Archive for category Holyrood

Could the ‘Missing Million’ Swing It to Yes?

Apologies to What Scotland Thinks for ripping off borrowing their title for this

This post is not about the ‘missing million’ voters, who are largely Labour No voters who we spend a lot of our time trying to motivate to turn out so any help with that is welcome, instead it’s the missing millions the Weirs have given the SNP and which remain unspent.

Their donations to Yes Scotland have bankrolled poster campaigns, tabards and so on however their equally large donations to the SNP have been less obvious. Yes Scotland newspapers which bore an SNP imprint and had soft focus puff pieces on Nicola Sturgeon’s nuptials to the publisher aside, it seems the SNP have largely kept their finance back.

Given the narrowing in the polls1 should we expect to see the SNP’s financial clout deployed in order to push over the line? It’s very late in the game to effectively spend that much money, unless perhaps it’s on the huge call centre operations that they used in 2011.

It seems more likely that, despite what their treasurer said at their 2013 conference, the SNP are keeping something in reserve for 2016. Might they have kept too much back anticipating that by this point in the game they would be too far behind.

Could the SNPs fiscal conservatism lose them the referendum?

[1] There is no room for complacency

Exclusive: July Holyrood poll by Survation

It’s month five for our rolling sequence of Survation polls, conducted as always in partnership with the Daily Record and Dundee University’s 5 Million Questions. The June results are here, and the Record have the indyref results. The big question shows 47% Yes, 53% No again, the same as last month’s result. Having said that, last month Yes’s 47% was 46.6% rounded up, and this month it’s up to 47.1% rounded down, with No correspondingly down from 53.4% to 52.9%. That makes for an unchanged headline figure, but the No lead at one decimal place has fallen from by 1% from 6.8% to 5.8%. Confusing, but that’s rounding for you.

Onto the Holyrood results. Usual background: I’m comparing vote shares to the previous month’s figures: but seat numbers are still shown as the change on the 2011 result. Seat projections continue to be from Scotland Votes, who don’t include UKIP in their methodology. The ‘kippers would be expected to win a small number of regional list seats at this level, although it remains unclear at which party’s expense those gains would come (roughly likely to be in proportion to list seats, i.e. costing Labour most, then Tories, then Greens). With all that in mind, here are this month’s figures.

Parties Constituency Region Total
Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Seats (+/-) %
SNP 44.1 (-2.1) 53 (±0) 36.9 (-2.4) 7 (-9) 60 (-9) 46.5
Labour 30.6 (+2.3) 15 (±0) 25.7 (-0.5) 22 (±0) 37 (±0) 28.7
Conservative 13.3 (+0.3) 3 (±0) 12.9 (+2.5) 13 (+1) 16 (+1) 12.4
Liberal Democrats 5.1 (-1.1) 2 (±0) 7.3 (+1.2) 5 (+2) 7 (+2) 5.4
Scottish Greens 1.9 (-0.6) 0 (±0) 8.1 (-1.9) 9 (+7) 9 (+7) 7.0
UKIP 4.1 (+0.9) 0 (±0) 8.1 (+1.1) 0 (±0) 0 (±0) 0
Others 0.7 (+0.2) 0 0.9 (-0.1) 0 (-1) 0 (-1) 0

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 01.00.05The first oddity is that this would see every last constituency go the same way as 2011. Although Labour are a bit up on last month, it doesn’t win them any more seats: they are at best treading water on these results. The SNP, however, would be down enough to lose their overall majority, and, as per the May result, would either need to run a very strong minority administration, or look for any other party to form a coalition with them. Despite that minor dip on 2011′s landslide, it’s an extraordinarily strong position for a governing party to retain more than seven years after taking office.

Looking at the smaller parties, it’s been a better month for the Tories and to a lesser extent the Lib Dems: both would be marginally up on their 2011 score, with the Tories now in a clear third place (last month they were just 0.4% ahead of the Greens on the list). As for the Greens, they’re 1.9% down on the list, and would elect two fewer MSPs than June’s poll indicated. I still think Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone would be pretty pleased to have seven more colleagues, though. With these numbers the second slots on the Lothian, Glasgow and perhaps even Highlands and Islands lists would be promising places for Green candidates, and selection will be competitive.

