Category Archives: SNP

Predicting May 2016

Light trails
Light trails.
As one of the few people who actually predicted the SNP could win 56 Westminster seats six months before it happened, I feel under a moderate amount of pressure to say something clever about the upcoming Holyrood elections.

It’s not easy, however. What really happened in May 2015 was the SNP won all the Westminster seats apart from three local “accidents” — the non-SNP seats could just as easily have been some other ones if different candidates had been elected, or if different events had happened.

Given that the opinion polls haven’t really moved since then (and given that Scots now seem to be voting in roughly the same way for Westminster and Holyrood), the best prediction for the constituency seats is exactly the same — namely that the SNP wins all the seats apart from a few local hiccoughs. However, trying to put a name on these exceptions would be impossible and futile at this time, even though the SNP candidates have now been selected.

What about the list seats, then? Well, it all depends.

If all the people voting SNP for the constituency repeat this for their second vote (i.e., a successful “both votes SNP” strategy), the North East demonstrated in 2011 that it’s possible to win all the constituencies and still get a list seat, so it’s possible the SNP will win about 80 out of the 129 seats (the constituency seats plus seven list seats — if there are a few “accidents”, this number wouldn’t change as the list allocation algorithm would step in to compensate for them).

On the other hand, if the smaller pro-independence parties (the Greens, the SSP and Solidarity) manage to convince enough Yes voters to split their votes (i.e., a “second vote Green/SSP” strategy), it’s entirely possible the SNP won’t pick up any list seats at all (except perhaps in regions where one or maybe even two “accidents” happen), and the real question then is whether these smaller parties will get enough votes to get any seats at all. Realistically they will manage to do this in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but in the more rural regions it’ll be a lot harder).

As I’ve shown before, the way to get as many pro-independence MSPs is that the voters adopt the same tactics: “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.” Is this likely? I’m not sure. I’d be very surprised if the Greens and perhaps the SSP (RISE) didn’t do well in the largest cities, but will they manage to convince SNP voters there to vote tactically for them? Also, will the SNP manage to convince Yes voters outwith Glasgow and Edinburgh that voting anything other than SNP on the list is likely to help the Unionist parties?

It’s a strange election because the key to predicting the outcome is to anticipate tactical voting rather than reading opinion polls.

However, if I was marched down to a bookie at gunpoint and forced to put my life savings on a specific outcome, I think I’d go for this: SNP 73, Tory 23, Labour 22, Green 8, SSP 2, LD 1, Solidarity 0. There’s no science to this, only intuition. (I realise the LD figure is ridiculously low, but nobody has lost money underestimating the support for my old party for a very long time.)

What we really need is precise polls for each region. The constituencies don’t matter that much (the outcome is unlikely to change the number of seats won by each party), but we really need to know the level of support for the smaller parties in each region. Lord Ashcroft, are you reading this?

Where was the SNP?

Freedom Square in Glasgow today, one year and a day after the independence referendum.
Freedom Square in Glasgow today, one year and a day after the independence referendum.
I’m just back from the Hope over Fear rally in Glasgow that was held to commemorate the independence referendum.

It was great — a fun family outing like the ones we used to attend all the time during the referendum campaign. The kids know the routine — going to the face-painting stall and wearing huge Saltires — and they love it.

I met a lot of friends from the Yes campaign there. Most of them are SNP members today, but of course there were people from all pro-Yes parties and none.

However, the SNP wasn’t officially involved in the event, and as far as I could tell, there weren’t any MPs or MSPs there. It was almost as if they’d been told not to attend.

I can understand if people in SNP HQ are worried about sharing a platform with Tommy Sheridan and about helping the Greens and the SSP in the fight for the crucial Holyrood list votes, but boycotting the post-No Yes events is a monumental error.

At least 95% of the people at the rally today were there because they saw it as a Yes event, and they couldn’t care less who the organiser was. Yes supporters have a huge need for Yes marches and rallies to keep the flame alive, and Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity party is simply filling the void left behind by the SNP.

As a result, the ordinary punter can easily get the impression that Tommy Sheridan cares much more about independence than the SNP, which is obviously completely and utterly wrong.

If Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon had been there today, they would of course have got a much bigger cheer than Tommy Sheridan, and it would have given them a great platform to explain why a list vote for the SNP is the best way to get independence soon, and probably more effective than giving the second vote to one of the smaller pro-Yes parties.

I’m not saying the SNP needs to share a platform with Solidarity if they don’t want to. They could create great Yes events together with the Greens, the SSP and the surviving Yes groups such as Women for Independence and Business for Scotland, and of course the vast majority of SNP members would choose to attend the events organised by their own party. Also, the turn-out was excellent today, but if the SNP organised and publicised an event (such as a march and rally in Edinburgh on the independence anniversary), it should be quite feasible to get at least 100,000 people to attend, and that would really get Westminster’s attention.

As I’ve argued before, we need to campaign for independence now in order to get the support up to a level where a new referendum is inevitable. We can’t simply focus on party politics and hope that support for independence suddenly increases on its own.

