Saturday, April 24, 2010

A little local difficulty

A short postscript to my amusement about the leaflet from my constituency's Labour candidate that - at extraordinary length - went right round the houses of all the points on which he can be considered a thoroughly 'local' man, while unaccountably leaving out the central issue of where he actually lives. Today I received the SNP candidate's leaflet, in which there is a Q&A section that gives her the chance to straightforwardly 'ask' herself "Do you live in the constituency?", and to equally straightforwardly answer "Yes". No meal made out of it, just that. Advantage Nat on the 'local' front, I'd venture to suggest.

For the avoidance of doubt, I've never thought the local credentials of a candidate were the be-all-and-end-all, or anything close. But if Labour are foolish enough to deliberately define the battle in such trivial terms when they've got such a weak hand to play, they can hardly complain if it comes back to bite them.

Are we just two weeks from the day electoral reform ceases to be a 'chattering classes' issue?

An odd thought occurred to me tonight for the first time. One of the great 'what if?' questions of British politics is what would have happened had the SDP-Liberal Alliance managed to do only very slightly better in 1983, and had overhauled Labour in the popular vote - the point being that such a breakthrough would have been purely psychological, because Labour would still have been miles ahead in terms of seats, and would still have been designated the 'official opposition'. There are two schools of thought - David Owen for one thought it would have made very little difference, as there was too much of a vested interest amongst the media in perpetuating the two-horse Labour-Tory battle. But there were many others who took a different view, and felt that there would have been huge moral pressure on the broadcasters in particular to recognise the Alliance as the 'real' opposition, thus offering them a launching-pad to leave Labour behind and start challenging the Tories for power in future elections.

Sounds superficially plausible, but you very quickly start to recognise the flaws in the theory when you apply it to current circumstances. Once again, we're in a situation where Labour appear to be in danger of slipping to third in the popular vote, but this time the first-past-the-post voting system shows every sign of getting them off the hook not merely by keeping them in second place in terms of seats, but potentially even by keeping them in first place. With the best will in the world, it's very hard to see how the media could treat the Conservatives as the 'moral' government and the Liberal Democrats as the 'moral' opposition to that government, when presented with the reality of the 'moral' third party forming a minority government, or leading a coalition. However, the good news is that at that point, the public will inevitably wake up to the utter affront to democracy the voting system has just presented them with, and will surely be moved to demand something be done about it at last.

Mind you, you'd have thought a 'majority' government being elected in 2005 on 35% of the vote might already have been enough to pull off that particular trick, but apparently not. (He said wearily...)

Friday, April 23, 2010

A taste of what could and should have happened?

I've just been watching the tail-end of the re-run of the Prime Ministerial (sic) Debate on BBC2, mainly because I was intrigued to see that a two-hour slot had been set aside for a ninety-minute programme. The reason, it turned out, was that the half-hour 'political reaction' segment from the BBC News Channel had been tacked on at the end. This started, refreshingly, with responses from Angus Robertson of the SNP and Helen Mary Jones of Plaid Cymru. Ironically, if only this had been the format for the main broadcasts of all three debates (ie. reasonable space provided immediately afterwards for reactions from representatives of excluded parties) it could have formed the basis for a compromise that might just have been grudgingly considered acceptable to the nationalist parties. And if it was perfectly possible to do it for this re-run, it's very difficult to understand why even this relatively minor concession could not have been made for the main broadcasts. What could possibly have been the objection? That the public don't have the stamina to watch for more than ninety minutes? In that case, it would scarcely have been the end of the world if the debate had been cut down to seventy-five or eighty minutes, leaving a few minutes of space at the end for alternative political voices. Or perhaps the excuse is that it's just too tiresome for middle England voters (who are clearly deemed the high-grade citizens in this process) to have to listen to the SNP and Plaid Cymru. In that case, simple enough - have right-to-reply segments for the nationalist parties that are shown in Scotland and Wales only. There really is no credible excuse here.

The other thing that is extremely dismaying is how it's increasingly become clear that the broadcasters have consciously embraced the role of political opponents to the SNP and Plaid on this issue, rather than adopting a more appropriate neutral/passive tone. Their tactics in doing so may be somewhat more subtle than Fox News applies to the Democrats in the US, but there can be little doubt that there have been orders from on high about the language that must be used at all times by presenters to hold the line, and to justify the nationalists' exclusion. When Angus Robertson raised a (quite brief) objection tonight, Laura Kuennsberg immediately shot him down with a clearly pre-prepared line about how the SNP would have a chance to put their case at length in the Scottish side-debates. The reason this stuck out a mile was that it came in the form of a statement, rather than a question or a point to which Robertson was being invited to respond - ie. not at all what you would expect from Kuennsberg when she is in the middle of conducting a political interview.

