David Cameron has said in the past that he intends to campaign to remain in the EU provided that he achieves a satisfactory deal before the referendum. I’ve just realised he must be bluffing.
The reason for this is Number 10’s announcement that EU citizens won’t be able to vote in the referendum. They didn’t have to announce this yet, so they’re clearly trying to shut down debate on this topic quickly — which again means they must be desperate to achieve this. It would have been much easier simply to let everybody discuss the pros and cons of different franchises, but then the outcome might not have been what they wanted.
And let’s face it: There can be only one reason to be desperate to prevent EU citizens from voting in the referendum, and that’s to achieve a vote in favour of Brexit, given that they’re the only group of people living here who would be almost guaranteed to vote in favour of continued EU membership. It’s worth noting in this connexion that the Tories have also ruled out giving 16- and 17-year-olds the vote — another group that are likely to be more positive towards the EU than the average UK voter — while being perfectly happy to let Commonwealth citizens vote, although they’re likely to more lukewarm towards EU membership.
If David Cameron really thought he would be likely to campaign in favour of remaining in the EU, it would be nonsensical to move fast to ensure the EU’s biggest fans are disenfranchised.
My guess is he’s already expecting his negotiations will fail (if for no other reason because he’s asking for things that any EU expert will tell him the other countries won’t give him), and he’ll then go out and say something along these lines: “I really wanted to remain in a reformed EU, but the other countries have turned their backs on us, so I will with a heavy heart have to recommend that this great nation leaves the EU.”
Why is Cameron doing this? My guess is it’s to save the Conservative party. If he came out in favour of leaving the EU already, some pro-business Tories would break out, and if he campaigned in favour of EU membership, a very large number of MPs would rebel. By pretending to negotiate in good faith, he keeps the pro-EU Tories happy, and by setting the negotiations up to fail, he ensures the Eurosceptics will eventually be happy.
People have been busy on social media discussing the pros and cons of splitting the vote next year, i.e., using the constituency vote to support the SNP and voting Green on the list (see for instance this for the positive case, and this for why it might backfire).
I find it interesting that people can disagree so strongly while supporting the same goals, so I decided to have a look at the data myself. I took the 2015 General Election results and fed them into the list vote, and assumed the constituencies would not change hands since the 2011 election (which is not very realistic, but I’ll return to that below). Because hardly anybody voted Green this year, this obviously led to another SNP landslide victory. I then treated the combined SNP and Green vote as one block of Yes votes, and then looked at what happened if a specific percentage of these Yes votes voted Green instead of SNP on the list — on the left-hand side, every Yes voter is voting SNP on the list, and on the right, half of them are voting Green:
The interesting thing here is that the number of Yes MSPs (SNP + Green) at first falls as the percentage of Green voters goes up, but it then starts rising again, and eventually it overtakes the previous maximum.
In other words, the best solution is that nobody votes Green, or that more than 25% of Yes voters do so. The worst possible scenario is that about 8% of Yes voters vote Green on the list.
What if we assume the SNP will win all constituencies apart from three, just like the General Election result? The graph then looks as follows:
The effect is exactly the same (and the minimum is still at 8% of Yes voters), but the SNP loses fewer seats (because they get fewer list seats), and so the positive effects of splitting the vote arises earlier, when 10% of Yes voters vote Green.
All of this taken together makes it really hard to give advice to voters. If the SNP looks like doing phenomenally well in the constituencies and the Green party is expected to get at least 5% of the list votes, then all Yes voters should split their votes; if on the other hand the SNP is doing less well in the constituencies than on the list and the Green party is hovering around 2% in the opinion polls, then nobody should consider splitting their votes. And if the opinion polls are wrong (like they were this year), then any such advice could spectacularly backfire — the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley. (As an example of this, look no further than the advice I produced before the 2011 election, which was based on Labour doing extremely well in the constituencies, and so my conclusions were all wrong.)
PS: I’ve completely ignored the SSP here for simplicity’s sake. Obviously all the conclusions above would be the same if the vote splitting was benefitting the SSP instead of the Greens; however, if both parties are competing for Yes list votes, it increases the risk of wasted votes.
