional framework.
A number of us were a tad sceptical about that, and couldn't help wondering whether the use of weird and seemingly redundant wording within the legislation such as "it is recognised that" and "the UK Parliament will not normally legislate without consent" were deliberately intended to be self-sabotaging, and to render the whole thing unenforceable. Not at all, we were told. That was just paranoia. Yet more SNP grudge and grievance.
Hmmm. As it turns out, all it's taken is eight months since the Scotland Act passed into law, and the UK government are already openly admitting that we were correct in each and every respect about the cynical game they were playing. So desperate are they now to head off the risk of the Supreme Court granting the Scottish Parliament the kind of say over the Brexit negotiations that might actually befit "the most powerful devolved parliament in the world" (ahem), they've dropped all the former pretence, and have submitted a legal argument that explicitly argues that the wording of the relevant section of the Scotland Act deprives it of all credibility.
"The legal irrelevance of the Sewel convention is expressly accepted"
"the convention does not purport to prescribe an absolute rule. Its content is only that “Westminster would not normally legislate” (emphasis added). Whether circumstances are ‘normal’ is a quintessential matter of political judgment for the Westminster Parliament and not the courts. There are no judicial standards by which to measure such a question..."
"Nothing in that analysis is affected by the amendment of s. 28 of the Scotland Act 1998 (by s. 2 of the Scotland Act 2016) to include: “(8) But it is recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament”. All s. 28(8) does is to recognise the terms of the political convention in legislation. That does not render the application of it in any particular instance a justiciable matter for the courts. It is trite that legislation may include provisions which do not give rise to justiciable legal issues. The content of s. 28(8) is the same as that of the convention, save that its purely political nature is further emphasised by (a) the opening wording that it is “recognised”, and (b) its placement immediately after s. 28(7) which affirms the unconstrained legislative competence of the Westminster Parliament."
In plain language, this is a boast that the supposed placing of the Sewel Convention on a statutory footing was a con-trick. Further, it's an invitation to the Supreme Court to confirm that the deception was pulled off successfully. That whole section of the Scotland Act, we're being told, was the equivalent of a pretty illustration in a textbook - ie. for decorative effect only. At best, it was like forgoing a marriage certificate in favour of a small tattoo saying "Jenny and Kevin 4eva".
The eccentric notion that the government which crafted the law, and not the courts, should get to decide how to interpret the meaning of the word "normally" reminds me a touch of the Führerprinzip in Nazi Germany (ie. the government's word is above the written law), or the right of the communist Chinese National People's Congress to interpret the Hong Kong Basic Law. The rule of law in democratic countries does generally rest on a basic separation of powers - the political legislature passes the law, and then the non-political courts interpret and enforce it. That is the only way of ensuring non-arbitrary application of the law. Apparently, Westminster's exercise of overlordship in Scotland is exempt from that general principle.
The UK government's lawyers could have saved themselves a lot of time by submitting a legal argument that simply read : "OUR CONTEMPT FOR THE PEOPLE OF SCOTLAND IS ABSOLUTE. WE LIED, WE CHEATED, AND WE NO LONGER CARE WHO KNOWS ABOUT IT. SUCK IT UP, JOCKS."
Thursday, December 1, 2016
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
"Engrossing" YouGov poll finds that Scotland is behind Sturgeon's drive to remain in the EU after the UK leaves - and understands this will require independence
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Arbroath East and Lunan by-election result, 28th November 2016 :
SNP 35.0% (-8.8)
Conservatives 27.0% (+12.2)
Independent - Speed 17.2% (n/a)
Independent - Smith 11.8% (n/a)
Labour 6.7% (-6.0)
Liberal Democrats 2.3% (-0.6)
At first glance, that looks like a routine SNP hold on a reduced majority - but as is so often the case with STV by-elections, it's not that simple. The vacancy was caused by the resignation of an independent councillor - so it's technically an SNP gain from independent, even though the independent was 18% behind the SNP in the popular vote in the ward last time around. According to the 'Mike Smithson Doctrine', which ludicrously takes no account whatever of the previous result in the ward, this is therefore a result of unalloyed wonderfulness for the SNP (which is probably why Smithson hasn't mentioned it).
Back in the real world, there has been a significant swing from SNP to Tory, which very much follows the pattern of realignment we've been seeing recently - with Yes-voting ex-Labour supporters in west-central Scotland moving en masse to the SNP, and to a lesser extent No-voting ex-SNP supporters in the north-east moving to the Tories. In a proportional representation election, that swap will always work out quite well for the SNP, but it could potentially lose them a few seats in the next first-past-the-post Westminster contest. In retrospect, it seems a minor miracle that the post-indyref swing to the Tories in their former heartlands was delayed long enough for the SNP to clean up quite so comprehensively in last year's general election.