But the first sign of this consciously oppositional orientation towards the SNP in fact came several weeks ago when the issue was raised on the Glasgow edition of Question Time, on which Alex Salmond was a panellist. The audience member who asked the question innocently referred to the debates as what they are, ie. "leaders' debates", but was instantly 'corrected' by David Dimbleby, who informed us that "these are in fact Prime Ministerial Debates, for the three men vying to become Prime Minister". Again, this was clearly a very carefully prepared line that he had been instructed to use to preempt Alex Salmond's response. But, thankfully, there remains one reliably off-message broadcaster who we can always look towards to blow the lid off what's really going on. Just the other day on his blog, Michael Crick revealed that the BBC were horrified that ITV and Sky hadn't stuck to the original agreement of branding their debates 'Prime Ministerial' - but that journalists were being instructed to carry on using that term regardless, because it was considered necessary to justify the SNP and Plaid's exclusion. And sure enough, it's been very noticeable that every single time the ITV or Sky debate has been mentioned in a BBC news broadcast, it's been referred to as a Prime Ministerial Debate. Thus, on each and every occasion those three words are uttered, it can reasonably be viewed as an intentional, calculated - albeit subtle - assault on the nationalists' stance on this issue. There's realistically no other way of interpreting it, given that it would otherwise be far more logical to refer to the debates by their actual names. (For the record, the ITV one was called The First Election Debate, and Sky's was called either The Leaders' Debate, or Decision Time : The Sky News Debate.)

I, like others, have already given innumerable reasons why the 'Prime Ministerial' conceit never stood up to the slightest scrutiny - but here's another. If you take the principle to it's logical conclusion, it means that all election debates should be based upon the government office the participants are aspiring to hold. In which case, the Scottish debates should have been dubbed 'Scottish Secretarial Debates', and the SNP should have been banned from participating on the grounds that Angus Robertson is not 'trying' to become Scottish Secretary, and that he has no 'realistic prospect of doing so'. The broadcasters would have been laughed at if they'd tried to make that stick, but in truth it's no more or less logical than their threadbare excuse for barring the nationalists from the main leaders' debates.

Former Labour spin-doctor Lorraine Davidson hit the nail on the head on Newsnight Scotland tonight - if (as seems quite possible) it becomes clear that voting patterns have been substantially affected by the nationalists' exclusion from the main debates, that by definition is sufficient to establish that the broadcasters have breached their legal and moral obligation to provide fair and balanced coverage of the campaign. And that, in turn, significantly compromises the 'free and fair' status of the whole general election in Scotland and Wales, bearing in mind the central importance of the broadcast media in modern campaigns. Yes, given the variable political geometry of the UK, it was always going to be hard to devise a suitable format for the debates that is fair all round - but it's nevertheless the duty of the broadcasters to do just that, rather than to spend all their time dreaming up ever more inventive excuses for evading that responsibility.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

There are some 'separatists' who Labour are rather fond of...

Looking at Northern Ireland politics from a distance, it's always seemed that the main faultline in the internal politics of the SDLP lies between the party's twin ideologies - social democracy and Irish nationalism. The caricature is that under Gerry Fitt's leadership until 1979, social democracy had the upper hand, but since then the party has been an out-and-out nationalist outfit. I had been gaining the impression recently that the newly-elected leader Margaret Ritchie was perhaps returning to a more social democratic emphasis, with her unexpected announcement at the Irish Labour Party conference that a merger with Fianna Fáil was now completely off the agenda. It had always been slightly puzzling how a centre-left party could possibly imagine FF to be its closest natural allies in the Republic - unless the common ground of nationalism trumped all other considerations, of course.

Nevertheless, on the news this evening, Ritchie didn't seem to be shy about burnishing her nationalist credentials either, with a call for sweeping new economic powers for the devolved Northern Ireland administration, and a reaffirmation that Irish unity was still very much the ultimate aim. So here we have a party that is avowedly both nationalist and social democratic in its outlook, that wants to further devolution, and that ultimately wants to break all ties with London. Does any of this sound vaguely familiar? Well, for all that they have in common there is still one huge difference between the SNP and the SDLP - and that is in Labour's attitude towards the two parties. In the eyes of the 'People's Party', the SNP are dastardly 'separatists' who are hellbent on 'breaking up Britain', but mysteriously the SDLP are...Labour's sister party.

