Thursday, March 30, 2017

All options for facing down Tyrannical Theresa must remain on the table

There was a fascinating moment on the BBC news channel yesterday afternoon, when Professor John Curtice raised (with much more seriousness than most commentators have done thus far) the possibility that the Scottish Government might hold a consultative independence referendum without Westminster permission, and pointed out that Alex Salmond had proposed to do exactly that when he was first elected to minority government in 2007.  The interviewer Huw Edwards noticeably shut him down very hurriedly and said "leaving that option aside, what do you think the SNP will do..?"

Without wanting to indulge any conspiracy theories, there did seem to be a determination from the BBC throughout yesterday to weave a narrative that Theresa May is Scotland's overlord, and if she says no, that's the end of the road.  On Sarah Smith's propaganda video (I use that term advisedly) for the evening news programmes, we were shown pro-independence demonstrators bursting into tears upon hearing that Holyrood had voted to hold an independence referendum - tears of joy, we were told, that would very soon turn to "disappointment" when the individuals concerned got real and accepted that Theresa's No Means No.  It didn't even seem to occur to Ms Smith that one reason the demonstrators were so happy may have been that they simply do not recognise the BBC narrative, and instead fully expect the Scottish Parliament to take all steps necessary to implement its own sovereign decision.

I've been trying to read the runes on what Nicola Sturgeon may be minded to do if she continues to be met by total instransigence from the most authoritarian Prime Minister since Mrs Thatcher.  I do take seriously the assessment of Brian Taylor and others that it's "unlikely" she would sanction a referendum without a Section 30, or an early Holyrood election to seek an outright mandate for independence.  That may very well be an accurate representation of her thinking at the moment...but then again I'm increasingly finding myself wondering whether her current thoughts are actually the most important thing.  There are so many people caught in a Section 30 trance, and who chant like a mantra that an Edinburgh Agreement-style process is the only proper way of doing this, but when you ask them how that can even happen if Westminster keeps rejecting it, you generally draw a blank.  It is surely inconceivable that any SNP leadership will accept for an indefinite period that London can just veto an exercise in Scottish self-determination, and so if Theresa May doesn't budge, simple logic will tell you that they'll eventually consider the other options, even if they themselves do not yet realise they will.  It's a straightforward 'unstoppable force meets immovable object' scenario, and something has to give.  The idea that we're all just going to obediently pack up and go home because London isn't in the mood for a referendum is, to use the favoured expression of a Downing Street source, "for the birds".

Don't forget that this is a moral issue and not just strategic.  Many people voted No in 2014 in good faith, after being told that it was the only way of retaining their EU citizenship.  An overwhelming majority of the Scottish public then voted to retain their EU citizenship last June.  If we tacitly accept May's ability to veto a referendum, even just for a few years, that citizenship is going to be stripped away from those people for a prolonged spell, in blatant contravention of the immaculate double mandate in favour of EU membership that has been obtained.  That is unacceptable, and I see no particular reason why we should accept it.

*  *  *

Events have moved so fast that our vocabulary hasn't quite caught up with them, and it's high time we updated the way we characterise certain political parties.  Scottish Labour, for example, should now quite properly be called an anti-European party - not in the sense of hating Germans or Italians, but in the more prosaic sense that they oppose our participation in European institutions.  There is no Labour proposal to reverse Brexit, and of course they dogmatically reject the only option that could keep Scotland in the EU after Brexit occurs.  They've gone all the way back to a position they last held in the 'longest suicide note in history' - their 1983 general election manifesto under Michael Foot.  They are separatists.  They want to build walls.  They think that what divides us from our European neighbours (ie. devotion to Blighty at all costs) is more important than what unites us.

It's interesting to recall that, in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum, some senior Scottish Labour figures did publicly ponder the idea of seeking a solution that might keep Scotland within the EU family in some form.  In retrospect, they only seem to have done that because they were briefly terrified that they would be faced with opinion polls showing an irresistible tidal wave in favour of independence, and in favour of a second indyref.  The fact that they ditched their pro-Europeanism as soon as they thought they might get away with it shows just how shallow their internationalist values have always been.  Dugdale, Baillie and Hothersall - the New Brexiteers.  It's been quite a revelation.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, are no longer pro-Europeans, and are instead Euro-ambivalents.  They nominally want to remain within the EU, but only under wildly implausible circumstances.  If they don't get exactly the solution they want, it seems they will reluctantly accept Brexit, at least for the time being.  That will put them in a very awkward position come the next indyref, and indeed the next Westminster and Holyrood elections.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Theresa May tried her best to say nothing in Scotland - but we did learn a little

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the International Business Times about what we learned from Theresa May's visit yesterday - even though it was like trying to get blood out of a source.  You can read the article HERE.

