Friday, June 16, 2017

An open suggestion : if anyone on the pro-indy side has ever thought about commissioning an opinion poll, this would be the optimum moment to do it

Most of you have probably come across Peter Hitchens' famous quote about the purpose of opinion polls -

"Opinion polls are a device for influencing public opinion, not a device for measuring it. Crack that, and it all makes sense."

That is, of course, a massive over-generalisation. Almost all of the voting intention polls we saw in the run-up to the general election were genuine, if mostly extremely poor, attempts at measuring public opinion. Based on the past history of polls having an in-built pro-Labour skew, ICM and ComRes honestly believed they were improving accuracy with their extreme Tory-friendly methodologies. It's doubtful whether the polling errors worked in the Tories' favour anyway - if people had actually known that Labour were only a couple of points behind the Tories, it's likely that scare stories about a Corbyn premiership would have had far greater potency.

There's a 'but' here, though. Voting intention polls using standard, neutral wording are one thing, but non-standard, non-neutral poll questions about other matters have an entirely different purpose. Even more famous than Hitchens' quote is the Yes, Minister scene in which Sir Humphrey demonstrates how it's easily possible to get exactly the same poll respondents to say that they both support and oppose the reintroduction of National Service. All you need to do is use wording which makes the desired answer seem like the 'natural', 'obvious' one.

In Scotland we've just seen a particularly sinister example of that dark use of opinion polls, with the Daily Record commissioning Survation to ask a ludicrously leading question designed to produce a result that made it seem as if Scotland had turned decisively against a second independence referendum. Whether or not the stunt was done in direct collusion with the Tories, it may as well have been, because within a few short hours Ruth Davidson was brandishing the poll at First Minister's Questions as 'proof' that her narrative about the meaning of the election result was the correct one.

And there you see pretty plainly what the function of the poll was - it's no exaggeration to say that it formed part of a 'soft coup'. You can't steal people's votes with a poll, but what you can do (especially in our present quasi-colonial set-up) is steal the meaning of their votes. You can turn black into white, and establish a narrative that people were somehow voting against the flagship policy of the winning party. So how was it done? Obviously the first indispensable step was a 2014-style 'shock and awe' media propaganda campaign that relentlessly portrayed the SNP's election victory as an unmitigated disaster for the party. Bang in the middle of that hysteria, you run a poll that doesn't ask about an independence referendum as a matter of principle, but specifically ties it to the general election result - thus inviting people to agree that it's only 'natural' that a referendum should not take place in the light of the general election result, as helpfully interpreted by the media. In order to dispute that such a conclusion is 'natural', a respondent would have to consciously resist the near-unanimous media verdict on the election, which is not easy to do, particularly given that the SNP did not challenge it strongly enough themselves.

It doesn't end there, though. The proposition was also framed negatively - respondents had to agree or disagree with the statement that "Following the General Election result, Nicola Sturgeon should remove her demand for a second independence referendum". Given that 'demand' is a pejorative word, and that groundwork had been done to establish in people's minds that Nicola Sturgeon was the loser of the election she won, it would take a good bit of psychological effort to actively disagree with what is intentionally presented as a 'perfectly reasonable' point of view. Indeed, to indicate disagreement, a respondent would have had to check the box next to the following faintly ridiculous formulation of words : "Following the General Election result, Nicola Sturgeon should not remove her demand for a second independence referendum".  The result of the poll was utterly predictable, and that was the Record's plan from the start.

So how do we combat this cynical tactic? The only way would be for someone on the pro-indy side to commission their own poll as a matter of urgency.  In theory it could use a scrupulously neutral question, such as "Do you think there should be an independence referendum within the next five/ten years?". In my view, that would probably produce a majority against a referendum in the current mad climate, but I doubt if the size of the majority would be anything like the one found in the Record's dodgy poll. Probably more useful, though, would be to deliberately approach the issue from a different angle - someone suggested today on Twitter that people should be asked whether the Scottish Parliament or the UK government should decide the timing of a referendum. We've had polls like that in the past which have shown decisive majorities backing the Scottish Parliament's right to choose, and it would be very helpful to have that principle reinforced in a post-election poll.

Here are another couple of possibilities -

Q.  At the recent general election, the SNP won 35 Scottish seats, the Conservatives won 13, Labour won 7 and the Liberal Democrats won 4.  Who do you think won the election in Scotland?

a) SNP
b) Conservatives
c) Labour
d) Liberal Democrats
e) Nobody won

Q.  At the recent general election, the SNP won 60% of the Scottish seats at Westminster.  Do you think this gives them a mandate to call an independence referendum once the terms of Brexit are known?

a) Yes
b) No

One thing is for sure - we're at a crucial turning-point in Scottish history, and dark forces are stopping at nothing in their attempts to neutralise our pro-indy movement for good. A 'counter-poll' would be a very useful tool to deploy, and as soon as possible.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The SNP performed BETTER last week than in most recent elections

Someone suggested on an earlier thread that the SNP's performance last week was "by far the worst in seven years".  That's completely and utterly untrue, and it's perhaps another sign of how the relentless media propaganda campaign is starting to mess with people's heads.  Here is how the SNP's 36.9% of the popular vote at the general election actually compares with the other elections that have been held over the last seven years...