I'm sure if you challenged a Labour politician over that blatant inconsistency, they would conjure up some rough-and-ready sophistry about historical differences between Scotland and Northern Ireland - but in truth there is only one historical difference that is of any real relevance, namely that Scotland is a traditional Labour stronghold, and NI never was. Amazing how 'separatists' suddenly seem so much more objectionable when they threaten to take parliamentary seats away from you.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Is it not utterly presumptuous of us not to assume that the Tories are bound to triumph?

I haven't visited my old haunt at Political Betting for a couple of weeks, but I finally succumbed to the temptation of having a little peek today to see how the normally triumphalist 'Tory Herd' were coping with the trauma of the apparent collapse in their party's fortunes over such a short period (always assuming last night's ComRes wasn't an early sign of a reversal of that trend). The displays of total denial about the situation didn't disappoint. A particular gem was this comment, part of a long contribution from regular Scottish poster 'Easterross' -

"If there is a Hung Parliament, is it not presumptious to not assume that some LibDems or Labour MPs might jump ship and join the Tories, especially if DC and Team Blue achieve 280+ seats?"

This is indeed a novel concept, that it's actually presumptuous not to assume something. Especially when that something is highly speculative, bordering on the utterly outlandish. Is it presumptuous of me not to assume that Vernon Kay is the next Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster?

Easterross goes on to fall headlong into Benedict Brogan's trap of assuming that anecdotal evidence about what 'real people are telling Tories' somehow completely invalidates the overwhelming evidence of scientifically-conducted opinion polls. I vividly recall a Labour canvasser on Political Betting during the 2007 Holyrood campaign - who I'm quite sure was honestly relating what he was finding on the doorsteps - confidently asserting that his party would comfortably hold Govan, Linlithgow and Livingston in defiance of opinion poll predictions. out of three wasn't bad.

Jackanory Jim hoist by his own petard

I was somewhat flabbergasted, to put it mildly, to see Hamish Macdonell in the Caledonian Mercury declare Jim Murphy the winner of the STV election debate, albeit very narrowly. I left this comment, which for the time being is stuck in moderation -

I keep trying to think what Jim Murphy reminds me of, and I think perhaps it’s a particularly creepy Jackanory storyteller – “But because of everything that happened, people started to get Iraq and Afghanistan mixed up, and that wasn’t a good thing, children”.

The Great Divide in Scottish public opinion is between those who think that approach is insufferably patronising and insincere, and those who inexplicably don’t, and you’d really have to be on the latter side of that divide to think Murphy won the debate – even on points.

I was pleasantly surprised by Carmichael, but for me Angus Robertson was the clear winner.

The most amusing moment came when Murphy thought he had scored a clear hit by seizing a convenient opportunity to slot in a pre-prepared piece of synthetic anger towards Angus Robertson, delivered in his trademark holier-than-thou tone - "let's not hear any more about 'London parties', I think all of us here tonight are Scottish patriots". He must have been purring with pleasure just seconds later when an irate member of the audience appeared to also pile in on Robertson, pointing out that this is a "British general election, and you're a Scottish National". It later transpired, however, that the supposed 'Scottish National' being taken to task was not in fact Robertson, but Murphy himself! The Scottish Secretary spluttered with indignation, but the retort was instant - "you've just been telling us how Scottish you are". The logic was inescapable and devastating. Murphy couldn't have sounded more pompous when the only objection he could muster was "he [Robertson] is the nationalist, I'm the patriot". The price of trying to have your cake and eat it once too often.

Does Murphy genuinely think that Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems are Scottish parties, no different from the SNP? Or does he instead think they have some kind of special additional 'British' status that doesn't apply to the SNP which, to give an example completely off the top of my head, entitles them to hours and hours of bonus TV coverage in debates to which only they are invited? If it's the latter (and it can only be the latter), it's hard to see how he can credibly complain about Robertson drawing that clear distinction between the SNP and the others - preciously feigning mortal offence at the exact choice of terminology really isn't going to wash.

Carmichael's finest moment was when he took Murphy and Mundell to task over their arrogance and presumptuousness in telling the electorate the only choice was between Brown or Cameron, and that a vote for anyone else was a wasted vote. Just a pity he couldn't spot the overwhelming irony in then insisting "there are three choices here" in the middle of a debate involving four parties.