The SNP’s huge victory in the General Election saw some truly incredible swings. It made me wonder what would have happened if the SNP had been standing in England and Wales, too.
To find out, I first calculated the changes in each party’s support in Scotland between 2010 and 2015. I measured this in terms of the electorate, so because the turnout went up, the figures don’t add up to zero.
I also decided to calculate the changes separately for each incumbent party, because the swings weren’t exactly the same (to be honest, the swings were actually more similar than I had expected, but they differences were still significant):
In Labour-held seats:
In LD-held seats:
In SNP-held seats:
In the Tory-held seat:
I then applied these changes to the 2010 results from England and Wales (treating Plaid Cymru as the equivalent of the SNP given they’re sister parties), and the results are truly astonishing: Cons 309, SNP/PC 221, LD 34, Lab 7, others 2.
When we add these figures to the actual results from Scotland, the 2015 election results would have looked as follows for Great Britain: Cons 310, SNP/PC 277, LD 35, Lab 8, others 2. This means it would probably have been possible to form a minority SNP government with support from the other non-Tory parties.
(In case anybody is interested, the seven surviving Labour MPs would have been elected in these constituencies: Bootle, Ealing Southall, East Ham, Knowsley, Liverpool Walton, Liverpool West Derby and Mitcham & Morden.)
Of course the SNP wouldn’t have achieved these results simply by standing in England, but it shows the potential for an English party that tries to emulate the SNP.
The fallout from that mistake was clear last week: in the haemorrhage of votes to the Scottish National party, Ukip and the Greens, and the reluctance of many working-class voters to turn out at all. […] [T]he idea that New Labour-style politics would have fixed the problem is clearly delusional. Would Blairism have won back voters from the SNP, which had positioned itself to Labour’s left and campaigned against austerity, or the Greens, or the anti-immigration Ukip, many of whose voters are pro-nationalisation and state intervention, and want protection from corporate globalisation? Where exactly is the centre ground between the SNP, Greens, Ukip and middle-income English voters?
I thought it would be interesting to look at the numbers behind this. I consider Scotland to be a lost cause for Labour, so I’ll concentrate on England and Wales in the following.
Last week’s results were as follows: CON 329, GRN 1, LAB 231, LD 7, OTH 1, PC 3, UKIP 1.
Let’s assume that a successful Blairite strategy would make 10% of Tory voters swing to Labour, but that it would also make 5% of current Labour voters switch to the Green, another 5% to UKIP, and another 5% would go apathetic and stay home on the couch. The 2020 result would then look like this: CON 312, GRN 1, LAB 241, LD 12, OTH 1, PC 4, UKIP 2.
On the other hand, what if a new Labour leader instead decided to copy Nicola Sturgeon’s programme and style, adding 10% to the turnout (all Labour) and taking back half of UKIP’s votes (the half that aren’t xenophobic but just crave a genuine working-class voice), but losing 5% of voters to the Tories? The result of this would be CON 266, GRN 1, LAB 299, LD 4, OTH 1, PC 2 (in other words a clear Labour win).
Of course the swings above have been chosen more or less randomly, but not unfairly — I think getting 10% of Tory voters to vote Labour just because they had a handsome leader with Tory policies is very generous.
It’s very clear Seumas Milne is right. The Blairites cannot win the 2020 election, because the crucial voters that Labour needs are the ones that have deserted the party. 2020 is not 1997, when the political landscape looked completely different, and prescribing the old medicine will simply not work any more.
PS: In case any Labour person reading this doesn’t believe they cannot win Scotland back, the two scenarios above would look as follows north of the border: With Blairite swings Labour would retain their single seat but the SNP would win the remaining Tory seat; however, the alternative scenario sees Labour taking one seat from the SNP. I do realise that’s an increase of 100%, but it’s hardly going to determine whether the UK gets a Labour Prime Minister.
I think Paul Mason might be right that the UK has effectively disintegrated into three tribes: Scandi-Scotland, the asset-rich south-east and post-industrial Britain. At least, when I sat down to write down some helpful advice for Labour, I realised I couldn’t think of any meaningful advice that would apply to both
Scottish and rUK Labour, and the latter might be easier to understand if seen as straddling two quite diverse areas. However, let’s first have a look at the pandaified party north of the border.
