Monday, May 21, 2018
First things first: this is not an independence poll. If you want to know whether people think Scotland should be an independent country, you ask "Should Scotland be an independent country?", or use very similar wording. If you turn the question on its head and ask whether Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom, you tend to get a slightly different result. That may seem inexplicable, but there are lots of people in the middle who aren't really that bothered one way or the other, and who have a different instinctive reaction depending on how the question is framed. What makes this poll even less meaningful is that it isn't even about Scotland specifically - it asks about whether the union of four nations should continue in roughly its current form. If you're a voter with no particularly strong view about Scottish independence, it's highly unlikely that you would give a negative answer to that question. You would feel like you were tearing someone else's house down because of your uncertainty about where the best interests of your own country lie - ie. just one country out of the four. You'd have to be a very committed Yesser to reply in that way - and as it happens a healthy enough 30% did so. A further 18% declined to give a view.
Apologies to any disappointed unionists, then, but this poll does not show an increase in opposition to independence. It's just a practical demonstration of the obvious point that if you ask a different question you get a different answer. I have no idea what the poll would have shown if it had asked the standard independence question, but it's safe to assume that the Yes vote would have been significantly higher than 30%. And as has already been pointed out on Wings Over Scotland, another question in the same poll found that 34% of the Scottish public have become less supportive of the union in recent years, and only 20% have become more supportive. That's the only genuine indication offered by the poll of the direction of travel.
You might be wondering about the credibility of the poll's methodology. It was conducted by Deltapoll, which is an entirely new outfit and as far as I can see is not yet a member of the British Polling Council. However, it was set up by two extremely well-known people from the polling industry (Martin Boon and Joe Twyman), so it's unlikely to be a Mickey Mouse operation. Apparently the sample size in Scotland was around 500, which is large enough to be taken seriously - albeit only just. The margin of error is therefore a little higher than it would be for a poll of 1000 or 2000 people.
The poll has Westminster voting intention numbers, which annoyingly are only presented with the Don't Knows left in, but a rough recalculation gives the following -
Liberal Democrats 7%
Just to reiterate - those figures are only approximate, because they're my own calculation with Don't Knows removed. Not quite as good for the SNP as some recent full-scale Scottish polls from other firms, but bearing in mind the unusually small sample size, there's certainly no cause for alarm. Even on these numbers, the SNP would be regaining seats from the Tories.
On the monarchy results, the fact that only 41% of the Scottish public support the monarchy doesn't tell anything like the whole story, because only 28% are actively opposed. Nevertheless, it would have been unthinkable a few decades ago for the hostile and the uncommitted to have a majority between them, so perhaps the establishment should be a tad concerned. In view of the other results, no-one can really say that the poll was distorted by having too many Nats in the sample!
Last but not least, the poll found that 54% of respondents regard themselves as primarily or wholly Scottish. Only 14% regard themselves as primarily or wholly British. 31% feel that they are equally Scottish and British. That's pretty much in line with what the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey has been showing of late. It remains the case that the independence campaign could win a majority if they persuade people to remove the word "but" from the sentence "I feel Scottish, but..."
Sunday, May 20, 2018
It may be that people who follow me on Twitter are disproportionately likely to be pro-McEleny (and maybe even pro-Hepburn), in which case the poll might be underestimating Keith Brown's true support - although bear in mind that the poll was retweeted by 70 people, which hopefully should have given it a wider reach among supporters of all candidates. It's also conceivable that social media polls in general are likely to exclude small 'c' conservative members of the SNP, who again might be more inclined to vote for Keith Brown. However, I still think the poll is a useful exercise, because if the actual result bears no resemblance to the poll result, at least we'll know in future that the balance of opinion on social media is not a reliable guide to the views of the wider membership.
