Saturday, January 16, 2010

One-fifth of Britons think that the SNP should be excluded even from 'Scotland-specific' TV debates!

You might think it would be a tough sell in a country that prides itself on fair play to seriously suggest that the party that has won the most recent elections for three out of the four tiers of democratic representation in Scotland (Scottish Parliament, local government, European Parliament) should be completely excluded from the major televised debates that are seemingly about to be shown in Scotland. But it seems the propaganda campaign to justify this outrageous proposed stitch-up has succeeded beyond its proponents own wildest dreams - a new Angus Reid poll shows that 19% of Britons think the SNP should even be banned from the Scotland-specific debates! To put this absurdity in some sort of context, the only reason Scottish debates have been proposed with such fanfare is that it's hoped the SNP's participation in them will provide some kind of legal cover for the party's exclusion from the main debates. A bogus proposition, of course, that I suspect the Scottish courts would see through easily if asked to adjudicate - only some kind of SNP 'monologue' could hope to correct the injustice of their exclusion from the main debates, not a programme in which their political opponents get yet more coverage, adding to their already vastly unfair share. But I'd be intrigued to see how on earth the broadcasters would go about justifying the suggestion that the SNP should not even qualify as one of the three leading Scotland-wide parties!

Here are the European election results from just seven months ago, lest anyone has forgotten -

SNP 29.1%
Labour 20.8%
Conservatives 16.1%
Liberal Democrats 11.5%

Even if we take the one weak link in the SNP's recent performances - the Westminster election of 2005 - the party still outranked the Tories in both the popular vote and in terms of seats. The fact that 20% of Britons feel that a cosy three-way all-Unionist affair would be entirely appropriate for a Scotland-specific debate against such an overwhelming weight of evidence illustrates yet again just how stubborn is this media-perpetuated fantasy of British "national" uniformity in the popular imagination down south.

Fortunately this matter will not be adjudicated upon by the court of UK public opinion, but if necessary by real courts, on the basis of laws, guidelines and precedents that for years now have recognised the SNP's status as a national party on a par with the other three.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Give me just a little bit more

Something for almost everyone in the latest full-scale Welsh YouGov poll - except for Lib Dems. Labour still lead (just), the Tories make dramatic progress from their 2005 position (bringing into even sharper relief the dismal performance of the Scottish Tories), and while Plaid Cymru seem to suffer even more than the SNP from the Westminster 'away fixture' effect, the seat projections nevertheless place them on an all-time high of five. But the best news of all is that there is solid backing for the principle of the National Assembly gaining full law-making powers. This should not lead to complacency - single-issue polling is typically far more volatile than voting intention figures, and for the evidence of that we need look no further than the referendum on an assembly for the northeast of England. However, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that these figures show that an early referendum on the issue can be won, and Peter Hain's excuses for kicking it into the long grass are looking thinner by the day.

Amusing to witness on the blogosphere the effortless way the usual suspects cherry-pick the bits of this poll they like and discard the bits they don't. The evidence for a Tory surge in Wales is naturally cast-iron to them, but the support for greater devolution can apparently be easily explained away thus - "I think you should be careful about polls asking people if they 'want more' of something, as the answer is almost always yes." Ah, so that would neatly explain why what the Tories regarded as their 'golden bullet' argument against aspirations for Scottish and Welsh devolution in the 1980s and 90s - ie. endlessly pointing out to people that it would entail "more politicians" - fell so spectacularly flat on its face.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

