Amidst Brexit chaos, a Holyrood poll

Five days after the Brexit result was announced, and less than two months after the Holyrood vote, we have a full Scottish Parliament poll, conducted by Survation for the Daily Mail. I appreciate only true anoraks will care, given the next Scottish general election is 59 months away and given complete political turmoil, but nevertheless it’s interesting to see a quick snapshot of how the Holyrood parties are being scored.

It’ll be superseded soon, but it tells a fairly simple story: two up, two down. The SNP would be markedly up, back to their 2011 peak of 69 seats and regaining their overall majority. The Tories would see the sharpest decline, although they’d still be well above their 2011 figure. Labour would see the worst result ever – something which has been true in every Holyrood election after 1999. That would put them just 4.3% ahead of the Greens on the lists, and only eight seats ahead of Patrick Harvie’s delegation, which would almost double in size. And despite all that change, absolutely no change on May for the Lib Dems in seat terms – despite a boost to their regional vote.

Looked at a slightly different way, the pro-independence parties would gain 11 seats from Labour and the Tories, with no change for the federalists, although Labour and the Lib Dems’ positions on the constitution would definitely be in question if they do in the end have to choose between the UK and the EU. Has the increase in support for independence given Brexit driven this? It seems likely.

Parties Constituency Region Total
Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Seats (+/-) %
SNP 50.4 (+3.9) 68 (+9) 40.6 (-1.1) 1 (-3) 69 (+6) 53.5
Conservative 20.5 (-1.5) 1 (-6) 20.3 (-2.6) 24 (±0) 25 (-6) 19.4
Labour 17.7 (-4.9) 0 (-3) 15.9 (-3.2) 19 (-2) 19 (-5) 14.7
Scottish Greens 0 (±0) 11.6 (+5) 11 (+5) 11 (+5) 8.5
Liberal Democrats 7.8 (±0) 4 (±0) 6.9 (+1.7) 1 (±0) 5 (±0) 3.9
UKIP 0 (±0) 3.5 (+1.5) 0 (±0) 0 (±0) 0
Others 3.6 (+2.5) 0 (±0) 1.2 (-1.4) 0 (-1) 0 (-1) 0

The seat projections are from Scotland Votes. The Cutbot one doesn’t yet have the 2021 data in, so until it does I’m reverting to that. Thanks to Alan for providing the full tables for this post, too. They didn’t get used in the Mail (too busy reporting the downsides of Brexit?) so I think this is exclusive.

I’ve got more Facebook friends

Since the contemporary Scottish Parliament’s inception the spectacle of First Minister’s Questions has played the same role in my life as flossing my teeth has*. I do it/ watch it most of the time, and I want to do it/ watch it most of the time. But sometimes it is just The Worst. So I go to bed (or in the case of FMQs eat lunch) without doing it and nobody is any the wiser, including me.

This was a wee bit of a different week as it was the first FMQs since the recent Scottish Parliament election. With a new minority SNP Government (Top Boss Nicola Sturgeon) and with a new Leader of the Opposition in Tory Tank Commander Ruth Davidson and Head Girl Kezia in third place.

I’ve made the disclosure before, but just in case, I will do it again: I love the First Minister.

Notably, though, she was routed this Thursday.

Mere weeks after the election I don’t know how she hadn’t been briefed and prepared for Ruth’s far more competent style – it’s not like they have never met. Kezia even finally hit her stride, Willie Rennie rattled her, and when you are reduced to telling the leader of the Scottish Green Party that his point is less valid because you got more votes, there’s a serious issue.

In so many ways this is perfect. The previous majority admin had far too much free rein, and a rainbow opposition that demands answers to hard questions is so long needed. But this was a Nicola Sturgeon reminiscent of the one we saw in opposition to Jack McConnell: right on some things but unconvincing on most things. That isn’t the FM we know, love and want more of. The SNP is missing the Pringle.

I need to watch a couple more times, but first thoughts – Nicola Sturgeon can no longer take future tenure for granted. The honeymoon is over.