As the SNP candidate was elected on the sixth count, we're able to see where the various transfers went. It's refreshing to discover that Scottish Labour's love affair with the Tories isn't shared by a majority of their own voters in Arbroath - 31 Labour transfers went to the SNP, and only 18 to the Tories.
Monday, November 28, 2016
We interrupt your normal programming with a special message for our resident troll, who had this to say earlier -
"Not even a mention of Fidel on this fash right wing Nat si blog."
Consider Fidel mentioned by this commie left-wing anti-YoonYoon-sis blog.
Actually, the serious answer is that the record of Castro and Cuban communism is a mixed one. There have been appalling human rights violations, and Cuba is now basically the only outright dictatorship in the American hemisphere - but there have also been extraordinary gains in health care and literacy. Which side of the coin matters more? They both matter.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
As GA Ponsonby wittily put it a couple of hours ago -
"The social media relationship between James Kelly and Stuart Campbell has broken down. Yet another reason for Humza to resign quite frankly."
Yes, it's true - after God knows how many years of following each other on Twitter and having a very amicable relationship, Stuart Campbell of Wings Over Scotland abruptly blocked me today. He had become increasingly angry after I challenged his claims that the opinion polls in the US presidential election were not especially inaccurate, and he eventually told me in trademark fashion to "f*** off". I have to say I find this a very sad development - over the years, I've backed him to the hilt over the totally unfounded allegations of misogyny and other assorted forms of bigotry, and to be fair he's also stood up for me on a number of occasions. But throughout my near-decade of writing this blog, I've always felt very strongly that it's important never to let the 'patronage' of a leading blogger deter me in any way from pointing out when I think that person has got something wrong. I did it with Mike Small in January. I've actually done it a few times with Stuart before (for example in a debate about the morality of the Hiroshima bombing), and he has always previously reacted in a very constructive and mature way. For some reason I simply don't understand, today was different.
I wasn't planning to make any further comment on the exchange, but the nature of having a dispute with someone who has several times as many followers as you do is that some of those people pile in after the event, demanding that you answer certain points. So, free of the 140-character restraint on Twitter, here is my response.
One thing I've felt about Stuart for quite some time is that he fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the standard 3% margin of error in public opinion polls. I seem to recall that after last year's polling disaster at the UK general election, he argued that the polls hadn't really failed, because they averaged out at a level-pegging race, which was more or less within the margin of error of the commanding 7% Tory lead we ended up with. But that simply isn't how it's supposed to work. The margin of error takes account of one type of error, and one type only - namely error caused by random sampling variation. It assumes that everything else - demographic targets, weighting, etc - will be absolutely bang-on correct. What that means in practical terms is that, although small errors in individual polls will always be commonplace, they should be distributed in a fairly random way. If, for example, the polls had been correct to within the margin of error at the general election (leaving aside the complicating factor of a possible late swing), we might have seen a pattern in the final polls along the following lines...
Poll 1 : Tory lead of 5%
Poll 2 : Tory lead of 11%
Poll 3 : Tory lead of 5%
Poll 4 : Tory lead of 7%
Poll 5 : Tory lead of 6%
Poll 6 : Tory lead of 8%
Poll 7 : Tory lead of 3%
Poll 8 : Tory lead of 8%
Poll 9 : Tory lead of 6%
Poll 10 : Tory lead of 5%
In that hypothetical example, six out of ten polls underestimate the Tory lead, three overestimate it, and just one is absolutely correct. That's the sort of thing that can easily happen by random chance. But what you're NOT seeing there is every single poll underestimating the Tories, and almost all of them doing it by an amount that is either at the extreme end of the margin of error, or that exceeds the margin of error. According to Wikipedia, and excluding a Survation poll that conveniently only appeared after the election result was already known, these were the actual last ten polls of the 2015 campaign -
Populus : Tied race
SurveyMonkey : Tory lead of 6%
Ashcroft : Tied race
Ipsos-Mori : Tory lead of 1%
YouGov : Tied race
ComRes : Tory lead of 1%
Survation : Tied race
ICM : Labour lead of 1%
ICM : Tied race
Panelbase : Labour lead of 2%
Not only did all of those polls underestimate the Tory lead, but the majority of them did so by slightly more than the margin of error. That is not the sort of pattern that is remotely likely to occur by random chance - which tells us that the error wasn't primarily caused by the sampling variation allowed for by the margin of error, and that significant methodological mistakes were probably to blame. (Again, that conclusion leaves aside the possibility of late swing, but it's probably correct to do so, given that YouGov's on-the-day poll was wildly inaccurate.)