Some observers — mainly those based in London — seem to think Scottish Labour might bounce back in five years’ time. I don’t think so. Of course they might regain a few seats, but most of the new SNP voters have switched for good — they haven’t just temporarily lent their vote to another party.
Furthermore, they might still be Scotland’s second-largest party, but their voters are in the “wrong” places, making it very hard for them to stage a come-back. For instance, there are only four seats that can be taken from the SNP on a swing of less than 10%: Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk (which will fall to the Tories on a swing of 0.8%), Dunbartonshire East (4.9% to go Lib Dem), Edinburgh West (7.5% to go Lib Dem) and East Renfrewshire (8.1% to go Labour).
All other seats require a swing from the SNP of more than 10% to go Unionist, and a great number of Labour’s old seats require a swing of more than 20% to revert to the status quo ante referendum. This is simply not going to happen unless Labour completely reinvents itself, and even then it might take decades.
Even if the three Unionist parties decided to merge as the Better Together Party north of the border, it wouldn’t save them. If we imagine such a party had been standing last Thursday, only 19 of Scotland’s 59 seats would have gone Unionist (assuming that all current Labour, Tory and Lib Dem voters had supported it). Sadly for Labour, they were the largest of the three amigo parties in only 8 of them (4 lean towards the Tories and 7 towards the Lib Dems).
Nevertheless, the Better Together route is probably the least bad prospect for Labour. The swing required to retake most of the Central Belt seats is so enormous that it’s simply not going to happen. At least as a new Unionist party they will have a chance to win some seats back in five years’ time (if Scotland hasn’t left the Union by then, of course).
In the rUK, Labour’s main rival isn’t a progressive Social Democratic party, so the way forward is likely to be very different.
At the moment, the most prominent candidates to take over the leadership of UK Labour (such as Chuka Umunna) seem to be focusing on the swing seats they failed to take from the Tories, and as a result they’re prescribing Blairite medicine, i.e., copying the Tories’ policies. However, we know well where that ends: Voter apathy in the first instance, and eventually it allows new parties to take over from the left — it would have been almost impossible for the SNP to become so popular if Tony Blair hadn’t pulled his party so far away from the Scottish consensus. In other words, a Blairite leader might retake some southern seats, but it will probably lead to huge advances for the Greens and UKIP (and perhaps even the Lib Dems) in Northern England in five years’ time. Triangulation might work in the US, where there are only two significant parties, but in multi-party Britain it leads to electoral disaster after a few years.
To return to Paul Mason’s tribes, the Blairite Third Way might work in the asset-rich south-east, but it will eventually cause Labour to collapse in post-industrial Britain, just like what happened last Thursday in Scotland.
I doubt UK Labour are mentally ready to set up two separate parties in England (just letting Scottish Labour go is going to be hard enough), so let me suggest another way forward for them:
In England, the Tories got 41% of the votes, while Labour got 32%, the Lib Dems 8%, UKIP 14% and the Greens 4%. Now, I don’t believe all UKIP’s voters are racists; many of them are just ordinary people who feel abandoned by the political classes in London, and UKIP seems to them to represent the most authentic working-class voice in England, so let’s assume that a more traditional working-class alliance could recapture at least half of them. If such an anti-Tory alliance could unite Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens and half of UKIP, it would have won 51% of the votes in England last Thursday, which would have been translated into 299 seats (and the Tories would have got the remaining 234 seats). Given that this alliance would also have gained the majority of seats in Wales and would have found it easy to work together with the SNP, if would have been able to command an enormous majority in the House of Commons.
In other words, UK Labour doesn’t need to copy UKIP’s xenophobic ideas or the Tories’ austerity policies to win. All it takes is a genuine working-class alternative to the Tories, probably with policies very similar to the SNP’s in Scotland. Let’s not forget that the Tories got more than half the votes in only 175 constituencies, so the only reason they’re in power today is because the English opposition is fragmented.
Of course, assembling such an alliance wouldn’t work in Scotland because the SNP is already occupying this space, so here a better alternative for Labour is probably to set up a Unionist alliance, as discussed above.