You ain't seen nothin' yet

I can't believe I'm discussing The Wright Stuff for a second day in a row, but yes, I saw some of it again today (this is showing disturbing signs of becoming a habit), and yes, Stephen Kay-Amos was still on it. One of the topics for discussion was Oliver Stone's recent claim that the murderous actions of Hitler and Stalin need to be put in more historical context, with Hitler in particular being a 'product of his times'. Predictably this sentiment did not attract much sympathy from the panel, with Dan Snow pointing out that Germany had suffered much more at the end of World War II than it had at the end of World War I. He asked 'if Germany's ill-treatment at the hands of the Allies in the aftermath of 1918 made World War II somehow inevitable, why didn't its far greater humiliation in 1945 make it inevitable that the country would later launch World War III?' Well, if that's a serious question, I can think of a number of serious answers. For starters, the overwhelming evidence of the Holocaust engendered intense national shame in place of the intense grudge that had been felt a quarter-of a-century earlier. The abject surrender and total occupation of Germany made it near-impossible for the country to embark on a militaristic course even if it had wanted to - even after West and East Germany had been granted formal sovereignty, masses of troops from the former Allied countries on German soil were a highly effective guarantor of that. And, last but not least, the military threat from the Soviet Union was so great and so immediate in the post-1945 period that West Germany could not hope to ensure its national survival alone - and the only viable alternative was a western alliance, which along with NATO membership also necessitated firm adherence to liberal democracy, federalism, non-militarism, European integrationism, and so on. However, having said all that, Snow probably did have a point that Hitler's personal psychotic tendencies were a decisive factor in the build-up to war, and while an upsurge in German nationalism probably was inevitable following humiliation at Versailles in 1919, the emergence of a totalitarian Nazi state with ambitions for conquest on a Napoleonic scale was in no way inevitable.

The one area in which the panel felt Stone had a very limited point was that no person could be regarded as "pure evil" - even murderous dictators have the capacity for some good. What slightly amused me about this was that later in the same programme, while discussing Gary McKinnon's very welcome last-minute reprieve by the courts, Matthew Wright mused "say what you like about the Daily Mail, but they've been marvellous about this, haven't they?". Well, I think what I personally might be tempted to say about the Daily Mail is that you could hardly find a more apt example of an essentially highly objectionable (I'll shy away from 'evil') outfit doing a good deed once in a blue moon! What is it that's led the Mail to such a clear-sighted understanding of the issues at stake in the McKinnon case? Depressingly, it's probably that Gary McKinnon is a well-turned-out young man who loves his mum, and whose mum is an impeccably articulate, middle-class woman. I struggle to imagine a less presentable British victim of America's repressive anti-terror laws getting such a generous hearing from the paper. But, I hasten to add, just because they're being selective doesn't mean that they're not absolutely right on this individual case.

The great thing about the court judgement yesterday is that, even if McKinnon loses his judicial review, it should string the issue out until after the general election, and the Conservative Party have been hinting they might find a way of keeping him in the UK if elected. And what do you know - there's yet another instance of an essentially highly objectionable organisation doing something good for a change! What makes it even rarer is that it would be an act by a Tory government that would displease the United States. I wouldn't hold your breath for many more such instances if the Tories do triumph in May - if you think the current Labour administration have acted as America's poodle, you ain't seen nothin' yet...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Populus subsample : SNP just two points behind Labour

The Scottish subsample of the latest UK-wide Populus poll shows support for both Labour and the SNP slipping somewhat, while the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats both make progress. However, the Tories are nevertheless left in a dire fourth place, and on a vote share lower than they achieved at the 2005 election. Here are the full figures -

Labour 32% (-5)
SNP 30% (-4)
Liberal Democrats 17% (+5)
Conservatives 15% (+2)
Others 5% (+1)

This is undoubtedly the SNP's best showing in a subsample by any polling firm for a little while, although as ever it's worth pointing out that the Populus sample size is typically much lower than YouGov's or Angus Reid's - an unweighted base of just 83 in this case.

A lifetime of naked rambling in a very confined space?