It's official, it's decisive : an independence referendum is the will of the elected Scottish Parliament

Scottish Parliament vote on holding an independence referendum :

Yes 69 (53.9%)
No 59 (46.1%)

The BBC argued that the 55%-45% vote against independence in 2014 was "decisive", so as this is very much the same sort of margin, I look forward to the same word being used (as opposed to "narrow", or something along those lines).

Monday, March 27, 2017

Should a national list be top of the list?

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at The National, pondering what the effect might be if the Holyrood regional lists were replaced by a national list (as Alex Salmond has proposed).  It will also doubtless irritate Morag by concluding that STV might be a better option from the SNP's point of view!  I'm not really a convert to the cause of STV, but there's not much doubt it would offer a better chance of an SNP overall majority than AMS does.  You can read the article HERE.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

If Ukraine don't back down, they must be banned from their own Eurovision

Apologies for a Eurovision post as early as March, but the events of the last couple of days have been truly extraordinary.  First of all, the Ukrainian authorities announced that the Russian entrant wouldn't be allowed into the country to compete in this year's contest (taking place in Kiev), because she performed in Crimea without their permission.  Russia of course now regards Crimea as an integral part of its own territory, so whatever you may think of that state of affairs, it would have been totally unrealistic to expect a Russian citizen to apply for Ukrainian permission before going there.

I suggested on Twitter yesterday that the EBU couldn't possibly accept a Ukrainian veto on who can compete for Russia, and that if there was no U-turn they would have to think about the unprecedented step of allowing Julia Samoilova to compete via a live feed.  After a little indecision, the EBU came to precisely that conclusion today.  But now the Ukrainians are apparently attempting to veto even that solution, and are saying that it would somehow be a breach of Ukrainian law to broadcast the Russian song if it is performed under these circumstances.

There is a very clear precedent covering this scenario.  In 2005, Lebanon seemed set to join the contest, and selected a beautiful (if a tad old-fashioned) entry in French called Quand tout s'enfuit.  I was really disappointed when they were forced to withdraw, but the logic was impossible to argue with - Lebanese law forbade the broadcast of the Israeli entry, and that would have made a mockery of the whole contest.  Exactly the same principle applies here.  It's probably too late to strip Ukraine of their hosting rights, but if they refuse to broadcast the properly-selected Russian entry, they shouldn't be allowed to participate in their own contest.  If they don't back down and they aren't banned, the integrity of the competition (stop laughing at the back) will be fatally undermined.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

If Theresa May can only "win" a referendum by stopping it taking place, then...

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the TalkRadio website about Theresa May's outrageous bid to overturn the long-standing British government policy that Scotland can only remain in the UK by democratic consent.  You can read the article HERE.

CONFIRMED : Last night's ludicrous Sky "poll" was not weighted by EU referendum vote

As you may have seen, Sky News made an exasperating attempt last night to distort the referendum debate with a wildly unreliable online "poll", conducted by themselves and using their own paying customers as respondents, which purported to show that Theresa May is significantly more popular in Scotland than Nicola Sturgeon - a finding that is light-years out of line with recent properly-conducted polls from firms affiliated to the British Polling Council. 

The numbers were so patently absurd that I didn't think they even warranted the effort of a blogpost, although I did post a tweet pointing out that it was a junk poll and should be disregarded.  That prompted a reaction this morning from Harry Carr, head of "Sky Data", who insisted that it was a nationally representative poll.  He also produced datasets which showed that some weighting had been done - but there was no obvious sign of many of the political weightings that are standard in Scottish online polls, such as by recalled indyref vote, recalled EU ref vote, or recalled Holyrood vote.

As the poll bears all the hallmarks of having far too many Leave voters in the sample, I asked Harry a simple question - had he weighted by EU ref vote?  His answer : No.  He had weighted by recalled 2015 general election vote, but not by EU ref vote.  I strongly suspect that also means he didn't bother weighting by recalled Holyrood vote or by recalled indyref vote.

There's your explanation for the poll's nonsense results right there.  A telephone or face-to-face poll can possibly get away without doing proper political weighting, and just relying on demographic weighting.  But an online poll - no chance.  Online polls are different because you know in advance that you're drawing from an unrepresentative pool of potential respondents - Sky customers, for example, may well have political leanings that are different from non-Sky customers, and you have to carefully weight to correct for that.  I literally can't think of a single British Polling Council firm that would have attempted to conduct an online poll in the way that Harry has done.  It also looks like he didn't bother weighting by country of birth - a failing that he has in common with only BMG.

I stand by my original assessment - junk poll, ignore.