For what it's worth, though, if the actual result is similar to the poll, it seems likely that Julie Hepburn would be declared the winner after second preferences are distributed. I would imagine that many Chris McEleny voters have done the same thing as me and given their second preference to Hepburn. If Keith Brown does top the first preference vote, he's going to need a much more substantial lead to be confident of holding on for the win - and that may be true regardless of whether Hepburn or McEleny is his opponent in the second count.
At the very least we can say that there is considerable uncertainty over who is going to become depute leader, and that on the basis of the very limited information that currently exists, it would be foolish to dismiss the chances of any of the three candidates.
Friday, May 18, 2018
Apart from his distinctive stance on referendum timing, Mr McEleny has prioritised the value of local government and community politics. But one other thing that has appealed to me is the directness of his language about the failure of the mainstream media to cover Scottish politics impartially. There's a well-meaning but misguided tendency among some senior SNP people to say that we must never blame the media for the 2014 referendum result, because the real failure lay with ourselves for not getting the message across effectively. In other words, victory in the future will depend only on an improvement within ourselves, not on an improvement in external players such as the media. That always sounds like a mantra lifted straight from a self-help book, and it has the enormous shortcoming of not actually being true - or at least of not being the whole truth. Of course the media are horrendously biased against independence, and of course that was one factor in the narrow defeat in 2014, and of course we should be demanding better - especially from the broadcast media, which is theoretically obliged by law to be impartial in its coverage.
I'll make no bones about it - if Chris McEleny doesn't win, I hope Julie Hepburn does, and I've given her my second preference vote without any hesitation. This has the feel of a contest that could be a lot closer than was initially anticipated.
Tuesday, May 15, 2018
It's probably fair to say that you wouldn't quite have a full appreciation of the significance of these events if you've been relying on the "analysis" of the BBC's Scotland Editor Sarah Smith, which has been embedded into the main online BBC article on the subject. According to her, this won't actually be the first overruling of the Scottish Parliament by Westminster - it supposedly happened last year when Theresa May said no to an independence referendum, and nobody cared then, and nobody will care now.
Just a few snags with that -
1) It's a fictionalised version of what happened last year. Nobody has a clue whether Theresa May would have got away with saying "no" to an independence referendum, because she didn't say "no" to a request that was actually pressed. She was given respite by Nicola Sturgeon's voluntary decision to put the request on hold for a year or so. The day of reckoning is yet to come, but perhaps isn't too far off.
2) It's an utterly bogus and irrelevant comparison anyway. It is not within the devolved competence of Holyrood to require Westminster to pass a Section 30 order, so the "now is not the time" schtick (as outrageous and undemocratic as it was) did not represent a breach of the Sewel Convention or of the devolution settlement. The current plans to transfer powers from Edinburgh back to London without consent most certainly do.
3) How dare a BBC editor tell her viewers what they care about and what they don't care about? That's pure propaganda, and is exactly the sort of thing a Tory spin doctor would say - "the people of Scotland don't care about this, they want Nicola Sturgeon to get on with the day job, etc, etc". By contrast, and not unreasonably, the SNP line is that of course the people of Scotland care about protecting the devolution settlement they voted for so emphatically in the referendum of 1997. What business is it of a BBC editor to adjudicate for herself, on the basis of no supporting evidence that I'm aware of, that the Tory spin is factual and the SNP perspective is not? (Especially given that any alleged public apathy has been cultivated by the BBC burying its own coverage of the power-grab wherever humanly possible.)
It's particularly ironic to recall that Sarah Smith is the daughter of the late John Smith - the man who popularised the view that devolution is the "settled will" of the Scottish people. I wonder what he would have made of his daughter's notion that people don't actually care about their own settled will.
Sunday, May 13, 2018
Have the Sunday Herald built bridges after last week's misjudgements? (Spoiler: No, they've doubled down by going Full Leask with a disgraceful front page attack on Alex Salmond.)