SNP vote shares in each election :

2010 UK general election : 19.9%
2011 Scottish Parliament election : 45.4% (constituency), 44.0% (list)
2012 Local elections : 32.3%
2014 European election : 29.0%
2015 UK general election : 50.0%
2016 Scottish Parliament election : 46.5% (constituency), 41.7% (list)
2017 Local elections : 32.3%
2017 UK general election : 36.9%

As you can see, the SNP's performance last Thursday was actually significantly better than in no fewer than four of the other seven elections that have taken place since 2010.  It was also better than in any set of local elections in history (the 32.3% in both 2012 and 2017 is the high watermark to date), and better than in any European election in history (32.6% in 1994 is the all-time high).  It was better than the 32.9% of the constituency vote and 31.0% of the list vote achieved when the party won its first Holyrood election in 2007.  And it was far better than the vote share achieved in any UK general election prior to 2015 - the previous record had been just 30.4% in October 1974.

When you bear in mind that UK general elections tend to be the toughest contests that the SNP faces (due to voters becoming transfixed with the Tory v Labour battle for power in London), hopefully you can see how 37% of the vote last week and a comfortable 8.3% lead over the second-placed party was an extremely creditable performance.  It may have been below pre-election expectations, but it wasn't below-par in any other sense.

*  *  *

Michael Portillo made two confident predictions on tonight's This Week that completely startled me : 1) that Theresa May will not even survive as Prime Minister until the autumn conference season, and 2) that the government will decide to keep Britain in both the single market and the customs union.  I've been strongly convinced that the opposite is true, and it has to be said that plenty of Portillo's predictions have proved wrong in the past, but let's suppose just for a moment that he's right.  The most obvious consequence would be that an early general election would become much more likely.  A new Tory leader might seek a personal mandate, but even if they don't, a bona fide Soft Brexit (as opposed to a fudge that falls short of single market membership) will surely lead to at least a few Eurosceptic Tory MPs resigning the whip on the grounds that the British public has been betrayed.  They might even jump direct to UKIP if Nigel Farage becomes active again and gets his party back in the game.  The arithmetic supporting the Tory-DUP pact would then become severely imperilled.

Survation poll reinforces the need for the SNP to strongly speak up for their mandate to hold a referendum

The Daily Record are full of beans about a poll they've commissioned from Survation showing that, by a roughly 2-1 margin, respondents think "Following the general election result, Nicola Sturgeon should remove her demand for a second independence referendum".  The most important thing to say straight away is that this poll question is about a billion light-years away from being neutrally-worded - it frames the issue as being about Nicola Sturgeon, rather than about Scotland, and implants the idea that she is someone who makes petulant "demands" rather than takes decisions.  It also explicitly ties the issue to the general election result, making it harder for respondents to ignore what they've read in the papers and seen on the TV about how Scotland has apparently just said "no" to a referendum by electing a majority of pro-independence MPs.  It seems overwhelmingly likely that a more neutral question (such as "Do you think there should be an independence referendum within the next five/ten years?") would have produced a more favourable result.

In spite of the poll's extreme shortcomings, though, it's important to note that it flatly contradicts the findings of a poll only a few weeks ago that found the public thought that the SNP would have a clear mandate for a referendum if they won a majority of Scottish seats at the general election.  This apparently irrational 180 degree shift in public opinion would suggest that the SNP have been extremely foolish in not strongly challenging the narrative of their opponents and the mainstream media that their victory at the general election was somehow a rebuff for a referendum.  Yes, it's incredibly difficult to fight against the tide when even the BBC abandon all pretence at objectivity and describe a landslide SNP triumph as a "rejection of independence", but nevertheless it seems likely that the problem could at least have been ameliorated if the SNP had stood up for the mandate they had just received in the hours following the election.  It would have been perfectly possible to acknowledge painful setbacks in certain regions of Scotland while emphasising that the nationwide SNP victory reinforced the mandate for a referendum.

Having made that tactical error, though, the important thing now is that the SNP hold their nerve in the face of polls like this.  We know that polls conducted immediately after an election tend to produce extreme results which are often quickly reversed as politics returns to normal.  (Witness the Panelbase and Survation polls in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum showing a majority for independence - presumably they were one of the reasons that Kezia Dugdale panicked and almost reversed Labour's stance on an indyref.)  If everyone just holds tight, it's not unreasonable to suppose that we'll soon see a return to the status quo ante as far as attitudes towards both independence and a referendum are concerned.  Even in this poll, there is still a 43% Yes vote, which suggests an extraordinary resilience in support for independence.

For the reasons I've given previously, it would be a historic error for the SNP to panic in the face of this media onslaught and abandon their commitment to an independence referendum at the end of the Brexit process.  This is a difficult moment, but it will soon pass.  Let's make sure we've kept the flame alight for when it does.