* Not entirely true as FMQs didn’t start with the Parliament’s inception, but that’s another matter for later, when I get annoyed again.

Tactical standing

Alison Johnstone MSP.

Alison, earlier

There’s been a moderate amount of mumping and moaning from the wilder fringes of Nat-dom online about the Greens’ candidacy in Edinburgh Central. Those were our 4,644 votes, they say, and we’d have held Central if the Greens hadn’t stood the wonderful Alison Johnstone. From the other side, we can point to the 751,770 SNP list votes that, as predicted, didn’t elect a single SNP MSP across six regions: Central, Glasgow, Lothian, Mid Scotland & Fife, the North East, and West. Those should have been our votes! Waaah! Where are our other MSPs?

Well, no. In both cases they’re the public’s votes, for one thing, and personally I’ve come round to the idea that as many people as possible should have the chance to vote Green on every ballot. Also, while some Green votes will have been begrudging SNP supporters who knew their list votes would be wasted, some of their votes will be Green supporters holding their nose at the SNP’s pro-oil and tax-cautious agenda. It’s impossible to say what the balance is, although Edinburgh Central (and Glasgow Kelvin) show a higher core Green vote in our strong areas than the rockets would like you to believe.

One thing the Labour, Lib Dem and Tory constituency victories in the capital did, though, was ensure the Lothian constituency results were a bit closer to proportional, especially the Labour and Tory wins. And that, in turn, ensured the Lothian list didn’t have to do more of the work needed to give Labour and the Tories the seats they, let’s admit it, deserved based on their votes. And so Andy Wightman got that final Lothian seat.

If Daniel Johnson hadn’t won Edinburgh South, with everything else the same, Labour would have picked up the last list seat. If Alex Cole-Hamilton hadn’t won Edinburgh West, the Lib Dems would have got it. And if Ruth Davidson hadn’t won Edinburgh Central, the Tories would have got it. The net effect on the numbers of Yoonyonishts of one of those seats going the other way would have been precisely zero.

But let’s accept the zoomers’ frame for a second. If Edinburgh Central had stayed SNP, Green voters wouldn’t have elected Andy Wightman. And that was pretty much my top objective for this election. So the correct tactical vote for a diehard Green in each seat was an anti-SNP one, especially as swapping a Green for a Nat can’t reduce the overall vote for independence-supporting parties at Holyrood.

And I have – confession time! – played this game before. In 1999, when the first Scottish Parliament election loomed, I lived in Edinburgh Pentland. And the maths were obvious even then. If David McLetchie won that seat, there would be just the same number of Tories in Parliament (so this would be guilt-free) but more space on the list to elect Robin Harper. So I held my nose and voted tactical Tory. It didn’t matter: Iain Gray won for Labour, and Robin still got in on the list. Those tactical decisions are the preserve of the complete anorak like me high-information voter, which is also pretty exclusionary.

This maths certainly doesn’t deter me from supporting Green constituency runs next time, though. Personally I strongly hope Holyrood picks a fully preferential and more proportional system next time: that way an argument that Greens shouldn’t stand can’t ever be made again. SNP voters for whom we are a second preference can just mark 2 against the Greens, knowing they’ll get as many SNP reps elected as possible, but that their vote may still tip later results towards the Greens rather than letting in one of the anti-independence parties in. And vice versa.

Or whatever your preferences are. Maybe you just want higher taxes on the rich. So you’d have been splitting your top preferences between the Greens and Labour. Or lower taxes on the rich: that would be Tory 1, SNP 2. Whatever. The people decide, rather than having to second-guess the vagaries of d’Hondt.

But if that doesn’t happen and we’re using AMS again in 2021, the tactically correct choice for the Greens in another election that looks like this would be to stand in a few key SNP marginals in each region. So how’s about we talk about how to switch to STV, SNP friends?