Two percent of Scots have joined the SNP over the past year because they think it’s the best way to get independence soon. However, my gut feeling is their support is dependent on a strong commitment to independence, and that means the SNP has to be seen to be leading the continuing Yes campaign. The SNP should have had a strong official presence on Freedom Square today.

Lest the momentum fades

Yesterday Craig Murray made some important points about the timing of the next independence referendum:

The SNP is full of siren voices arguing that they should enjoy their spoils for a decade or two while maintaining a steady trudge towards independence. They whisper that we have to await a 60% Yes lead in the opinion polls before we try again as another defeat would be disastrous.

But the greater danger is that the momentum fades. You would have to be the greatest optimist in the World to imagine a more favourable conjunction of circumstances for Independence than an extremist Tory government at Westminster, a Labour Party in meltdown, the Liberals almost eliminated and the SNP supreme in Scotland. Plus the residue of the huge momentum of the IndyI campaign, which put on 14 points in 12 months.

This dream conjunction will not last forever. The great danger is letting the moment slip through our fingers.

I think this is a very good point. If we look at the situation in other countries, everything is in a flux at the moment, and people do things they wouldn’t have dreamt of before. Syriza and Podemos wouldn’t have done so well just a few years ago, and closer to home Jeremy Corbyn wouldn’t have stood a chance against Miliband five years ago. At the same time, huge numbers of refugees are arriving in Europe and it is not at all certain what that will mean for the future of the EU and our place in the world.

People everywhere are looking for a way out of the current mess. At some point in the future, a solution will be found (let’s just hope it’s a positive solution and not a modern version of the 1930s) and things will settle down again, and by then independence could easily be off the agenda for another generation.

The time to take a leap into the unknown — and declaring independence from the rUK falls into this category no matter how many components of the UK you decide to retain after independence — is during a time of uncertainty.

Nobody knows how long the current situation will last, but I would expect things to calm down within the next decade. In other words, if the next independence referendum doesn’t get called before 2025, there’s a huge risk it will suddenly have to wait another 30 years.

I’m not arguing we should call a new referendum tomorrow. The opinion polls haven’t shifted enough yet, and there needs to be a real, tangible reason to call a referendum. However, time is of the essence.

We need to campaign for independence now as if the second independence referendum had already been called. By campaigning — and yes, that means arranging meetings, marching through Edinburgh, putting Yes stickers everywhere and chapping on doors — we can get to the 60% support for Yes that will convince our most cautious of friends that the time is right to call a second referendum, and at that point winning it will be a mere formality.

(In Craig Murray’s blog post he then goes on to discuss the conditions for a UDI, which I think is perhaps a distraction at this stage. There are times when that might be the best solution, but at the moment we should assume that Westminster won’t fight a Scottish Government that has got the popular mandate to call another referendum. He’s also unhappy that the SNP won’t let him stand as a Holyrood candidate; I appreciate he’s a bit more outspoken that your typical prospective MSP, but I believe “it’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in,” as Lyndon B. Johnson said about somebody completely different, so I hope they’ll reconsider in the future.)

Changing the debate

Anti-Margaret Thatcher badge
Anti-Margaret Thatcher badge, a photo by dannybirchall on Flickr.
Margaret Thatcher was once asked what she considered her greatest achievement. She replied, “Tony Blair and New Labour. We forced our opponents to change their minds.”

Labour’s current desire to abstain on most of the Tories’ welfare cuts is just one example of how true Thatcher’s words were. Margaret Thatcher’s success (and the fall of Communism, to be fair) made Tony Blair and most other Labour politicians believe that the only way forward was to change Labour into a carbon copy of the Tories. The result of this was that there was hardly any debate on a UK level on the alternatives to Conservative ideas until the SNP tsunami in May.

Now there are 56 SNP MPs, and this is already changing the debate in the House of Commons and within the Conservative government, as pointed out by James Forsyth:

The party’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson now has two goes each week at Prime Minister’s Questions. This might seem like a trivial detail but it is worth remembering how much of the No. 10 machine is geared towards readying the Prime Minister for his most important half hour in the Commons. George Osborne, Michael Gove and several of Cameron’s senior aides devote Wednesday mornings to helping him prepare for this appearance. ‘We’re having to take a lot more interest in the minutiae of Scottish politics than before,’ one of those involved in these prep sessions tells me.

Readying Cameron to face Robertson’s barbs means ensuring he is well-informed about events north of the border — about the SNP’s record at Holyrood. Slowly but surely, the Tory attack machine is turning its attention to being able to rubbish the governing record of the SNP as effectively as they trashed the last Labour government. One adviser in charge of this says that ‘for years, things have been hidden away in the Scottish Parliament. Now, they are moving front and centre.’

There are also many signs that Jeremy Corbyn is rapidly changing the debate within Labour. If he wins, there’s a possibility that Thatcher’s greatest achievement will be undone (unless, of course, the Blairites decide to split the party or commit some other form of collective harakiri).

Thoughtful right-wing politicians are starting to realise this. For instance, Tory councillor Oliver Cooper recently wrote this:

No matter how incredible or ludicrous, Corbyn would still have six questions at PMQs. His frontbench would still have a representative on Question Time and Newsnight. His party’s policy announcements and press releases would get just as much news coverage as a credible opposition.

