Saturday, April 22, 2017

SNP lead the Tories by 15% in first full-scale poll of the campaign

The first word on Scottish voting intentions for the general election comes tonight from Survation...

Westminster voting intentions (Survation poll) :

SNP 43.1%
Conservatives 27.9%
Labour 17.8%
Liberal Democrats 8.8%

A Panelbase poll will apparently shortly reveal a similar picture, but with the Tories on 30% or above.  I don't think there's any great surprise that there has been a boost for the Tories since the election was called - that's happened across the UK, and we're not immune to UK-wide trends.  However, it's startling that Survation seem to be suggesting that the Tories have taken support from the SNP rather than Labour.

Believe it or not, there is an important upside to this - we'll now see an enormous amount of hype about the prospect of the Tories winning ten or more seats, which will turn the expectations game on its head.  If the Tory surge recedes (sudden surges often have a habit of receding) and if the SNP end up with 50+ seats, that will now look like the spectacular triumph that it is, rather than a slight disappointment.

UPDATE : The Panelbase numbers have finally been revealed, although we've had a fair idea of what was coming for a couple of hours...

Westminster voting intentions (Panelbase poll) :

SNP 44%
Conservatives 33%
Labour 13%
Liberal Democrats 5%

The good news here is that, contrary to the expectations that had been building up as the night wore on, the SNP share of the vote is actually holding up fractionally better in the Panelbase poll than in the Survation poll, meaning that at least some of this much larger Tory surge has come from Labour. The combined vote for the three main unionist parties is just 51%, compared to 54.5% in Survation. The bad news obviously is that the SNP lead is "only" 11%, but with Survation showing something much less dramatic, we can't rule out the possibility that the Panelbase poll will eventually be looked back on as an extreme outlier that led us completely astray.

I've tended to assume that Labour will probably hold their sole seat due to tactical voting, but there comes a point where their national vote share is so low that all bets are off.  Panelbase have them a full 10% lower than they managed even in the Holyrood constituency ballot last year.

There's also no consensus between Panelbase and Survation on how the Lib Dems are faring - the difference between 5% and 9% could be truly mammoth in terms of the party's hopes of picking up a few seats.

So far I haven't been able to find the Green share of the vote from either poll, and that number will be very significant - the Greens won't be standing in every constituency, so a lot of their vote in the other seats (not all of it by any means) could in reality be heading to the SNP.

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Although I think there is a very good chance that the Scottish Tory surge is built on sand and will recede as polling day approaches, we mustn't forget that there's another polling day less than two weeks away, and I'm far less convinced that the surge will have receded by then.  In the light of tonight's polls, I cannot stress enough how vitally important it is that as many SNP supporters as possible use all or most of their preferences in the local elections to make sure that other parties and independents are ranked ahead of the Tories.  It's inevitable that there's going to be a significant increase in the number of Tory councillors, but we can minimise that increase by using our lower preferences, and we can do it at no risk at all to the SNP.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Introducing the Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls for the general election

Just for the sheer hell of it, we might as well have a Poll of Polls for Scottish voting intentions at the general election. I was going to check which methodology I used last time around...and then I realised I knew exactly which methodology I used, because the last general election was only about fifteen seconds ago.

As before, Scottish subsamples of GB-wide polls will be taken into account, because they often represent the only up-to-date information we have.  That's obviously unsatisfactory because the figures are not properly weighted, but an average of several subsamples shouldn't lead us quite as wildly astray as an individual subsample might.  Whenever a full-scale Scottish poll comes along, that will be given ten times the weight of a subsample.  At the moment all we have from the last week are three subsamples (two from ICM and one from YouGov), so the following figures should be treated with great caution...

SNP 44.3%
Conservatives 24.3%
Labour 16.0%
Greens 7.0%
Liberal Democrats 6.3%
UKIP 1.7%

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I have a new article at the TalkRadio website arguing that the election could be an opportunity in disguise for Jeremy Corbyn, and a risk in disguise for Ruth Davidson.  That's not a prediction of how I think things will play out, but just a reminder that the outcome of this campaign is not yet set in stone.  You can read the article HERE.

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Kezia Dugdale describing the Labour party as a "progressive alliance" reminded me of Voltaire's joke about the Holy Roman Empire - "it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire".

Your STV questions answered

Over the last few days, I've received a number of emails asking for clarification on various aspects of the Single Transferable Vote system that will be used to elect councillors on 4th May.  Apologies that I haven't been able to respond to everyone individually, but it probably makes more sense to answer a few of the questions in a public post anyway.

* First of all, someone contacted the Edinburgh Election office to ask whether he should or shouldn't rank certain candidates if he doesn't want any portion of his vote to be transferred to them.  I'm not quite sure what the question was getting at, because having your vote transferred is basically a good thing rather than a bad thing.  Even if you genuinely think three or four candidates are all equally awful, ensuring that your vote doesn't transfer to any of them is a neutral thing rather than a good thing, because by that point they will be the only candidates left in contention for one (or more) seats, meaning that one (or more) of them will still be elected.  The only effect of your non-transferred vote will be to deprive you of any influence over which one is successful.