A category mistake

JamesMcEnaneyHeadshotThe Sunday Herald had a striking story yesterday about the Information Commissioner’s office declaring they would not make a decision during the election period. RISE candidate James McEnaney (left) had put in an FOI relating to the standardised tests agenda, and the response included this line:

Although it does not affect the Scottish Information Commissioner directly, she has decided not to issue any decisions which might put forward a critical view of the Ministers. In discussion with the Head of Enforcement, it has been decided to delay the issue of the decision on your case until after 5 May 2016.

Now, no-one should want the Information Commissioner’s office to be partisan or to look partisan. But unfortunately that’s how they’ve just positioned themselves. The key problem here is the phrase “put forward a critical view of the Ministers“.

Do they mean “require to be published information which is itself damaging to Ministers”? Or do they mean “overrule an inappropriate Ministerial decision to withhold information”? It’s not clear, but neither of these is an acceptable reason to work around the provisions of FOI legislation. And in both cases, if the information should legitimately be published, it’s partisan to withhold it just because there’s an election on.

The email to James McEnaney also discusses purdah rules at some length. This is also a misdirection. Purdah restricts the activities of Ministers and civil servants. It does not protect them from embarrassing stories based on their historic activities. With this inept decision the Commissioner’s office have put themselves in the inappropriate position of protecting Ministers during an election. They have also undermined their own credibility and neutrality, and prevented the electorate from knowing something they have a right in law to know – it may be big a deal, it may not be, but that’s for the public to decide, not the Commissioner.

Coulda, shoulda, woulda

SPOILER ALERT AND FULL DISCLOSURE: I love the FM and am also a Scottish Green


chamberSo, boom – that was the week in politics, or more or less anyway. It always feels a little bit like the balloon is letting out the last of the air after FMQs, and that’s not a reference to any one individual.

Notably, this week, our wonderful First Minister (non-ironic: see disclosure clause) gave evidence to the Convener’s Committee of the Scottish Parliament. It’s basically parents’ evening for the FM and an opportunity for supposedly influential MSPs from across the parties (except the Greens and the also wonderful Patrick and Alison who get dingied) to scrutinise the Government. The opportunity to do so is, clearly, vital, and an opportunity for a sit down with the FM herself is a perfect opportunity to hold the Government to account.

Not that you would know it from any of the questions – or not really. Conservative Murdo Fraser, rightly, worked to get clarification from St Nicola on her exact reasons for opposing some zero-hours contacts. Her inability to answer will possibly leave a staffer with a flea in their ear, but it marked out the one question the FM seemed to struggle with. Which begs a question – what is the point of our committees at the moment? It felt a little like they had all got a shared deal on Groupon for collective dental extraction and only Murdo missed the deadline.

As much as I love our FM, I expect the person – any person – in her job to be subject to serious and intense scrutiny. Not only did it fail to happen this week in Committee Room 2 with the Conveners, but it fails to happen on a weekly basis at First Minister’s Questions. Today, Head Girl Kezia Dugdale and Tank Commander Ruth thought the most important pressure faced by Scottish people was the case of Michelle Thompson MP, who is caught up in a police enquiry and has resigned the party whip and been suspended from the SNP as a result.

The allegations against the MP aren’t pretty and since I can’t afford a lawyer, I’ll let you google them. But I’m not sure what the FM can actually be held responsible for. I would like to know why our NHS is failing on mental health though. Or why hate crime is still appallingly under-reported – particularly by people who represent the most vulnerable communities. I’d also like to know why it’s all too prevalent in the first place and what the FM is going to do about that. I’d also like to know more about the Government’s position on fracking.

But most of all I would like a Parliament that’s more willing and able to hold the Government to account on its policies and actions. It isn’t coming from the Committees, it isn’t coming from the opposition and it sure as hell isn’t coming from the SNP backbenches. It’s hard to have faith that it will come from the Presiding Officer’s review of the committee structure either. Fingers crossed – but any review that gives us another system supporting a bunch of patsies, or people who oppose on command rather than principle, won’t work. And a First Minister’s Questions without on eye on the next council by-election is more necessary than ever as we head into a year of likely budget cuts.

(Sorry Nicola – I love you!)

pic copyright Scottish Parliament as per here