Making sure the panel is just right.

Making sure the panel is just right.

Before that, though, the small matter of the indyref. There’s been a pretty rough squabble about how to poll that. Are Survation right, or are YouGov? Well, YouGov were the most wrong about the AV referendum, the most recent similar vote. And in 2011 YouGov underestimated the SNP constituency vote by more than 3% and their regional vote by more than 9%, well outside the margin of error. You can even get odds on which side of the argument will be vindicated in September.

Sure, I’m biased, given Survation are our house pollsters, but their methodology is transparent, unlike YouGov’s. The latter have a weighting system for “red Nats”, but won’t say what it is, nor whether other segments are weighted for. More generally, Kellner’s argument, despite YouGov’s substantial underestimate of SNP votes in 2011, is that Survation have the wrong sort of SNP voter in their panel.

If you’re still not sure who to back in the battle of the pollsters, here’s a wee graph from @bgreysk on Twitter (precedes this month’s Survation result). The trend lines are the best guide, and from that YouGov look like the complete outlier. On this evidence, I think Ladbrokes would be easy to take to the cleaners given they’re offering 7/4 on Survation to be closest, but any bets are of course to be made at your own risk.

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Taxi for Lamont

Thanks to an anonymous (but definitely Labour) Labour person for today’s insidery guest post.

The precarious situation of Johann Lamont
lamontLeading Scottish Labour in this session was never going to be easy. Whoever led the party would have to deal with a Holyrood full of gloating Nats, and a Scottish Parliamentary Labour Party composed primarily of duds and d-listers.

Johann Lamont is in a precarious position. Since becoming leader two and a half years ago, she has failed to build a core of support around her. Upon reflection, this, perhaps, seems inevitable. Johann won the leadership thanks to the support of unions and parliamentarians. Little more than a third of ordinary members voted for her (a level of support that would embarrass even Ed Miliband). Unions are notoriously unpredictable with their support (remember when Unite backed Iain!) and parliamentarians are notoriously, well… treacherous.

Johann’s parliamentary support for the leadership was a strange ragbag of members ranging from Richard Baker on the right to Katy Clark on the left. While on the one hand, this can be indicative of a broad base of support, on the other it might also suggest that her support was built around her being the least-worst option. Since becoming leader Johann has built an inner circle that appears to consist of Margaret Curran, Duncan McNeil, and Paul Martin – hardly enough to keep the circling wolves at bay. In addition to not building a solid inner circle, Johann has also isolated a number of key figures, including Hugh Henry, Ken Macintosh, and Jackie Baillie. And despite having an MP for a deputy, Johann has done little to heal the rift between the Scottish leadership and the Westminster group.

Rumours are rife that Johann isn’t in it for the long-haul, and plans on resigning the leadership within the year. Having cleared a lot of the deadwood out from John Smith House, and, presumptively, having led the Labour Party through a victorious referendum campaign – Johann perhaps expects that she can step down with the gratitude of her party, rather than face the onslaught of another election against Salmond. Alternatively, Johann might not plan on going anywhere, in which case the rumours emanating from “party sources” might be designed to undermine her leadership and fan the flames of speculation. Either way, it looks increasingly likely that Johann will either jump, or she’ll be pushed.

So if Johann does go within the next twelve months, who are the contenders to succeed her?

Anas Sarwar
sarwarIt has been reported that there has been a breakdown in the relationship between Anas Sarwar and Johann. It certainly appears that, while once Anas was said to be “leading” Labour’s campaign against independence, his role has been somewhat downgraded to being a Prescott-esque grassroots favourite touring around on a bus.