You might remember a while back that CommonSpace took a brief financial hit after running an attack piece about Wings Over Scotland that had a particularly ill-judged and highly provocative headline. Robin McAlpine very deftly rescued the situation a few days later with an article that didn't really acknowledge that CommonSpace was responsible for its own mistake, but that nevertheless struck a sufficiently conciliatory tone that by all accounts a lot of cancelled subscriptions were swiftly renewed. The Sunday Herald has found itself in a very similar pickle in recent days after a number of missteps in last week's edition that disappointed many loyal readers, and infuriated others.
Most obviously, there was the front page photo from the pro-independence march in Glasgow that gave the completely distorted impression that those on the march waving saltires and the Union Jack-wielding counter-protestors were roughly equal in numbers. (The reality was that there were tens of thousands of the former and only a couple of dozen of the latter.) An obvious defence is that it was simply a very striking and thus publication-worthy image, but that doesn't really wash, because it was used to complement coverage in text that was similarly distorted, ie. that gave the impression that the only real significance of the march was that it had caused 'division' and brought about an 'ugly' stand-off.
Eyebrows were also raised at an apparent new editorial line that Nicola Sturgeon should 'prioritise' a UK-wide re-run of the EU referendum (one that might well see Scotland outvoted yet again) over a second independence referendum. From a journalistic point of view there's nothing wrong with that new stance, but when you've built up a loyal readership on the specific basis that you are a pro-independence paper, you shouldn't really be surprised that those readers feel there has been a breach of trust if you start actively undermining the campaign for independence. If a paper's collective views on self-determination and the constitution have 'evolved', that's fine, but probably the best thing to do is be up-front and honest about it, and allow readers to decide whether the time has come to look for a new 'home'. Claiming earnestly to still be pro-independence while simultaneously pushing a blatantly indy-sceptic news agenda is only going to lead to confusion and resentment.
You might have thought that the Sunday Herald would have reflected on the damage done last week, and would be in full-on bridge-building mode this week. That they would have followed the wise example of Robin McAlpine by making moves to reassure disgruntled readers that nothing had changed and that we're all still on the same side. But not a bit of it. Instead, they've doubled down with a front page that sends an unmistakeable message that a great deal has changed. It contains what I can only describe as a despicable attack on Alex Salmond that in none-too-subtle fashion pursues the barking mad "the Russians are everywhere!" agenda of Mr David Leask from the paper's anti-independence daily sister publication. Leask of course always strenuously denies that his weird obsession with smearing Salmond represents in any sense a grudge against the SNP or against the pro-independence movement, but to hold that line he's had to draw a wildly implausible distinction between a so-called "real" or "mainstream" SNP that has supposedly disowned Salmond (have you noticed anyone actually doing that?) and the "Trumpist" or "Putin stooge" interlopers led by Salmond himself. As I've noted before, it's a bit of a stretch to ask people to accept that a politician who was leader of the SNP until only three-and-a-half years ago, who indeed has been leader of the SNP for roughly one-quarter of the party's entire existence, and who led the Yes campaign in the 2014 independence referendum, is somehow not "real" SNP. In fact, the question might reasonably be asked: if Alex Salmond of all people is not "real" SNP, then who the hell is? We haven't heard a credible answer to that question from Leask or the Herald so far. Perhaps the Sunday Herald can come up with one now that they appear to be foolishly going down the same path.
I know that defenders of the front page story will point out that the Sunday Herald can't be expected to let its pro-independence views get in the way of reporting the news. But the snag is that the comments of Mr Litvinenko's widow about Alex Salmond are not a news story that has just spontaneously appeared out of thin air. She presumably didn't ring up the Sunday Herald offices and say "I've just got to get this off my chest, guys". They sought her out and solicited a view from her about a subject that she might well not have given much thought to otherwise. It's a piece of "news" that has been artificially generated by the Sunday Herald completely from scratch. They knew exactly what they were doing, and all I can say is this: if for whatever reason you're out to "get" Alex Salmond, you might as well own what you're doing, because people can see straight through you anyway.