I happened to be watching The Wright Stuff on Channel 5 this morning (sorry, I should say Five, the branding makes all the difference) - don't ask me how or why, and more to the point don't ask me to ever repeat the experience if the distinctly unfunny comedian Stephen Kay-Amos is a regular fixture on the show. Anyway, one of the topics for discussion was the 'Naked Rambler' Stephen Gough, and the prospect that he could be jailed for life by a Scottish court if he continues his 'repeat offending' (which is fairly rapid repeat offending by any standards, as he's been known to walk out of prison naked and be instantly rearrested for his trouble). As soon as the subject came up, I felt my 'Jock-bashing-alert' nerve-ends tingling, because of course the humourless Scottish authorities are notorious for having taken a much harder line with Gough than their English equivalents. However, to my surprise the panellists seemed to take the view, albeit with a degree of reluctance, that the courts here were not acting disproportionately. I must say as an instinctive libertarian (the Kevin Baker Fan Club would undoubtedly be spluttering indignantly if they read that) I can't agree - Gough has caused considerably less harm and distress to anyone than many offenders who don't end up spending a day in jail on account of their misdeeds. At most he's been an object of curiosity, and perhaps entertainment. It was particularly startling to hear Dawn Porter note that she'd once seen Gough 'in action' in London, and had been glad that her children hadn't been there, because the sight was so "weird". Now let me see - could this be the same Dawn Porter who once presented a programme entitled Dawn Gets Naked, in which her slogan was 'Get Naked With Me' and which culminated in her leading a group of topless women round central London on an open-top bus? Far be it from me to accuse anyone of inconsistency, but...well, perhaps she believes for some curious reason that male nudity is by definition weird/creepy/disturbing, but female nudity never can be.

Another odd topic of conversation on The Wright Stuff was David Cameron's apparent plan to replace 'units' as an alcoholic measure with the European standard of centilitres. Since when were the Tories ever keen to bring us into line with Europe, even on the most trivial of matters such as this? Can we expect the first split in any new Tory government to be caused by the 'Unit Martyrs'?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Eric Rohmer 1920-2010

I was very sad to read overnight of the death of the legendary French New Wave film director Eric Rohmer, who I was a big - albeit fairly recent - fan of. I first 'discovered' his work only about three-and-a-half years ago, and have been gradually working my way through his canon since. Ironically, I was just been beginning to feel quite sad that I had pretty much come to the end of his designated 'good stuff' - I only really have Claire's Knee still to go. Of the supposedly lesser works, I had more or less made up my mind to ignore his very last film Les amours d'Astrée et de Céladon, released only two years ago when he was in his late eighties - the reason being that the reviews were so atrocious it genuinely sounded almost unwatchable. The general consensus seemed to be 'one film too many'. However, reading through the obituaries this morning, I was intrigued to stumble on a very positive review of the film, and the IMDB rating is a perfectly respectable 6.6 out of 10. So maybe I will see if I can track it down at some point after all.

In the meantime, my own recommendations for anyone unfamiliar with Rohmer's work would be Full Moon in Paris (Les nuits de la pleine lune) and A Summer's Tale (Conte d'été) - they're not his most renowned but I think they both have a touch of magic about them. Time's obituary of Rohmer can be read here.

Angus Reid subsample : Labour, SNP and Tories all fall back

The latest in Angus Reid's new series of UK-wide polls sees a boost for the Liberal Democrats and minor parties in the Scottish subsample, while Labour's lead over the SNP increases slightly, albeit with both parties slipping a few points. Here are the full figures -

Labour 34% (-3)
SNP 21% (-4)
Liberal Democrats 18% (+3)
Conservatives 16% (-2)
Others 10% (+4)

A UK-wide Populus poll has also emerged tonight, which (unlike Angus Reid) shows a widening Conservative lead over Labour. However, given Populus' habitual sluggishness in these matters, we'll be lucky to see the Scottish breakdown before the general election has been and gone!

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Sun caught telling porkies about its own opinion poll

Further to my last post, something truly extraordinary (well, perhaps no-one should be too surprised) - it turns out that the Sun essentially lied about the figures from the YouGov poll it published today. Here is how the tabloid reported the poll -

"GORDON Brown is dealt a stinging blow today as a massive Sun poll spells out Britain's fury at his government...
Almost half of the 10,344 Britons quizzed believed Labour's rule had been "poor" or 'terrible'...
It comes with Mr Brown having a maximum of 20 weeks in which to go to the country - and it gave the Tories a vital 12 per cent lead.
David Cameron's party received 42 per cent support with Labour trailing on 30 and the Lib Dems on 16."