Time to liberate election campaigns from the tyranny of opinion polls?

One of the oddities of the Scottish "leaders'" debate tonight was that it started with the results of an opinion poll. As it happened, that worked very much in Angus Robertson's favour, as it showed the SNP clearly ahead of both the Lib Dems and the Tories, thus portraying the party as the main alternative to Labour. But as a matter of principle I think it was the wrong thing for STV to do. It plants ideas in the minds of the viewers right from the outset about which parties are well-regarded and which aren't, and that must inevitably skew perceptions of the debate that follows. The whole purpose of a debate should be to allow the public to take a 'clean slate' look at the merits of each party and make their own minds up.

Which raises a broader question with particular relevance tonight - how much does the reporting of opinion polls during an election campaign not merely inform us about the state of public opinion, but actually influence the state of public opinion by creating a sense of momentum? Tonight, there are four new GB-wide polls, three of which show a continuation of the pattern of recent days, with a very tight battle for the lead between the Tories and the buoyant Liberal Democrats. Unfortunately, it's the fourth poll - which looks very much like an outlier - that is in danger of receiving all the attention simply because it was commissioned by a TV news programme. That poll shows the Tories opening up a nine-point gap on both the Lib Dems and Labour. Will the disproportionate coverage for this one poll generate an artificial sense of momentum for Cameron, and thus alter public opinion in the coming days?

Perhaps the French have the right idea - simply ban polls during the campaign, and let the public focus on the issues and not the horse-race. Yes, poll figures would still leak out on the internet, and anyone who really wanted to know what was going on could keep themselves very well informed, but there wouldn't be anything like the same distorting impact on the campaign.

It's not an issue I have a fixed view on, but it's certainly worthy of thought.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Boris and the bursting of bubbles

Boris Johnson in full-blown denial mode over Cameron's poor performance in the debate last week -

"Watching that debate, I had the clear impression that Cameron aced every question. His answers were clear, concise and knowledgeable, and in my focus group of 12- to 16-year-olds he was the overwhelming winner. 'David Cameron knows more than the others," said the 12-year-old, "and everything he says is true!'"

Hmmm. I believe that's what's known as the 'interviewer effect', Boris. (Or a socially unrepresentative sample, or a plain old-fashioned porky - take your pick.)

On his broader point that the current Nick Clegg surge is transitory, he may or may not be right, but I'm not sure this particular man - whose superficial popularity brought about solely by acting like a buffoon on a TV comedy quiz show took him all the way to the London mayoralty - is ideally placed to claim that another politician's 'bubble is bound to burst'.

Post-debate Angus Reid sample : SNP just two points behind Labour

That's the good news - the bad news is that they're also five points behind the Liberal Democrats, who now hold an unlikely lead. However, if these figures were anything like accurate, it would potentially bring back into play for the SNP a number of Labour-held seats that had been looking relatively safe in recent weeks. That's a monumental 'if', of course, given that the sample size is so small, although Angus Reid do seem to be the one pollster to weight their Scottish sample separately from the rest of Great Britain. Here are the full figures -

Liberal Democrats 28% (+11)
Labour 25% (-11)
SNP 23% (-1)
Conservatives 19% (-1)
Others 5% (+2)

At GB-wide level, this most beloved pollster of the CyberTories has comprehensively let the side down by producing what is unarguably a hung parliament poll. The Tories and Lib Dems are tied for the lead at 32%, and even the Tories' advantage over Labour is the lowest it's yet been in an Angus Reid poll.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Why doesn't Clegg make the case for PR directly?

As my previous post will testify, I hold no brief for the Liberal Democrats, but there was something rather chilling about reading the principal political 'news' story in the online edition of the Sun today. No-one can seriously dispute the historic nature of the first British Polling Council-approved poll to show the Liberal Democrats in the lead (let alone that this development should happen just seventeen days out from polling day), and yet instead of reporting that dramatic news, as you might naively think is the first duty of a newspaper, the Sun set out to change the news. More specifically, to make a decisive intervention in the election campaign and thus determine who will govern us for the next five years, just as they did - to our eternal gratitude - in 1992. Apparently, the real significance of the poll is that the voters disagree with the Lib Dems' "potty" policies, but - the silly dears - are still toying with the idea of voting for that party and not the Tories. High time for the public-spirited Sun to take them by the hand before they go and do something Rupert Murdoch might regret.