We're told that the editor of the Sunday Herald has responded to the criticisms of last week's paper in a special article. I can't find it online yet, but judging by David Leask's excitement it looks set to be quite a belligerent response of a "the problem is the readers, not the journalism" variety. It's precisely that kind of attitude that is killing the traditional media. Sooner or later journalists are going to have to comes to terms with the fact that the days of a passive audience that never answers back, and that doesn't have anywhere else to go, are long over.
Saturday, May 12, 2018
So I got a slightly patchier 7 out of 10 qualifiers right on Thursday. The three I didn't pick out were the Netherlands, Serbia and Slovenia. Country music isn't really my thing (as I discovered conclusively on a hellish trip to Millport circa 1995), so that's probably why I underestimated the Netherlands' chances, but I can see why they went through. I'm delighted to have been wrong about Serbia, which sent an uncompromising piece of ethnic music in the Serbian language and deservedly didn't pay any sort of penalty. I must say I have absolutely no idea how Slovenia managed to get through, but I suppose there always has to be one that leaves you scratching your head. I know some people will shrug their shoulders and say "that's the Balkan bloc vote for you", but in fact Slovenia has traditionally benefited much less from neighbourly voting than the other ex-Yugoslav nations.
On to tonight, then. Until a few days ago, it looked like this year's contest was going to be a simple case of working out whether the overwhelming favourites (Israel) would meet expectations, or would spectacularly fail on the night as quite a few overwhelming favourites have done in the past. But, remarkably, Israel do not even go into tonight's final as favourites, because they were dramatically overtaken by Cyprus as the rehearsal videos started to filter through. A couple of days ago, the betting odds seemed to be pointing towards a straight fight between Cyprus and Israel with everyone else as also-rans, but then Ireland stormed out of nowhere into a decent third place.
I'm not sure I can make much sense of all that. I agree that Cyprus is a much more plausible winner than Israel, but it's just one of several strong songs/performances that are all roughly on a par with each other, so I can't understand why it's in quite such a commanding position in the betting. My guess is that the Irish surge is due to a couple of factors - a) the favourable position in the draw, and b) the publicity over a Chinese TV station being banned from broadcasting Eurovision because they censored two men dancing together as part of the staging of the Irish song. In other words, people seem to be putting their money on the story behind the song, rather than the song itself. That can sometimes be a dangerous thing to do - if a story is enough, why didn't Bosnia come close to winning in 1993?
What I've just said makes it sound like I don't rate the Irish song. In fact, the opposite is true - it's one of my personal favourites, and it's beautifully sung. I just fear that it's too low-key to do much damage. Just occasionally, very gentle songs can stand out so effectively among all the identikit screeching that they win by a mile - last year's Portuguese winner is an excellent example, of course, as is Ireland's own victory in 1994 with Rock'n'Roll Kids. But for what it's worth, my gut feeling is that it probably won't happen this time.
My suspicion is that Cyprus will be in the mix tonight, but that their main competitors will not be Israel and Ireland, but Norway and Sweden. I struggle to separate Cyprus, Norway and Sweden, but I think Norway (in spite of having the most irritatingly catchy song of the evening) is perhaps the least likely of the three to win if only because of its place in the draw. Probably just as well, because the mind boggles as to how insufferable Alexander Rybak would become if he has anything more to be smug about. Cyprus v Sweden is almost a coin-toss as far as I'm concerned, but I'll cop out and go with the conventional wisdom that Cyprus will win. I expect it to be a close one, though.
Here's my full prediction -
Winners: Cyprus (Fuego - Eleni Foureira)
2nd: Sweden (Dance You Off - Benjamin Ingrosso)
3rd: Norway (That's How You Write A Song - Alexander Rybak)
4th: Estonia (La Forza - Elina Nechayeva)
5th: France (Mercy - Madame Monsieur)
Possible dark horses: Austria, Australia
UPDATE (7.20pm): Of course, another potential explanation for the sudden Irish surge in the betting is that the full results of Tuesday's semi-final (which are supposed to be absolutely secret until the end of the contest) might have been leaked. Unlikely, but possible. If so, it could be Dublin next year.