In short, Labour being Labour, they’ll still have the same platform, no matter how bizarre their leader’s views. The only difference is Corbyn’s views will be more left-wing, so will shift the entire political debate to the left. Long-term, so long as Labour and the Conservatives remain the two major parties in the UK, the only way to make progress is to persuade Labour to accept our position. Our ideas don’t win just when our party does, but when the other party advocates our ideas, too.

Instead, a Corbyn victory would lend credibility to the far-left’s rejection of reality: giving a megaphone to their already over-blown and bombastic politics of fear and envy. Inevitably, this would skew the discourse, letting Corbyn’s ideas become the default alternative to the Conservatives. Corbyn’s brand of socialism would poison the groundwater of British politics for a generation: influencing people, particularly young people, across the political spectrum.

I don’t agree with his characterisation of Corbyn’s policies as a rejection of reality (I’d argue most Tories are much further removed from it in fact), but I think he makes a very good point about how it would undermine Conservative ideas (which would be great in my opinion).

The commentator Iain Martin is having similar concerns:

Just as the rise of UKIP has had an enormous impact on the British debate on Europe, forcing Cameron into a referendum he did not want as his party felt it needed to counter Farage, a distinct new Left movement would exert a gravitational pull on the centre-left more broadly and on the national conversation about taxation, ownership, profit and constitutional reform of the voting system and the House of Lords. The rise of Corbyn is already forcing terrified Labour moderates such as Andy Burnham to say all sorts of silly stuff.

Again, I wouldn’t characterise Burnham’s new-found principles as ‘silly stuff’, but otherwise it’s a sound analysis.

If Jeremy Corbyn wins, the combination of a strong SNP and a left-wing Labour party might finally change the terms of the debate so that the Tories won’t get the easy ride they’ve got used to recently. And once the debate changes, ordinary people might also start to question the neoliberal consensus.

This will be great in many respects, but I do fear that it could make Scottish independence less likely again, simply because it was the total disconnect between the political discourses in Scotland and Westminster that really fired up many Yes activists, so if UK Labour politicians start saying things we agree with, perhaps it will be harder to convince people that we need independence, even though Scotland will of course still only supply 10% of the MPs at Westminster.

We need to campaign for independence now

My daughters were doing their bit during the indyref, too.
My daughters were doing what they could during the indyref, too.
Although the opinion polls are shifting towards Yes, they’re moving at a snail’s pace. (The most recent one had 47.5% Yes vs. 52.5% No.) I personally find it puzzling that no matter what horrors the Tories throw at us, most of the No voters don’t seem to be reconsidering their position.

It’s particularly strange because the months since the referendum have seen the huge landslide towards the SNP, so in many polls this party is now more popular than independence (and that’s ignoring the other Yes parties).

The problem with this is that we’re unlikely to get a new referendum until Yes is significantly ahead of No in all the polls. I don’t think there’s a magic number as such, but Alister Rutherford’s argument that we need 60%+ is pretty sound.

Not only that, but we can’t expect the Tories to listen to the 56 SNP MPs unless they’re backed up by a convincing majority in Scotland. As long as they know that we wouldn’t dare call a new referendum, they can effectively ignore Scotland and concentrate on making their Southern English voters happy.

We have to grasp the nettle: We need to start campaigning for independence again. We must find a way convince 5-10% of the No voters that they should join us. If we can also make them support one of the Yes parties, that’d be great, but I’m actually more interested in their support for independence than in their party-political allegiance. In fact, it might even be helpful to ensure there are independence supporters in all parties and none.

I’d love us to create some huge Yes events where we can all meet, like the wonderful independence marches in Edinburgh. Recent Yes events seem to have been organised by far-left groups and mainly shunned by the main Yes parties, so the SNP and the Greens need to take ownership of them.

Perhaps the best way forward would be to resurrect Yes Scotland — not as a high-cost PR organisation, but as an umbrella group that organises marches and other events and creates Yes materials (badges and car stickers and so on). Like the old Yes Scotland, it could effectively be controlled by the SNP and the Greens.

I know many people are tempted to focus always on the next election, but this means that we keep focussing on the parties rather than the cause itself.

If we want independence, we need to campaign for it. We can’t simply wait for the next referendum to be called.

Green list voting

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:

Scenario 1

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:

Scenario 2

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 would have won 221 seats in England and Wales

The 2015 results if the SNP had decided to stand in England and Wales, too.
The 2015 results if the SNP had decided to stand in England and Wales, too.
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:

CON +0.7%
LAB -9.2%
LD -7.2%
SNP +26.7%
OTH +0.8%

In LD-held seats:

CON -2.1%
LAB -7.2%
LD -3.6%
SNP +23.5%
OTH +1.0%

In SNP-held seats:

CON +3.2%
LAB -4.0%
LD -4.6%
SNP +14.3%
OTH +1.0%

In the Tory-held seat:

CON +5.0%
LAB -8.3%
LD -11.5%
SNP +22.5%
OTH +1.7%

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.