In truth, the Sun had to move heaven and earth to frame their poll questions in such a way that allowed them to claim that the voters reject a majority of Lib Dem policies. And, having spent much of the last few weeks defending YouGov against paranoid CyberTory attacks, I'm utterly dismayed that particular polling organisation has gone along with such a cynical charade. Look, for example, at the description of the nuclear weapons policy that respondents were invited to agree or disagree with -

"Replace Britain's Trident nuclear weapons system and develop a variant that is a lot cheaper but less powerful and possibly easier to detect and stop."

The Sun must have been horrified that such a breathtakingly loaded question failed to produce the desired response, with as many people supporting the policy as opposing it. And the paper fell completely flat on its face with its bizarre characterisation of proportional representation -

"Change the voting system for electing MPs, so that individual constituencies become much larger and parties are represented in parliament broadly in line with their national vote"

Now, of course it's quite true that STV would lead to larger constituencies, but does that particular detail really get to the heart of the issue? Amusingly, in spite of this obfuscation, there was overwhelming backing for PR in the poll, by 54% to 16%. There can be little doubt - electoral reform is hugely popular with the public, almost regardless of how you present it to them.

So what puzzles me is this - why doesn't Nick Clegg take advantage of this issue where he's (like the SNP) so clearly on the right side of the argument, and the Tories, Labour and the right-wing press are so clearly on the wrong side? Jeremy Thorpe, David Steel, Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy never had any problem envangelising for PR in straightforward terms. But somehow on Thursday night Clegg couldn't quite bring himself to confront the public with the actual policy, instead using code-words like "cleaning up the political system from top to toe". But if the electorate are already on his side, where's the need for such timidity? Paddy Ashdown used to say to the Tories and Labour "don't even pick up the phone" to ask for a coalition if they weren't prepared to concede "fair votes", and it didn't seem to do him any harm. The cynical side of me wonders if Clegg doesn't rank electoral reform as quite such a high priority as the rest of his party, and wants to at least keep the option open of selling Lib Dem principles down the river if the right offer presents itself.

The good news is that I doubt his party would let him get away with it.

Have the Lib Dems just made Alex Salmond's post-election interview that bit easier?

Even when Alex Salmond first set his target of twenty Westminster seats, I think most of us knew that twelve or fifteen - arguably even ten - would be a fantastic result for the SNP. Of course, there's a strong case for saying that by aiming even higher you make it more likely that good things will happen, but the downside was always that the unionist parties were just waiting for something to add to the 'Free by 93' file of over-optimistic predictions to be recited back ad infinitum. However, I think we can now cross the Liberal Democrats off the list of unionist parties that will be reciting it back, at least without blushing. On the strength of the latest Scotland on Sunday poll - which let's not forget still has the Lib Dems in third place, 4% down on their 2005 showing - Tavish's Tearaways have just rashly declared that they are on course to win seventeen Scottish seats.

In a lot of ways, this is much more of a hostage to fortune than Salmond's target ever was, simply because seventeen is such a peculiarly specific number. Twenty can be explained away afterwards as an approximate ballpark figure, but seventeen makes it sound like - indeed by all accounts it does actually mean - that they know exactly which seventeen seats they expect to win. When they fall well short of that mark (and in spite of the events of recent days I'm almost certain they will do) they'll doubtless be asked to remind us of the constituencies in question, and explain why they failed in each case. Or, then again, perhaps everyone will just conveniently forget the prediction was ever made - after all, this was the party that informed us in the afterglow of their 2005 success that Nicol Stephen was the next First Minister of Scotland.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The product of foul means

It seems that I wasn't quite up to speed in my post this morning - there is in fact a full-scale Scottish YouGov poll in today's Scotland on Sunday. Slightly infuriatingly, though, despite several minutes of searching the website I've failed to track down the exact figures, although from John Curtice's analysis it appears that the SNP are on 20%, and have been overtaken (but perhaps not by much) by the Liberal Democrats, while Labour have taken the biggest hit. So the SNP have indeed suffered a little from being completely shut out of what was by far the biggest setpiece event of the election campaign. Who'd have thunk it? If such an outcome had been achieved by fair means it might even be something for the three self-styled "main UK parties" to crow about.