Friday, May 11, 2018
How does the SNP's near-total exclusion from BBC Question Time compare to the treatment of the Liberal Democrats when they were the UK's third party?
It's true that there was a very brief spell between 1981 and 1983, when - simply because of defections from Labour to the SDP - it can be argued that the third force in British politics was slightly stronger in parliamentary terms than the SNP are now. But in the 1983 election, the vast majority of the defectors lost their seats, and the Liberal-SDP Alliance fell back to a combined total of just 23. That means for fifty of the fifty-two years between 1945 and 1997, the third-largest force in the Commons had fewer seats than the 35 held by the SNP at the moment.
The BBC's Question Time programme has been running since 1979, so it covered the last eighteen of those fifty-two years. Here's the obvious question: how did the show treat the Liberals, the Liberal-SDP Alliance and the Liberal Democrats during the period between 1979 and 1997? Answer: much, much, much, much more favourably than it currently treats the SNP. It's true that there wasn't a Liberal representative on the panel every single week, but there was certainly one on the majority of occasions, and there were long spells where the absence of a Liberal was an exception rather than the norm. To take a random example, let's look at the spring of 1994 - a time when the Liberal Democrats had just 22 seats in the Commons. On 24th March, Liz Lynne was on Question Time. In the next edition on 14th April, Shirley Williams was on. The following week on 21st April, David Alton was on. The week after that on 28th April, Charles Kennedy was on. The next edition was on 12th May, and Menzies Campbell was on the panel. And on and on it went.
By contrast, and despite their 35 seats, the SNP have been included in just TWO of the last TWENTY-TWO editions of the programme. This is in spite of the fact that there are now five spots on the panel every week, rather than the old standard of four. There's actually space for more plurality than there was in the 1980s and 1990s, and yet somehow we end up with less because there simply must be a comedian, journalist or "broadcaster" on the panel, instead of the UK's third-largest political party.
What the BBC are doing is so blatant, it's almost getting to the point of being funny. Almost. How can they possibly justify such an extreme disparity between their current treatment of the SNP, and their treatment of former third parties? They would probably pray in aid the fact that the SNP has a smaller share of the UK popular vote than the Lib Dems did in the early-to-mid 90s. But nevertheless we have the electoral system we do, and you can't just pick and choose when it suits you to acknowledge the result that the system has actually produced. Broadcasters are expected to have regard for both the popular vote and a party's strength in terms of elected representatives. That being the case, if the Lib Dems were on Question Time almost every week when they had 20-odd seats, the most natural compromise would now see the SNP appearing in roughly half of all episodes. Not one episode in every eleven.
Thursday, May 10, 2018
As for tonight, here are the ten countries I think will make it through -
Russia is my 'wildcard' pick out of that lot. Most people expect it to fall short, and it may well do...but Russia are the kings of political voting, and political voting at the Eurovision most certainly isn't dead.
Tuesday, May 8, 2018
This year, as you may know, there's once again been an overwhelming favourite over the last few weeks in the shape of Israel. I must say I have my doubts about whether it will win, although I'd better be cautious in case my own personal tastes are interfering with my judgement. But I have a suspicion that the juries won't go for it, and that it may even be a bit too 'challenging' for a lot of televoters. [UPDATE: And I see in an echo of last year that Israel has just been unexpectedly displaced as bookies' favourite by Cyprus.]
I don't think Israel will have any great problem qualifying from tonight's semi, though. In no particular order, here are the ten countries I think will make it through...
Of those, the one I'm least sure of is Greece - although with Cyprus in the same semi, there's a guarantee of points from at least one source!