Anas is undoubtedly ambitious, having become Deputy Leader of the Scottish Party barely 18 months after first being elected to Parliament. There is no denying that Anas is extremely popular with members the length and breadth Scotland, and spending most of 2014 touring around on his “battle bus” is only going to broaden his appeal.

Rumour has it that, were Anas to run for leader, it would be on a joint ticket with Jenny Marra. Such a ticket has undeniable attractions: east-west balance; gender balance; and ethnic diversity. Both benefit from family-connections, yet both are fairly new to the scene.

However, such a ticket also has severe drawbacks. Anas could be charitably described as “somewhat light on substance”, while one comrade recently described Jenny as being “insufferable”. A Sarwar-Marra ticket also lacks any discernible left-wing element which, as Ken Macintosh can attest, will be a barrier to winning support both in the Unions, but also amongst the MSP group.

Anas is extremely likeable. He has a warmth and charm which is more sincere – or more convincing – than most politicians. However, it is questionable whether Anas’ personal popularity can be converted to political support. It may be that Anas is destined to be another Prescott – someone whom we love as a navigator, but we would never really want in the driver’s seat.

Jim Murphy
murphyUntil recently, Jim Murphy’s political career has been on an extremely slow but nonetheless upwards trajectory. It is, perhaps, because of this unfaltering upward momentum that Jim previously appeared entirely uninterested in leading the Scottish Labour Party. Following Ed Miliband’s demotion of Jim, from shadowing Defence to shadowing International Development last year, his career has, for the first time, gone into reverse. With the class of ‘97 being increasingly overlooked by the Labour leadership and the media, it would be natural for many, including Jim Murphy, to start cultivating other options.

I have little doubt that Jim is interested in the job. Recently, a “senior source” told Paul Hutcheon at the Herald that Jim has “star quality”, while another “party insider” described him as a “first-class politician”. Now, Jim’s alright, and he does have his supporters within the party; but the only person with that lofty an opinion of Jim Murphy is Jim Murphy! Perhaps, having recently reached the conclusion that he’s never going to be the biggest fish in the big pond, he has decided that being a shark in the Scottish political loch isn’t so unattractive after all.

Jim Murphy has a number of obstacles to overcome – least of which is the fact that seat selections are already well underway. The perception that Ken Macintosh was in Jim’s pocket was a major drag on Ken winning support amongst MSPs, and I see no evidence that the Scottish Parliamentary Party will be any more receptive to the principal than the agent. Jim might have some support within the MPs’ group, but I doubt MSPs would take kindly to having a leader foisted upon them by Westminster. Furthermore, while Jim might have enthusiastic (some might say “cult-like”) support in certain constituencies (his own constituency, along with Labour Students, worship him like a god), his support within the broader party is more limited than many think. Even if the party did unite behind him, his avowed centrism will do little to win back votes votes from the Nats.

Finally, timing may be a problem for Jim. As a front-bencher in a party that’s in the lead in the polls, Jim may well be a cabinet minister with a foreign affairs brief within a matter of months. Unless the polls begin to paint a clearer picture of the outcome of the next election, then Jim will have to weigh-up the risks of staying put against the risks of abandoning ship. A post-May 2015 election would be eminently more suitable for Jim, for a number of reasons. First, he won’t have to gamble his career on the outcome of the 2015 election. Second, MSPs might be more receptive to being led from Westminster were it only for a short period in the run-up to the Holyrood election in 2016. Finally, if in 2015, as I fearfully predict whatever the outcome UK-wide, Labour loses seats to the SNP in Scotland, and wins few from the Lib Dems (taking Ochil off Labour is not a tall order for the Nats in the present climate, while Argyll, East Dunbartonshire, Edinburgh West, and Inverness could all be snatched from Labour’s grasp by the SNP) then the party may well go into panic mode and seek a “game-changer” to unite around. This, in my opinion, represents the best chance for Jim Murphy.