I'm a bit dubious about John Curtice's suggestion that Alex Salmond should essentially swallow his pride and rethink his decision not to take part personally in two of the three Scottish side-debates. If there was the remotest chance that a good performance in those debates could achieve the same snowball effect that Nick Clegg managed on Thursday, I'm quite sure Salmond would be there in a trice - but sadly for us all no-one will be taking debates featuring Alistair Carmichael and David Mundell remotely seriously. The only way they could have less credibility would be if Iain "the Snarl" Gray was representing Labour. In any event, Angus Robertson is a fine debater, and although I expect the impact to be severely limited, I'm quite sure he'll be light-years ahead of the competition come Tuesday night.

UPDATE : I've finally tracked down the full figures at UK Polling Report, and it appears that my interpretation of Curtice's analysis was slightly wrong. The Lib Dems had only overtaken the SNP in the half of the sample that were questioned after the debate, but in the headline figures the SNP remain (at least for now) in second place.

Dispensing with the full nuclear loaf

I mentioned in a previous post Iain Dale's wishful thinking that a surge for the Lib Dems might split the 'centre-left' vote and lead to a 1983-style landslide for the Tories. To be fair he now seems to have well and truly given up on that one! However there's one 1983-vintage fantasy that leading Tories don't seem to be quite ready to give up on just yet. They were convinced after Thursday's debate that Nick Clegg had made a tactical blunder by repeatedly stressing that the replacement for Trident could not be afforded, and were rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of this being painted as a 'loony-left' fringe position in precisely the way Michael Foot's unilateralism was in 1983. The only trouble is that today's (rather historic) BPIX poll in the Mail on Sunday shows that the public have long since moved on from Britain's Cold War-era delusions of grandeur, even if the Tories - and indeed Labour - haven't. By a margin of 46% to 34%, respondents agree that the UK's nuclear 'deterrent' should be scrapped.

But as Jeff points out today, there is actually a huge problem for Clegg and the Lib Dems on this issue - it just isn't the one the Tories have in mind. The problem is that Clegg doesn't actually agree with the public that our nuclear weapons should be scrapped, although you'd never have got that impression from listening to him on Thursday night. As Jeff hints, this could be a huge opportunity for the SNP (if they ever get enough access to the media to put their case forward, that is). It's a bit of a no-brainer that, if you believe in a nuclear weapons-free Scotland, you should vote for the only main party to be offering you the full loaf, rather than just a couple of slices.

Quite possibly the most bizarre opinion poll finding in history

Believe it or not, I'm not talking about the BPIX poll that puts the Liberal Democrats in the outright lead for the first time. I'm instead referring to the latest ComRes survey, which has purportedly found that 1% of adults in Great Britain are planning to vote SNP - and that none of them actually live in Scotland. The SNP supposedly have a zero rating in the Scottish subsample, but a decidedly impressive 2% vote share in the Midlands and 1% in both the south-east and south-west of England. Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru do fare marginally better in their homeland - but still somehow manage to have more than three times as many supporters in the Midlands and the south-east of England as they do in Wales!

I don't want to tempt fate, but that does look pretty clearly like a gremlin that's got into the works somewhere. Hopefully ComRes will clarify the situation shortly...

The first figures from a post-debate YouGov subsample look at least a touch more plausible. As ever with subsamples it's just a straw in the wind that may not mean much, but given the obscene disparity between the TV coverage in recent days for the London parties and the SNP (and especially between the coverage for the Liberal Democrats and the SNP) it's intriguing to see any early signals of how resilient the SNP vote is proving to be in these circumstances. The figures are -

Labour 44%
SNP 18%
Liberal Democrats 18%
Conservatives 17%
Others 3%

I can't give percentage changes from the previous poll, because as far as I can see the Scottish breakdown from that survey hasn't been published yet. These obviously aren't great numbers for the SNP, but given the hype of recent days, there will be a degree of relief if it turns out that the Lib Dems haven't got away from them. Perhaps the party has now weathered the most difficult part of the campaign - the next of the rigged UK-wide leaders' debates will not attract anything like the same live audience due to being screened on Sky News, while we still have all of the (admittedly Mickey Mouse) Scottish debates to come. I don't think I'm being too bold in predicting that Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson will probably get the better of Mundell and co.

Incidentally, YouGov asked a side-question that produced a significant disparity between Scottish and English responses. By a margin of 51% to 42%, English respondents agreed that Britain "is a three party state", whereas in Scotland there was an even split. Of course the reason for the disparity is blindingly obvious - but I do wonder of it was quite so obvious to the pollsters who devised such a blatantly flawed question. They probably imagined that anyone who disagreed with the statement was automatically saying they live in a two-party state, rather than one that in fact contains four (or more) major parties.