So no-one can be in any doubt what the Sun is telling us here - in the survey of 10,344 people published today, the Conservatives have a 12-point lead. Just one problem - they don't.

Probably the alarm bells should have been ringing when the vote shares reported for all three GB-wide parties turned out, uncannily, to be absolutely identical to the YouGov poll published last Friday. A couple of hours ago, YouGov published the detailed figures of the megapoll on its website, and it transpires that the real standings are -

Conservatives 40%
Labour 30%
Liberal Democrats 17%
SNP/Plaid Cymru 3%
BNP 3%
Greens 2%
Others 1%

Peter Kellner's explanation for this divergence, delivered as if it was all an innocent misunderstanding (admittedly he can hardly be expected to directly acknowledge the deceit of his paying client), is that the 12-point lead quoted was taken from the one particular segment of the polling sample who were interviewed after the Hoon-Hewitt coup attempt, rather than from the full scale 10,000-strong sample. In other words, it was taken from the poll that had already been published on Friday, hence the absolutely indentical figures. Doubtless we are being invited to believe that the Sun's journalists simply overlooked that trifling detail in preparing the story. Aye, right.

In the wake of this story comes a truly vintage "Gotcha" moment for one of my former Tory Lady adversaries from, the notoriously passive-aggressive Ms. Plato (who you might also know as the author of the 'global warming is a dastardly conspiracy' flavoured blog Plato Says). When suspicions over the Sun's deceit started to emerge, she (with an affected air of weariness) opted for the 'trifling detail' line to explain why this is all a matter of very little import -

"Frankly, if one polling report is out by 2 and is really an aggregate of another three two of which we’ve already seen I'm not too excited about it."

And yet, when it was pointed out that the 12-point lead figure was from the post-coup segment, she triumphantly posted (complete with beaming smiley) -

"Good news!"

So suddenly one 'polling report' that is 'out by 2' seems considerably more exciting than it had just a few minutes earlier! Could this be because the two-point difference purported to be a Tory increase over time, rather than a decrease? Perish the thought! Just one further snag for Plato, though, which she apparently hadn't noticed before jumping in so rashly. This 'two-point increase' poll was not merely an aggregate of polls we had already seen before, but a shameless re-reporting of a poll that we had already seen in full last Friday!

Are the Tories and their allies getting so worried that they now feel the need to rely on double-reporting of the same poll to generate the illusion of momentum?

Massive YouGov subsample sees SNP trim Labour's lead

Bizarrely, the Sun have commissioned a YouGov poll with a sample size so enormous that the Scottish subsample is equivalent to a typical full-scale poll. The only remaining question is whether the Scottish figures are properly weighted - perhaps not, but nevertheless they must carry somewhat more credibility than most subsamples. Here are the full figures -

Labour 36% (-3)
SNP 25% (+2)
Conservatives 17% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 15% (-)
Others 8% (+4)

So Labour's lead over the SNP is cut from sixteen to eleven points, while the Nationalists consolidate their second place, which had briefly appeared threatened. Seemingly on the brink of power, the Tories are nevertheless going absolutely nowhere in Scotland, leaving very much open the 'Super Doomsday scenario' Peter Lynch set out on Jeff's blog a few weeks back. Meanwhile, I'd be intrigued to witness Iain Dale's logical contortions in trying to reconcile these figures - suggesting an eight-point drop in Liberal Democrat support since the 2005 election - with his prediction that the Lib Dems will gain four seats, and end up reaching a new high watermark of fifteen!

UPDATE : Just to confuse the issue, the fieldwork for this poll took place between the 5th and 7th of January, meaning it overlapped with - and to some extent even preceded - the previous YouGov subsample. So the 'percentage change' figures I give above are not really meaningful. It also means that some of the fieldwork took place before Labour were hit by Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt's hopelessly bungled coup attempt.