Kezia Dugdale
dugdaleKez Dugdale is already a candidate for leader. Whether she knows it or not; whether she likes it or not. The prominence that she has been afforded lately suggests that there are some within the party organisation (although, if sufficiently senior, then possibly as few as one) that see Kez Dugdale as the future of the party. Kez was recently placed on a BBC Question Time panel, a rare privilege afforded to few Labour MSPs (only two Labour MSPs outside of the leadership have ever appeared on Question Time – Hugh Henry, and Kez). She was proffered as the co-host of the BBC’s new “Crossfire” programme, and has recently been given a column in the Labour-supporting Daily Record. In a Stella Creasy-like way, Kez has built a higher profile in two years than most do in ten.

Kez has incredibly sharp political antennae. She is highly intelligent, though she doesn’t go around telling everyone that she’s highly intelligent (unlike Jenny, or Wendy, for that matter  - and it worked well for her!). As a parliamentary researcher, she was incredibly diligent. Her forensic use of parliamentary questions and FOIs made her a valuable asset to the parliamentary party. In some respects, Kez has actually been an MSP for seven years – because while George Foulkes may well have been the giant head, everyone knew that it was Kez behind the curtain.

Once upon a time, Kez’s naked ambition caused her to be looked upon sceptically by many. Like so many of Labour’s youthful staffers, she appeared only to discover her lifelong love of the Labour party when she was looking for a job. However, becoming an MSP at a comparatively young age appears to have satisfied Kez’s ambition for the time being, and she appears more comfortable, natural, and more likeable as a consequence. And whatever anyone thought about her ambitiousness, it was hard to deny that Kez is a grafter.

Kez commands considerable support amongst younger members. She runs a structured internship programme that pays a living wage. She previously worked for NUS Scotland and the Edinburgh University Students Association, which has endeared her to many in the party’s centrist student movement and its alumni. However, it is that centrist tag that may harm Kez most. Kez has been, somewhat unfairly, labelled a ‘Blairite’ for her involvement with David Miliband’s ‘Movement for Change’ – a tag that will endear only the very few remaining believers.

One asset that Kez might have is her association with John Park. The now-former MSP was crucial in securing the support of Unite for the most unlikely of candidates – Iain Gray – in the 2008 leadership election. And with it, others followed. While it’s a longshot that a centrist will be able to pull-off that one again, and Park now works for the much smaller ‘Community’ union – if Kez did manage to win some union backing then I’d make Kez the hot favourite for the job. And while she may not be an avowed Trotskyist –  she might not need to be. One way or another, unions and affiliates will cast a third of the votes, so Kez only needs to be more union-friendly than her competitors – and in a leadership fight with Anas and Jim, Kez may well be.

Neil Findlay or Drew Smith
findlaysmithWhile the last leadership election was effectively a two-horse race between, on the one hand the establishment candidate (Johann), and on the other the members’ favourite (Ken), making union support the decisive factor; the next leadership election offers plenty of scope for being more open. I am considering Neil Findlay and Drew Smith together as they both occupy similar political space: Neil is the more likely candidate; where Drew is the more plausible.

Neil Findlay is well known and well liked on the left of the party, having previously served as a councillor in West Lothian. Being the only candidate ever to have served as a councillor may well help Neil win support amongst Labour’s 400 councillors, and the associates and relatives that come with them. As Shadow Health Secretary, he is undoubtedly more senior than Drew, however he has failed to make the same impact in his role as Kez has in hers.

Though even younger than Kez, Drew Smith has all the hallmarks of an extremely plausible candidate. He is intelligent (although he does like people to know it), he is a good communicator, and you can be certain that Drew would attract union support. He has key allies in Dave Moxham (STUC) and Lynn Henderson (PCS); and having served on the STUC Youth Committee in the past, it is understood that both Unite and Unison are both strong supporters of Drew.

As a Glasgow list MSP, Drew has the advantage of representing the largest number of Labour members of any candidate. However, while Drew may be well connected, he can often come across as smug and/or aloof. Despite constitutional matters being at the very forefront of political debate, he has been practically invisible in his role as Labour’s Constitution spokesperson.