However, I'm delighted to report that the Edinburgh Election office gave a scrupulously accurate answer (which is rather refreshing giving the amount of misinformation being pumped out by people and organisations that should know better).  They correctly indicated that no part of your vote can be transferred if you haven't given a ranking to any of the candidates remaining in contention for the seats yet to be filled.  Why you would want to prevent your vote being transferred is a bit of a mystery, but for what it's worth that's the definitive answer to the question posed.

* A number of people seem to be deeply troubled by the idea that even if they rank a Tory candidate last (by which I mean absolute last without leaving any preferences blank), part of their vote could technically transfer to the Tory at the end of the counting process.  That's true, but the operative word is "technically" - it really is a complete irrelevance.  If your vote ever reaches the point of being nominally transferred to your bottom-ranked candidate, that means by definition that the candidate in question has effectively already been elected, because all of the other candidates in contention for the last seat in the ward have been eliminated.  The final transfer of votes is just a meaningless formality, and it doesn't in any way affect the popular vote totals reported in the media, which will be based on first preference votes only.  If it bothers you, rank all but one of the candidates rather than all of them - that will allow you to maintain your purity without making any difference to the final seat allocation.  But seriously, don't worry about it - if you use all of your preferences and rank a candidate absolute last, you are emphatically voting against them, and maximising the chances that they will not be elected.

* Someone asked me if it might be a good idea to trawl through actual results from the recent Northern Ireland Assembly election, conducted under STV, to give concrete examples where the DUP only won a seat because nationalist voters didn't use enough of their lower preferences.  At this point, I'll just have to say that life is too short - but I don't have the slightest doubt that such examples exist.  Even in Northern Ireland where this system is so much better understood than it is here, there are many, many voters from both sides of the sectarian divide who do not bother using their lower preferences.  If one community was significantly more likely to use lower preferences than the other, they would gain a telling advantage in the final seat numbers.

* This isn't strictly speaking a reader's question, but I really do need to say something about the dangerous misinformation that has been put out on a certain SNP Facebook page.  Whoever runs that page is using the veneer of authority to mislead people into thinking that giving a lower preference to an independent or unionist candidate can somehow help that candidate overtake an SNP candidate you have ranked higher.  If you've read that claim, IGNORE IT.  It is totally without foundation.  If there are two SNP candidates in your ward, and you rank them 1 and 2, then none of your preferences from 3 onwards will EVEN BE LOOKED AT until and unless both SNP candidates have been either elected or eliminated.  Ask yourself this very simple question : how can a lower preference possibly help a unionist overtake an SNP candidate who has already been elected or eliminated?  It can't.  It's physically impossible.

If you only rank the SNP candidates, then all you are doing is abstaining in contests for seats that the SNP are no longer in the running for.  You might, for example, be abstaining in a straight fight between the Tories and the Greens for the final seat in the ward.  How does that help?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tyrannical Theresa is snapping Scotland out of it

A second 'quick note' of the day, this time to let you know that I have a new article at the International Business Times, about the breathtaking arrogance that Theresa May has displayed over the last 24 hours - refusing to take part in TV debates, peddling fantasies about the UK being "united" behind her, and imagining that she can just wave away the laughable contradictions in her own statements.  You can read the article HERE.

Fate of the 56

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article in The National, about the prospects for the Scottish parties in the June general election.  You can read it HERE.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Radio interview on independence

As I mentioned earlier, I took part in a discussion on independence this afternoon on the London-based radio station Voice of Islam.  Naturally the subject of Theresa May's decision to call a snap general election also came up.  The programme is now available as a podcast HERE, if you fancy a listen.  The interview with me starts at around 12 minutes, and the discussion carries on afterwards with several other guests.

Snap!

Apologies for not having posted anything about the snap election yet - I've had a few things on today, including a live interview on the London-based radio station Voice of Islam.  It had been pre-scheduled for a few days, so just by chance I found myself talking about a wider range of subjects than expected!

Here are a few quick thoughts -

* Theresa May has helpfully resolved any lingering doubts in SNP ranks over whether it might have been a good idea to hold a snap Holyrood election with the specific purpose of obtaining an even more emphatic mandate for an independence referendum (as opposed to doing it to obtain an outright mandate for independence).  We now have our snap election without Nicola Sturgeon even taking the hit for dragging people to the polls needlessly.  Presumably the SNP will continue to forcefully make the point that the mandate for an indyref is already there, but they'll get to have it both ways by putting another explicit commitment in their Westminster manifesto, which in all likelihood will be endorsed by another convincing majority in terms of seats.

* It's probable that the SNP will shed at least a few seats.  They hit a 'sweet spot' in 2015 when the unionist vote was split in a particularly favourable way, but that's no longer the case.  Limited losses to the Tories (and perhaps to the Lib Dems) are to be expected, so it's important that we don't allow the narrative of what the SNP "need to do" to run away with itself.  Even 38 seats out of 59 would be an emphatic victory...but it'll hopefully be a lot better than that.