What Stuart would say, and what he effectively did say eighteen months ago, is that because on average the final polls 'only' underestimated the Tory lead by around six or seven points, they were basically accurate to within the margin of error (ie. with Labour overestimated by around 3% and the Tories underestimated by around 3%). That just doesn't stack up. The 3% margin of error only applies to each individual poll. Random statistical noise should to a decent extent balance itself out over a large batch of polls, leaving you with a much smaller error. In my hypothetical example above, the polling average underestimates the Tory lead by only 1% after rounding, which is much more typical of what you'd expect if the polls were essentially 'right'.
In my exchange with Stuart today, I was only really interested in disputing his points about margin of error, but he tried to sidetrack me into discussing other factors - in particular that polls are snapshots not predictions, and that the US presidential election is not decided by the national popular vote. Technically, those are reasonable points to make, but when you put them together to try to construct a case that the polls didn't really get it wrong, you do start to get into the realms of the fantastical. According to the final polls, Hillary Clinton had a national lead of around 4% going into election day. It is simply not credible to claim that Trump could have won the election if that had actually been the result. In any case, the possibility of a freak outcome in the electoral college is precisely what the state polls are there to warn us about - and they were even more inaccurate than the national polls!
As far as very late swing is concerned, yes, that can happen, but it won't generally be on an enormous scale, and it should show up in the exit polls (the only polls that are genuinely predictions, rather than shapshots of opinion). As you can see HERE, the exit polls pointed to a clear Clinton victory in the electoral college. In the vast majority of states polled, Trump was underestimated. In almost half of the states, he was underestimated by a greater amount than the margin of error could - even theoretically - explain.
No matter how big the error, it's always possible to attempt to cobble together some kind of tenuous narrative that gives the polling firms a free pass. If a 40% Labour lead vanishes into thin air on polling day, you can argue that 20% of voters may have changed their minds at the very last second. But in the real world, there comes a point where you have to accept that the emperor has no clothes, and that the polls were just plain wrong. They were wrong on Netanyahu, they were wrong on Cameron, they were wrong on Brexit, and they were wrong on Trump. As I acknowledged the other week, everything is relative, and I would still pay much more heed to polls than to other so-called 'predictors' such as betting and financial markets. But as of this moment, polls are plainly nowhere near as reliable as they are supposed to be.
Friday, November 18, 2016
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Friday, November 11, 2016
Just a quick note to let you know that myself and Paul Kavanagh (of Wee Ginger Dug fame) are the guests on the latest edition of the Newsnet podcast, hosted as always by Derek Bateman. Topics under discussion this week include...well, DONALD TRUMP, basically, although we do also touch on the progression of Brexit, and a possible timescale for the second independence referendum. You can listen to the podcast HERE.
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
I don't think what has just happened can be fairly compared to Brexit. The prospect of losing European citizenship is thoroughly dismaying, but it doesn't scare me in the way that President-elect Trump does. He properly terrifies me.
I'm trying very hard to convince myself that it's not going to be so bad, and that life will go on after January. I do draw some comfort from Craig Murray's assessment that Trump will be more of a peacemaker than Clinton would have been. As you know, my own instinct is that the opposite is true, simply because Trump is such an unstable character. In particular, I can't help thinking back to how he went from describing Alex Salmond as "an amazing man" to branding him as "Mad Alex" within a dizzyingly short period of time. If his opinion of Putin were to change equally dramatically, the potential consequences for the world hardly bear thinking about. But it's reassuring to know that at least some people have confidence that Trump will deliver what he promised about avoiding military adventurism, and we'll just have to hope they're proved correct.
If Trump can somehow avoid destroying the world, perhaps a little good may yet come out of all this, and some long-cherished goals of the left might be achieved almost by accident. The inevitable loss of respect for America's leadership role, and the question marks that will now hang over NATO's future, might lead to the birth of a more multi-polar global order, which would be no bad thing.
As for John "The Gardener" McTernan, the extraordinary run of defeats he's helped to mastermind goes on - Gordon Brown, Julia Gillard, Jim Murphy, Owen Smith, and now the biggest casualty of all in Hillary Clinton. It's little wonder that the media continue to worship at his altar, because there can't be a "political strategist" anywhere else on this planet who can boast a record quite like that.