The role of unions is crucial in these elections for more than just their votes. Their endorsement is often key to demonstrating to constituency members that you are a credible, left-wing candidate. Union support also brings with it resources, including direct mails to members. There is a spillover effect too, as union members who vote often also cast a vote in the constituency section.

However, while union support might swing a close election your way (hi Ed!), you cannot win anything without support in the other sections, which is what makes Neil and Drew long-shot candidates. It is difficult to see from where either Neil or Drew would draw support within the Parliamentary parties – beyond the usual awkward squad. I cannot see either of them mounting serious leadership campaigns: however,  if either of them were to stand they might still play an important role in drawing union support away from the other candidates.

Long shots

Margaret Curran is always worth mentioning, having been a senior figure in the party since Jack McConnell’s leadership. However, Margaret has passed on three leadership elections thus far, and there is little to suggest that she has changed her mind this time. Astonishingly, it might well be that she doesn’t want the job!

Hugh Henry has flitted back and forward from the front bench more times than I’d care to remember. Well liked by much of the press, Hugh could draw support from both members and unions. He cuts a somewhat lonely figure around Parliament these days. If Hugh had the appetite he could be a serious contender, but all the evidence suggests he has no interest in the job.

Douglas Alexander appears confident enough that his Westminster career is safe enough, though, like Jim, much depends on what happens in 2015. If Labour remain in opposition then the election co-ordinator for two consecutive humpings may suddenly be in need of an exit plan! Douglas is a close ally of Paul Sinclair, Scottish Labour’s chief spin-doctor, who could be extremely useful in any leadership bid. Douglas is smarter and more conciliatory than most contenders, but I doubt he has either the desire nor the malevolence to knife his buddy Jim.

Exclusive: June Holyrood poll by Survation

It’s time for month four of our rolling sequence of polls, conducted as usual by Survation, in partnership with the Daily Record and Dundee University’s 5 Million Questions. The May figures are here, and the Record have written up the indyref results here. The headline there is 47% Yes, 53% No, which is the best score for Yes that we’ve recorded since this polling project began.

That same Record story has the answer to another question: it shows Scots voters would go 54/46 for independence if they were sure Cameron was going to win, which is interesting although a) no-one will know the May 2016 election result in advance and b) no matter how much one may hate Cameron, that’s a poor basis for a vote for independence.

Anyway, onto the Holyrood numbers. Usual background: I’m comparing vote shares to the previous month’s figures: but seat numbers are still shown as the change on the 2011 result. Seat projections are again from Scotland Votes, who don’t include UKIP in their methodology. The ‘kippers are again scoring at a level where they should expect to win a small number of regional list seats, but it is again unclear at which party’s expense those gains would come. Probably more from those parties who are strongest on the list, i.e. overwhelmingly Labour, then Greens and then the rest. If our pals at Weber Shandwick want to keep that tool accurate, regrettably they will need a UKIP entry in their table. With all that in mind, here are this month’s figures.

Parties Constituency Region Total
Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Seats (+/-) %
SNP 46.2 (+2.5) 60 (+7) 39.3 (+0.2) 5 (-11) 65 (-4) 50.4
Labour 28.3 (-3.4) 8 (-7) 26.2 (-0.2) 29 (+7) 37 (±0) 28.7
Conservative 13 (-2.4) 3 (±0) 10.4 (-0.9) 7 (-5) 10 (-5) 7.8
Liberal Democrats 6.2 (+1.3) 2 (±0) 6.1 (±0) 4 (+1) 6 (+1) 4.7
Scottish Greens 2.5 (+1.5) 0 (±0) 10.0 (+1.3) 11 (+9) 11 (+9) 8.5
UKIP 3.2 (+1.1) 0 (±0) 7.0 (-0.1) 0 (±0) 0 (±0) 0
Others 0.5 (-0.7) 0 1.0 (-0.3) 0 (-1) 0 (-1) 0

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This would be another very strong result for the SNP: to be within striking distance of 50% in the constituencies, with your nearest rivals almost 20% behind? Few governments seven years into office can have retained this level of support. 65 seats would be a peculiar number to win – technically the barest majority, but theoretically vulnerable: not a position from which coalition would ever make sense for a junior partner, functionally more like a super-minority administration (edit: and unlike now, without a former SNP MSP in the PO’s chair). If 47 generally felt comfortable between 2007 and 2011, this would be a doddle (again, remember they might be one short of this depending on the impact of the ‘kippers).