By the way - here's a challenge for Harry.  Conduct a Scottish voting intention poll, and publish it even if it puts the Tories in the lead.  Then try to keep a straight face when you defend your methodology.  Go on, I dare you.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Greens' vote in favour of an independence referendum is fully consistent with their election manifesto

The latest desperate tactic of unionist politicians and journalists is to attempt to deligitimise the Greens' forthcoming vote in favour of an independence referendum by suggesting that it is somehow a betrayal of their own Holyrood manifesto from last year.  A frequently-heard claim is that the manifesto committed the party to only back a referendum if "one million" signatures had been collected demanding one.  That is completely and utterly untrue.  For one thing, you will search that manifesto in vain for the figure "one million", because it's not mentioned anywhere.  There isn't even a commitment that ANY signatures at all have to be collected - all that is said is that the Greens' "preferred way" of triggering a referendum is by an "appropriate number" of people signing a petition.  The phrase "preferred way" was an implicit acknowledgement that the Greens were going to continue to be a minority party within a parliament elected by proportional representation, and that holding a referendum would therefore require listening to the "preferred ways" of other parties, and then reaching an agreement on which one would be adopted.  Absolutely nothing in the manifesto precludes the Greens from backing an option that is not their own first preference.

As far as the one million figure is concerned, it's true that Patrick Harvie was asked what an "appropriate number" might be, and one million is what he came up with.  But the unionists can't have it both ways - if they're going to treat a manifesto like a sacred text and beat a party over the head with it, they actually do have to look at the words that are contained within it, and not at extraneous material.  There is no definition provided in the manifesto for the phrase "appropriate number" - it could be a million signatures, it could be twelve.  It could certainly be a low enough figure to be achieved comfortably within an afternoon or two.

As I understand it, the Greens' own explanation of their current stance rests primarily on the part of the manifesto that stated in general terms that if a referendum is to happen, it must come about by "the will of the people".  The will of the Scottish people as expressed in the referendum last June is to remain within the European Union, which is no longer compatible with their earlier desire to remain within the United Kingdom.  A second independence referendum is therefore the only way of resolving the incompatibility, and determining what the will of the people actually is when faced with a straight choice between the UK and the EU.  That logic looks watertight to me.

I think most of us would agree that it would have been better if the Green manifesto had used stronger wording, and had explicitly referred to the possibility of an early referendum being triggered by Brexit.  Nevertheless, the wording was more than adequate, for the following reasons -

* It acknowledged the prospect of a second independence referendum, and committed the Greens to campaigning for a Yes vote when it takes place.

* It did not exclude the possibility of a referendum taking place within the 2016-21 parliament.

* It imposed no specific pre-conditions on Green support for a referendum within the 2016-21 parliament.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

HALF of Scottish public want an independence referendum within just TWO YEARS, confirms extraordinary Panelbase poll

Today brings word of the first full-scale Scottish poll to be wholly conducted since Nicola Sturgeon fired the starting-gun for a second independence referendum.  It's a Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times, and although the datasets have yet to appear, it looks as if the question about the timing of the referendum used identical wording to the last Panelbase poll for the same client a few weeks ago.  As I noted at the time, that wording is extremely poor.  Respondents are asked to choose between a referendum in "the next year or two", a referendum "in about two years", or no referendum "in the next few years".  The latter timescale implies a period of longer than two years, which means that people who want a referendum in three years' time (2020 has, after all, been mentioned as a possible compromise date) do not have an option that represents their views - they're effectively forced to choose an option they don't really believe in.  However, within those inadequate confines, there is a roughly even split between those who say they want a referendum within two years, and those who say they don't want one within the next few years - exactly as there was in the last poll.

The combined support for the two 'within two years' options is 50%, while support for 'not within the next few years' is 51%.  The apparent incompatibilty of those numbers is caused by the effect of rounding.  That suggests support for an early referendum on the raw numbers is fractionally below 50%, perhaps similar to the 49.4% recorded in the last poll - but that would, of course, be well within the standard 3% margin of error, meaning it's impossible to know whether the true figure is a little above 50%, or a little below.

In spite of the continuation of the basic 50/50 split, this isn't a no change poll by any means - there has been considerable movement within the half of the sample that wants an early referendum, with a sharp 5% increase in support for the 'hardline' option of a referendum "in the next year or two" while Brexit negotiations are still ongoing.  That figure now stands at 32%.  There has been a corresponding 5% drop in support (to 18%) for the more 'moderate' option of a referendum "in about two years", after negotiations have been completed.  Ironically, the latter option is closest to Nicola Sturgeon's own stated plans, so almost a third of the population actually feel that she is not moving quite fast enough.  You probably won't hear about that on the mainstream media, though.

