Saturday, January 9, 2010

Iain Dale's ropey prediction

It's just as well Iain Dale qualified his prediction of the general election in Scotland by noting that "my knowledge of Scottish seats is not the same as my knowledge of English seats", because two aspects of it look distinctly difficult to justify - the suggestion that the SNP will lose two seats to the Conservatives (presumably Angus and Perth & North Perthshire) and, perhaps even more so, that the Liberal Democrats will reach a new high watermark of fifteen seats. There's nothing complicated in explaining why these predictions are, in Sir Humphrey terms, somewhat "courageous". Firstly, to lose seats to the Conservative party, the SNP would have be to suffering a net swing to the Tories. I have the slight suspicion that Iain is making the schoolboy error of thinking that because the majority in those seats is small, and because he expects the Tory vote to rise, it therefore follows that those seats will fall. But the snag is that all the expectations are that the SNP vote will rise as well, by at least as much - and, let's be frank, probably a good deal more - than the Tories. That would suggest a net swing from the Tories to the SNP, which could even mean increased majorities for the Nationalists in those two marginal seats. The one remaining hope for the Tories in such circumstances is that the nature of the two-horse fight in those constituencies could help them buck the nationwide trend - but is there any reason to suppose it would? My suspicion is that the opposite may happen - that any suggestion of potential Tory gains will cause Labour and Liberal Democrat voters to switch tactically to the SNP.

But for all that I've just said, at least Dale could make a case, however dubious, for that part of the prediction. However, on the Liberal Democrats winning fifteen seats point, words fail me. The Liberal Democrats won 11 seats last time round on the basis of 23% of the vote - they will be extraordinarily fortunate to reach even a 16% or 17% share at the forthcoming election. OK, first-past-the-post sometimes produces quirks, but it would require tactical voting on an industrial scale to get the Lib Dems anywhere close to fifteen seats in these circumstances.

Iain also asks where Alex Salmond thinks his target of 20 seats is going to come from. Again, there's nothing complicated about this - the SNP need to be leading or close to leading in the popular vote to have a chance of attaining that goal. It's of course perfectly legitimate for critics to question whether they can do so, but what is rather silly is to imply as Iain seems to be that Salmond is suggesting that the target can be achieved on a more modest swing, which he plainly isn't. Moreover, there's no mystery as to which 20 seats these would be - Iain could just have pumped the relevant figures into a UNS swing predictor to have gained a rough idea.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Let's abolish democracy and anoint George Osborne as 'The Lord'.

Apologies for the slightly misleading headline, but I'm increasingly struggling to come up with imaginative titles for these posts about polling subsamples. The latest one from YouGov (the second in as many days) is somewhat less positive for the SNP, with Labour extending their lead over the Nationalists from nine to sixteen points. However, the good news is that the SNP remain firmly in second place, again strongly suggesting that the final subsample of 2009 was a fluke. Here are the full figures -

Labour 39% (+4)
SNP 23% (-3)
Conservatives 19% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 15% (-)
Others 4% (-3)

On the UK-wide figures, I'm struggling to understand the Tory triumphalism about their improved position in the immediate aftermath of 'Buff' Hoon's bumbling coup attempt. If a one-point drop to 30% (just six points shy of the 2005 figure) is what Labour meltdown looks like, I'd say a hung parliament still looks very much on the cards, four months out from polling day.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

First subsample of election year has SNP comfortably back into second place

The detailed figures from YouGov's UK-wide poll in today's Sun have been released, and the Scottish breakdown tends to reinforce the suspicion that the previous subsample from a few days ago is likely to have been somewhat freakish. The SNP leapfrog both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats to return to second place, while Labour slump to a much more plausible 35% share of the vote. Here are the full figures -

Labour 35% (-11)
SNP 26% (+13)
Conservatives 17% (-4)
Liberal Democrats 15% (-2)
Others 7% (+4)

Eagle-eyed readers might have spotted that the figures I quoted last time round were slightly wrong - the Conservatives had been in outright second place on 21%, not joint second with the Liberal Democrats on 17% as I stated!

I'm not quite sure what these figures will do for any lingering fantasies of the SNP being "squashed" at the election, let alone the recurring fiction that it has in some way been demonstrated that Labour's vote is holding up dramatically better in Scotland than elsewhere. In this poll, they are four points down on their 2005 share in Scotland, and five points down in Great Britain as a whole. Such findings have not been untypical over the last few months.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Would a Brown departure assist the SNP?

I once recall a journalist (no idea who it was, or in which paper) delivering the ultimate devastating dismissal of a politician's entire career - "I bet Geoff Hoon thinks he's a great communicator". Well, quite. We're not talking about a heavyweight here, and even with the assistance of (ahem) Patricia Hewitt, logic would seem to dictate that he's unlikely to succeed where James Purnell failed. However, one way or another we appear to finally be into the endgame of almost two years' worth of speculation about the Labour leadership, so it's at least worth pondering the impact Gordon Brown's abrupt departure would have on the outcome of the general election here in Scotland.

In one sense it seems obvious that having a Scottish leader has been a boon for Labour north of of the border, as it was for the Liberal Democrats under Charles Kennedy. Polling consistently shows that Scots hold Brown in a much higher regard than the rest of the UK. This must be having some kind of impact on voting intention figures, and thus, it might be supposed, suppressing the potential strength of the SNP, among others. There can be little doubt that Charles Kennedy's popularity caused particular harm to the SNP in the 2005 Westminster election.