Labour’s result here looks like a flatline, but they’d actually regard it as a further falling back. Just eight constituencies would go their way: the lists would bring another group of more unknown quantities into Holyrood to swell the Labour delegation, and winning more than 50% of all the list seats would be likely (on these numbers) to make Labour the most vulnerable to any ‘kippers off the lists: the real figure could well be 35 or 36 if this result were the real figure for UKIP in 2016. Whatever John McTernan thinks, this would start to look like SNP hegemony to Labour activists. The demoralising effect would be hard to overstate.

Which brings us to the third-largest group in the Chamber on these numbers: the Greens. Sure, the Tories are a scant 0.4% ahead of the Greens on the list, but the unhelpful (for them) concentration of their vote in South wouldn’t help them in terms of seats, and the Greens show as one ahead of them. In fact, we’d see the Tory group drop by a third, with just four MSPs more than the Lib Dems, who appear to have hit a floor of around 6% for now. All these parties might lose one of these seats to UKIP, obviously. But even 9-10 Green MSPs would be an extraordinary breakthrough for the party.

Looking at all of this as a piece, this is my favourite Survation poll yet, even if the Holyrood election remains in the unpredictable zone beyond the independence vote. A win in #indyref vote, though, which is the next time Scots voters have their say, is now clearly in touching distance. With a strong ground game and some improved messaging, we could even see a moderately convincing win for Yes.

Resistance is inevitable

We’re into the final 100 days of the referendum (an insignificant milestone given prominence by the nice round number), and things are starting to get hot. National Collective are about to give Caledonian MacBrayne bumper summer profits as they convoy across the nation on their Yestival tour, Labour are out on the doorsteps with the LABOUR NO bus like a mystery tour of Scottish stately homes and seaside promenades – there were rumours of Anas Sarwar buying a Scottish Mining Museum souvenir mug in the gift shop – and Robin McAlpine and his Common People are trying to build a people powered revolution.

In communication, everything is about context, and how people respond to whichever busload of happy campaigners they run into depends not just on what is said but on who is saying it, and to whom. Resistant readings are an integral part of communication theory, and you can draw graphs to show how the receptiveness of one audience decreases as that of another increases dependent on what is being said. This is more or less why political parties can garner extremist votes and show apparent growth but simultaneously alienate other more moderate groups – the gamble made by people in charge of campaigning is that a certain message will bring on board fewer people than they can alienate. Perversely (and somewhat more dangerously), it also means that if mainstream politicians start adopting more fringe policies it lead to their legitimisation.

Then there is the person speaking – there is a good reason why people might be prepared to trust Gordon Brown more than David Cameron when what they say is much the same. Similarly, there are people who will take certain things from the mouth of Alex Salmond in a different way than they would from the less brash and avowedly non-nationalist Patrick Harvie. There really is no justice in it, but this is how it works. John Reid can call himself a patriot, but John Swinney cannot. If, as Robin McAlpine did, you say that the English are ‘not part of our lives’ you can be accused of excluding all the English people who live and work in Scotland, but equally it can mean that the Engllish experience is lived differently in governmental and economic terms. How people respond to such a sentence is guided by their preconceptions, likes and prejudices. Pro and anti independence activists alike are prone to it and we are all little balls of opinion and preprogrammed assumption. Most alarmingly given that we are going to vote in a very important referendum, none of us are half as rational as we think.

If you feel what I’ve just written is pure nonsense then just remember  thinking that if you read someone saying the same thing in the comment pages of a newspaper you agree with.