The landslide winner is supposed to resign, apparently

London-based Alastair Meeks of Stormfront Lite has followed up yesterday's more measured piece with a barking mad article claiming bewilderment that Nicola Sturgeon hasn't resigned in the wake of last week's general election.  Well, let's see - she's by far the SNP's most successful leader of all-time, and she's just won a fourth successive national election victory in the space of less than three years.  During the campaign, YouGov showed that she remained the most popular of the Scottish party leaders in absolute terms.  On the face of it, these would all appear to be excellent reasons for holding on to her, but I dare say things look different when viewed from the metropolis.

Of the SNP's landslide victory last week, Alastair says : "Nor was this a narrow defeat."  The new post-arithmetic politics is getting rather comical.

Alastair also expands on his theory from yesterday that the Tories can safely regard the SNP as "reliable enemies", because both parties will be desperate to avoid an early election.  He reckons that this will allow Labour the opportunity to present themselves as a more authentically anti-Tory party than the SNP.  All of this is in the realms of utter fantasy.  For the avoidance of doubt, if there is a vote on the floor of the House of Commons to bring the government down, then regardless of strategic judgements over whether an early election would be in the SNP's interests, they will walk through the lobbies with Labour to bring that election about.  Anyone who thinks otherwise just doesn't 'get' Scottish politics, and certainly doesn't understand the long-term penalty that any centre-left party in Scotland would pay for helping to keep the Tories in power for even a week longer than necessary.

Stormfront Lite is of course heavily dominated by Tory contributors, and it does appear that Alastair is lulling them into a false sense of security.  If any smaller parties are going to sustain Tory rule for five years, it'll be the DUP, Lady Hermon, and maybe the Lib Dems after Brexit.  But the can forget it, I'm afraid.  Just not going to happen.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Of course the SNP will vote to bring down the Tories - if they can

Over at Stormfront Lite, Alastair Meeks has mused that an early general election is unlikely to happen, and that part of the reason is that the SNP would not vote for it -

"The SNP also seem to be staring down the barrel of a gun. Unless their poll ratings recover markedly, they look set to lose many more seats at the next election simply because those voters who wish to defend the union now have a clear route map which party to back in most constituencies. So there looks likely to be an enduring majority opposed to an early election, with or without the DUP."

With all due respect to Alastair, this is a classic case of a southern commentator not really 'getting' the political realities in Scotland.  As I said in my article in The National the other day, I do think the SNP would probably prefer there not to be an election for a while, but it's a much more finely-balanced call than Alastair thinks - lots of SNP seats are vulnerable to Labour, but there are also a hell of a lot of new Tory seats that look very precarious, and in which the SNP are the only realistic challengers.  If you can imagine the psychological impact of Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson reclaiming their seats (what would Peter "only Salmond's result matters" Kellner say then?!), you can see why the SNP might reckon that an early election is not an entirely unattractive prospect, especially if Tory support starts to drop even a little.

There are two other key points - firstly, although Alastair is correct that SNP seats in the central belt look vulnerable to Labour, he's largely wrong about the reason.  "Defending the union" tactical voting obsessives were not exactly thin on the ground in the campaign we've just had, so it's hard to see how that problem is suddenly going to get dramatically worse.  No, the real problem is the sheer momentum behind Corbyn, and the way it may carry along left-wing voters who in many cases actually believe in independence.  From that point of view, an October election could look a tad scary, but the momentum may well have fizzled out if things drag on until next year or beyond.

Secondly, regardless of the strategic judgement on whether an election is in the SNP's best interests, there is no real doubt that they will vote in favour of one if they get a chance, and that they will vote against the Tory government in any vote of no confidence.  Yes, they abstained on the calling of the election we've just had, but they were able to justify that on the basis that it looked overwhelmingly likely that the Tories would significantly increase their majority.  If there looks to be the remotest chance of getting the Tories out, they will have no choice at all - the long-term consequences of being seen to "keep the Tories in" hardly bear thinking about.

All of this is fairly academic, because the arithmetic supporting a Tory-DUP deal is reasonably secure - even if the Tories suffer a string of by-election defeats, it would probably take at least three years before there would be any chance of a defeat on a vote of confidence.  That's unless there are defections - Alastair dismisses that notion on the grounds of the wide ideological gap between the parties, but I would have thought the Liberal Democrats might start to look like a tempting alternative home for one or two liberal Tory MPs if the Brexit negotiations go badly.

More realistically, though, if an early election happens it will not be because the Tories have literally been brought down - it'll be because they can't get their business through the Commons, and start looking for an escape route, or because Theresa May is replaced and the new leader decides to gamble (and it would obviously be a huge gamble) on gaining a personal mandate.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The SNP mustn't allow itself to become hobbled for decades by the legend of a "defeat" that never actually happened

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the TalkRadio website, with more thoughts on why the SNP would be extremely unwise to reverse policy on an independence referendum.  In particular, going down that road would create a dangerous legend that a referendum didn't happen because the British Prime Minister "bravely stood up to the SNP", rather than because she outrageously ignored a clear democratic mandate.  You can read the article HERE.