But there's the rub - popularity. The fact that Brown is significantly more liked in Scotland than in England, where he's held in record-breaking low esteem, scarcely makes him "popular in Scotland". A much more impressive Labour leader could easily find themselves more popular than Brown in Scotland, even if they were less popular here than in England and Wales. So, paradoxically, it's theoretically possible that Scottish Labour could find themselves better off - and the SNP by extension worse off - with a change of leadership, especially if the new Prime Minister had momentum behind them that seemed to be taking them (and Labour) to what until recently would have seemed a highly improbable general election triumph.

Just one snag, though. Where is the Labour leader with the personal qualities to actually do that? Until a few weeks ago, I might have concurred with the general consensus that Alan Johnson was the one potential candidate with sufficient charisma, but his poor judgement over the Gary McKinnon extradition (and more to the point his angry defence of that poor judgement) destroyed that illusion once and for all. It, presumably, goes without saying that either Harriet Harman or Ed Balls would be an even greater disaster in Scotland than they would be across the UK as a whole. So who does that leave? David Miliband? Perhaps he's had enough time to recover from his 'Bananaman' moment, but on the whole I'm unconvinced.

So as things stand, my gut feeling is that a change of leadership would not help Labour's fortunes across the UK, and therefore the loss of the 'Scottish leader bonus' would be a blow to the party in Scotland. So, for my money, the SNP should be getting their prayer-mats out and hoping that this plot succeeds, although on past form I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A con from ConHome

ConservativeHome is at least one political website that doesn't have to worry about its reputation for bias, but it nevertheless surely takes itself sufficiently seriously that it does have cause to worry about its reputation for basic factual accuracy. Or to put it another way, it wouldn't want its partisan spin on a story to be quite so heavy that it goes blatantly and demonstrably way beyond that which the facts will support. How, then, can they justify the following summary of a Scotland on Sunday story in their daily round-up?

"Rejected in his own country - By 54% to 46% Scots say Cameron is better leader than Brown"

Needless to say, 'Scots' say nothing of the sort. The Scotland on Sunday story makes quite plain that the poll sample was restricted to 11 Tory target seats. There can be little doubt that a representative sample of Scotland as a whole would have produced the opposite result, given that the YouGov 'forced choice' question has repeatedly shown that Scots would prefer a Brown-led government to a Cameron-led one. And given that other poll questions regularly demonstrate the deep current unpopularity of both Brown and Labour in Scotland, it goes to show just how irretrievably tainted the Tory brand is in these parts.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Major what-if questions...

Interesting to see Craig Murray pay a back-handed compliment to John Major following his attack on Tony Blair over Iraq. Murray suggests that Major has been the best Prime Minister of his lifetime (ie. going back to the days of Harold Macmillan) - albeit "out of a deeply depressing bunch".

Personally, whenever I think of Major's legacy I find it hard to look past his boneheaded obstinacy over the Scottish constitutional issue. Scottish civil society let off a collective sigh of despair in the early 1990s when the realisation dawned that - by complete chance - we'd been landed with a Prime Minister for whom not budging an inch on Scottish self-government was a genuine personal obsession. For evidence of the latter point, we need look no further than Major's peculiar "The United Kingdom is in danger! Wake up!" speech in the midst of the 1992 election campaign. It's hardly likely that his advisers informed him that such a rallying-call was a big potential vote-winner on either side of the border, so I think we can safely assume he actually meant it. Under his leadership, the party became so instinctively intransigent on the issue that, when in 1993 Ian Lang produced his embarrassingly thin Taking Stock "reforms", an English Tory backbencher rose in clearly genuine anguish to seek reassurance that the Union wasn't being put in jeapordy by a few extra meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee!

But on the substance of the Iraq issue, it's a tantalising thought that under Major's premiership the UK might have taken a different course. Certainly nobody can have any doubt from his repeated angry exchanges with Paddy Ashdown that Major was far more sceptical about the merits of military intervention in the Balkans than his Labour successor. And the UK's shameful lack of initiative throughout the Rwandan genocide is perhaps another clue to Major's instinctive dislike of "adventurism" abroad. However, when it really comes down to it, I simply find it impossible to believe that any Conservative Prime Minister - whatever his instincts were telling him - would not have been joined-at-the-hip with the US over an issue as big as Iraq. Well, perhaps the pro-European Ken Clarke might have had the guts to chart an independent course, but there are very few others.

For a similar reason, my own choice for "best PM since 1958 out of a bad bunch" would have to be Harold Wilson - whatever his many and varied faults, at least he kept the UK firmly out of the Vietnam War. And he saw off a right-wing MI5-inspired coup plot against him - how many PMs can say that?

A gun's a gun for a' that

Someone suggested to me yesterday that I was in danger of retreating to an "SNP ghetto", but it appears I can rest assured that this blog will never be anything of the sort for as long as a certain Mr. Kevin Baker of Arizona, USA has his way. I had noticed over the last 48 hours a suddenly renewed flurry of traffic from a once-oh-so-familiar source. What could this possibly mean? My best guess was that Kev had featured our little exchange from last Easter on some kind of "review of the year" post. And guess what? I was right! Although I'm intrigued to learn that Kev had apparently "debunked" me back in April. I must have missed that bit - all I noticed at the time was the smoke, mirrors, bluster, and general thuggery.

As a result of the new mention, I've even received a comment on a short post I wrote back in August that had thus far gone shamefully unnoticed by Kevin's groupies. Say what you like about Kevin, but he's extraordinarily generous with these surprise gifts of free internet traffic. So I get this latest one for the New Year - can I have another for my birthday? Or Kev's birthday? How about Burns' Night? Perhaps Kev or Joe Huffman could even delight us all with a new post explaining why A Man's A Man for A' That is really, contrary to superficial appearances, a moving ode to gun rights. If they can do it for fire extinguishers, they can do it for poetry.