I don't pay the Murdoch Levy, so in the absence of the Panelbase datasets I'm not sure whether respondents were also asked whether Theresa May should grant a Section 30 order allowing the referendum to take place on the same basis as the 2014 vote.  However, there is a Britain-wide ComRes poll out today which asked whether respondents agreed or disagreed with the following statement -

Theresa May should insist that any second Scottish referendum on independence takes place only once Britain has completed the process of leaving the EU.

The results among the Scottish subsample (excluding Don't Knows) were...

Agree : 48%
Disagree : 52%

Subsample results cannot be regarded as reliable, of course, but as it happens those numbers are bang in line with the most recent full-scale Scottish YouGov poll (conducted mostly before Nicola Sturgeon's referendum announcement), which found that 52% of the public think the London government should agree to a referendum if Sturgeon asks for one.

Panelbase also asked a voting intention question on independence itself...

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 44% (-2)
No 56% (+2)

Some unionists are beside themselves with excitement at that result, taking it as proof that the YouGov poll showing Yes 43%, No 57% wasn't such an outlier after all.  Well...up to a point, Lord Copper.  It's true that we now have a first non-YouGov poll since autumn 2014 to show the Yes vote slightly lower than the 45% actually achieved in Indyref 1.  It's also true that YouGov no longer looks like an extreme outlier, but it is still very much at the No-friendly far end of the spectrum.  YouGov's inexplicable refusal to include 16 and 17 year olds in their sample may in itself explain the difference between their findings and Panelbase's.

As far as Panelbase are concerned, there were signs even before today's poll that they might be starting to slot into the No-friendly zone - the previous poll from the firm had Yes stuck on 46%, even though polls from Ipsos-Mori and BMG at around the same time showed Yes surging to 48-50%.

Of the last seven polls conducted by all firms, three (two from BMG and one from Ipsos-Mori) have shown an unusually high Yes vote, two (one from Panelbase and one from Survation) have shown a figure within the familiar range of recent times, and two (one from YouGov and today's from Panelbase) have shown an unusually low Yes vote.  It would be totally irrational to conclude on the basis of that evidence that there has definitely been a drop in the Yes vote - the opposite may have happened, or there may well have been no change at all.

*  *  *

SCOT GOES POP POLL OF POLLS

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 46.4% (-0.4)
No 53.6% (+0.4)

(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each firm that has reported at least once within the last three months. The firms included in the current sample are Panelbase, BMG, Ipsos-Mori, YouGov and Survation.)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

How an early Scottish election can be triggered

Opinions differ on how possible/probable the options of a consultative referendum or early Holyrood election are in the event that Theresa May remains intransigent.  Brian Taylor of the BBC, for example, acknowledges that both options are on the table, but insists that both are "unlikely" because Nicola Sturgeon would regard them as "gestures".  Whether he's being led by his own assumptions and preconceptions, or whether he's been reliably briefed to that effect, is anyone's guess.

However, as there seems to be some confusion over exactly how an early Holyrood election can be brought about, it might be worth refreshing our memories by looking at the relevant part of the Scotland Act.

"The Presiding Officer shall propose a day for the holding of a poll if—

(a) the Parliament resolves that it should be dissolved and, if the resolution is passed on a division, the number of members voting in favour of it is not less than two-thirds of the total number of seats for members of the Parliament, or

(b) any period during which the Parliament is required under section 46 to nominate one of its members for appointment as First Minister ends without such a nomination being made."

The crucial word is "or". Options a) and b) are either/or - they don't both have to be met.  In other words, if the First Minister resigns and is not replaced within 28 days, an election is triggered without the need for a two-thirds majority, and the unionist parties would not have the opportunity to form a blocking minority.

There is, however, a small catch.  If there is an election for First Minister during the 28 days and only one unionist candidate is nominated, there will be an "affirmative vote" and that person will be rejected.  If, however, at least two candidates come forward (say, Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale), it wouldn't be possible to stop one of them from being elected.  That's basically because the rules are a bit silly.  If Davidson received the votes of the 31 Tory MSPs, and Dugdale received the votes of the 24 Labour MSPs, the vote would be declared valid and Davidson would technically become First Minister.  That's not a problem in itself, because the "Davidson government" would, within a few short days, be ousted by a vote of no confidence.  However, that would simply start the 28-day process all over again, and in theory we could go round in circles into infinity.

In practice, that wouldn't happen, because the unionist parties would be worried about making themselves look ridiculous, and people would be chanting "politics is not a game" at them.  However, we should probably be prepared for them to attempt the stunt at least once.  Personally, I don't think that would be the end of the world.