I wrote a blog post on the 5th of October 2014 (just a couple of weeks after the No vote) called “Which Westminster seats can the SNP realistically win?“. In this, I pointed out that if the referendum results were replicated in May 2015, the SNP would gain 56 seats. However, I didn’t really believe this myself, so I looked at the figures in various ways and came up with a more believable figure of 28 seats. I clearly should have gone straight down to the bookies instead!
I’d like to think that my predictions helped SNP activists believe that victory really was possible. I know my article about East Renfrewshire was widely circulated and discussed in the constituency, and perhaps it contributed a bit to the immense activity levels we’ve seen amongst SNP activists in the past months.
As an SNP member I’m obviously delighted with the Scottish results. My main worry is that the Unionist parties have been weakened so much that they’ll find it hard to provide effective opposition to the SNP in Scotland. Perhaps the Greens will have to step into those shoes next year — my impression is definitely that many Scottish Green supporters voted tactically for the SNP this time, and they’re unlikely to repeat that next year. If the Unionist parties have any sense, they will now set up separate parties in Scotland to enable them to speak with authentic Scottish voices, but I have my doubts.
I’m less pleased with the UK-wide results. The Tories are going to have a small majority on their own and I dread what the Tories will get up to now that their worst ideas won’t get vetoed by the Lib Dems any more. For instance, there’s now nothing we can do to prevent them from holding a referendum about leaving the EU.
It’s instructive to look at the results in two ways: The main figures (after 647 of 650 have been declared) are Con +23, Lab -26, SNP +50, LD -48, which looks like the Tories have taken seats from Labour. However, if we look at England on its own, the figures are Con +20, Lab +15, LD -36, so the real story is that the Tories and Labour murdered the Lib Dems and divided the spoils between themselves; because the Tories were significantly bigger than Labour to start with, that helped them more than Labour. What this means is that — contrary to what Scottish Labour are spinning — even if Labour had swept the board in Scotland, it wouldn’t have made a Labour government possible. Labour needed to take a few dozen seats from the Tories in England. They failed to do that, and that’s why a Labour government with SNP support isn’t now possible.
Another consequence of this election is that UK-wide opinion polls probably won’t be produced any more. They’ve excluded Northern Ireland forever because the political parties there are so different, but Scotland is now just as different, and it’s likely to lead to less useful results if the fortunes of Scottish Labour constantly get mixed up with those of English Labour.
Scotland now seems to have a system with one huge party and four or five small ones, while England has reverted to a two-party system with a few almost unelectable parties.
Incidentally, I reckon this means we can wave goodbye to electoral reform. The parties that would benefit from proportional representation are the Scottish Unionist parties, UKIP and the English Lib Dems, and all of these have almost no seats in the Westminster parliament. What would the Tories gain by introducing PR? Nothing. What would English Labour gain? More Scottish MPs. What would the SNP gain? Nothing, unless they started contesting English seats.
What the 56 SNP MPs will now have to do is to challenge every unpopular decision made by the Tory government and ask for the policy area to be devolved. If they cut child tax credits, demand that this benefit is devolved. If they cut down immigration, request separate immigration quotas for Scotland. When they hold their Brexit referendum, tie it in with a new independence referendum.
And when the next independence referendum is held, we’ll win it. The activity levels during this election campaign were much higher than before the referendum, due to all the new members. If we can hold on to all these activists and get them to campaign just as energetically for a Yes, we’ll win it by a landslide.
Thursday at 22.10: Has nobody got actual figures from the exit poll, rather than just the seat predictions? I want to run my own programs! Apart from that, it’s not entirely clear to me whether the exit polls predictions are taking tactical voting into account, and the Lib Dems’ fortunes depend almost entirely on that.
Thursday at 22.05: The BBC/ITV exit poll is predicting CON 316 LAB 239, LD 10, UKIP 2, SNP 58, GREEN 2, OTH 25. If this turns out to be the final result, the Lib Dems will have been weakened so much that they can’t possibly enter government, and neither can they tie themselves to the Tories, so what happens then?
Thursday at 21.45: I’ll be live-blogging here during the night — I’ve updated my programs so that I can change my Scottish forecasts when we get the first exit polls and when the declarations start coming in.