* Jeremy Corbyn's days as Labour leader are almost certainly drawing to a premature close, but it's also highly probable that he will now lead his party into a general election, and will not share the fate of Iain Duncan Smith, who didn't even get the chance to make his case to the electorate.  It'll be genuinely fascinating to see how he gets on, and also to discover whether the diehard Labour rebels will be able to put their egos aside in the interests of saving the party.  Ah hae ma doots.

* The loss of Corbyn may be the biggest negative outcome of this election for the pro-independence movement.  It's hard to see how any new Labour leader could be any less popular than Corbyn, although we certainly shouldn't exclude the possibility that Labour will choose the wrong successor.  Some of the names that are being bandied about do not exactly inspire a huge amount of confidence.

Don't let people con you into thinking that using your lower preferences in the local elections is the same thing as vote-splitting in a Holyrood election

I've been dipping into some of the discussion on Facebook about whether voters should use their lower rankings in the local elections, and I have to say it's thoroughly depressing to see so many people (including some who really should know better) trot out a silly red herring about the use of lower preferences supposedly being similar to vote-splitting in the Holyrood election.  The implication is that voters who rank parties other than the SNP are making the same mistake that cost Nicola Sturgeon an overall majority last year.

Let me point something out.  Long-term readers of this blog will not need me to remind them that both myself and Morag Kerr (aka Rolfe) spent an inordinate amount of time last year warning SNP supporters that they were taking a terrible risk if they split their Holyrood vote.  I don't know about Morag, but I took a fair bit of nasty personal abuse for doing that from people associated with the Greens and RISE.  And yet both of us have spent almost as much time over the last few weeks urging SNP supporters to use all or most of their preferences at the local elections.  We haven't had a Damascene conversion, or changed our minds in the slightest - we've simply noticed that the local election voting system is completely different from the Holyrood voting system, and works in a completely different way.

The difference can be explained very simply.  Any SNP supporter who split their Holyrood vote last year by voting SNP on the constituency ballot and Green/RISE/Solidarity on the list ballot was actively voting against the SNP on the list.  There was always a chance that it was going to cost the SNP a list seat.  Those 'tactical voters' may have convinced themselves the risk was minimal and justified, or they may have been hoodwinked into wrongly thinking there was no risk at all, but in the real world there was always a possibility that the SNP were going to be harmed.  By contrast, anyone who uses their highest preferences in the local elections on the SNP's candidates, and then uses their next-highest preference on the Greens, or on Solidarity, or on the Scottish Socialist Party, is not voting against the SNP.  That lower preference will not even be taken into account until and unless all of the SNP candidates have been either elected or eliminated.

There is no risk.  People are being scared by imaginary monsters - and the daft thing is that the people doing the scaring have nothing to gain from it, and everything to lose.  They're just caught in a mindset that isn't appropriate for this particular voting system, and they can't seem to break out of it.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A guide to the local election voting system

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article in The National, about the Single Transferable Vote system that will be used to elect our local councils next month, and in particular about why it's so important for pro-independence voters to rank all or most of the candidates in their ward.  You can read the article HERE.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Local Election Misinformation

I'm getting to the point where I almost despair of our chances of clearing up the misunderstandings about how the STV voting system works in time for polling day on 4th May, because people are so wedded to what intuitively (but wrongly) seems 'obvious'.  This morning, I posted a link on Facebook to my blogpost about how I planned to rank the eight candidates in my own ward, and within no time at all several indignant comments had been posted telling me that I was wrong to use my lower preferences on the unionist candidates.  Apparently if we all just leave the unionist boxes blank, we'll help to "drive the unionist parties out of our councils" and prevent unionist councillors getting in "via the back door".

Now, listen.  There is no requirement to rank all or most of the candidates, and in some circumstances (if you're lucky) you may not cause much harm if you decide not to do so.  But if you think you are doing any actual good by leaving several boxes blank, you're deluding yourself.  A pro-indy vote is not somehow more "emphatic" if you don't rank the unionists.

As long as you make sure that you rank every single pro-indy and non-unionist candidate ahead of every single unionist candidate, your preferences for the unionist parties will only be taken into account in one very specific circumstance - namely when only unionist candidates are left in contention for a particular seat.  If a seat has to be filled, and only unionist candidates are in the running for it, how do you think you're going to stop a unionist from being elected by effectively abstaining?  You can't - it's physically impossible.  But what you can do is influence the outcome, and and help prevent the most objectionable unionist candidate from winning.  It's possible you genuinely may not have any view at all on which unionist party is the most objectionable, and that's fine - but I do have a view, and deep down I think most of us do.  If it's a straight choice between a Lib Dem councillor and a Labour councillor, I would prefer Lib Dem.  If it's a straight choice between a Labour councillor and a Tory councillor, I would - just about - prefer Labour.

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There's also an anonymous commenter on this blog who has been putting out false information about how votes are transferred when candidates are eliminated - he or she is saying that if you rank the Greens first and the SNP second, only a portion of your second preference vote will transfer to the SNP if the Green candidate is eliminated.  That's simply untrue - your whole vote will transfer.  I don't think this is malicious misinformation - the commenter seems to be getting the procedure for eliminated candidates mixed up with what happens to 'surplus votes' from candidates who reach the quota early on and are declared elected.