November Holyrood voting intention

The Daily Record‘s latest poll with Survation has Holyrood numbers which, shall we say, may add to the anxiety in Labour that they still haven’t hit bottom yet. Presumably a new leader will hope for a bounce (although so too might Nicola once she’s formally in the big chair), and Labour will pass this off as a long way away and irrelevant. But it’s only 18 months away now, and the end of the referendum campaign has hardly brought them any relief. Change in vote share shown here is pretty notional – the last one of these I had was in July, and a lot has happened since then. For the sake of having some comparison, I’m using it anyway, and seats (as usual, using Scotland Votes, with its UKIP shortcoming) show the notional change on the 2011 result.

Parties Constituency Region Total
Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Seats (+/-) %
SNP 50.0 (+5.9) 68 (+15) 40.6 (+3.7) 2 (-14) 70 (+1) 54.3
Labour 23.0 (-7.6) 0 (-15) 20.3 (-5.4) 27 (+5) 27 (-10) 20.9
Conservative 14.1 (+0.8) 3 (±0) 13.0 (0.1) 13 (±0) 16 (+1) 12.4
Liberal Democrats 6.7 (+1.6) 2 (±0) 6.4 (-0.9) 4 (+1) 6 (+1) 4.7
Scottish Greens 2.3 (+0.4) 0 (±0) 9.9 (+1.8) 10 (+8) 10 (+8) 7.8
UKIP 3.1 (-1.0) 0 (±0) 7.7 (-0.4) 0 (±0) 0 (±0) 0
Others 0.7 (+0.1) 0 2.1 (+1.2) 0 (-1) 0 (-1) 0

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Bear in mind the ‘kippers would probably secure seven here – all from the list, and therefore most likely to be predominantly at Labour’s expense, maybe two or three seats from the three smaller parties. The Scotland Votes map shows a complete constituency wipeout for Labour – with, in what would be an extraordinary humiliation, Jim Murphy’s neck of the woods turning back to Tory blue. The Tories would also pick up Dumfriesshire from Labour, but lose Galloway and West Dumfries, as well as Ayr, to the SNP. The Lib Dems would hold the two Northern Isles seats only, plus one more on the list. And the bulk of Labour’s net loss would go to the Greens, who’d be in double figures overall for the first time.

And the main event, of course, would be a slightly increased overall majority for the SNP under Nicola. Hitting 50% in the first vote trumps even the 45.8% the SNP score in the Westminster poll done by Survation at the same time. 2011 was billed as a landslide, but landslides (to break the metaphor) normally recede. At Holyrood, it looks like the land is still sliding in the same direction. It would be an extraordinary achievement to say the least. For comparison, here’s what the constituency map looked like in 1999.

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Another thing to note about this is would see another substantial round of churn in terms of the experience of MSPs in the Chamber. Labour would lose all 15 constituency MSPs, including some of the most experienced of those who survived the 2011 landslide, and gain five more newcomers, unless they take a more relaxed attitude to MSPs standing for both. The SNP would, conversely, lose a slew of list MSPs (it’s unclear where, from the model, the two list Members they would retain would be, but the North East plus one would seem a safe bet) and gain yet more constituency MSPs. If I were Humza Yousaf or any other SNP list MSP I’d be seeking a constituency to stand in with some urgency. Similarly, the Tories would lose two of their most experienced MSPs in John Scott and former Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson, even while inching up somewhat overall. And the Greens would have a group that (unless any former MSPs are selected sufficiently prominently), which could be 80% newcomers. A lot of change for no difference in the unbalance of power, in short.

The personality battle – leadership contests in a post-referendum Scotland

A guest today from Mark Diffley, Director of Ipsos Mori Scotland. Thanks Mark!

IMG_5001 - Mark DiffleyIn the fevered political climate six months before a general election, the ability of party leaders to appeal to voters has never been so important. With months of campaigning and intense public scrutiny ahead, politicians understand the need for a successful messenger as well as an appealing message.

Speculation about those running for the highest office is unavoidable at the moment, from defecting Conservative MPs and their effect on the Prime Minister’s authority, to the daily travails of Ed Miliband and whether Labour will try and replace him before May.

In post-referendum Scotland however, things are a little different. The unprecedented engagement of the public during the constitutional debate, culminating in the record-breaking turnout of 85%, served to increase the profile of all our political leaders and, for some, significantly improve their standing with voters.

Better Nation article - graphicLooking at our most recent trends on satisfaction with party leaders, three interesting observations stand out. First, public recognition of Scottish party leaders has increased. We know this because the proportion of voters who answer ‘Don’t Know’ when asked about each leader has fallen during the period of intense debate over independence.

This is most evident for the leaders of the smaller parties; for example, those unable to rate the performance of Ruth Davidson fell from 38% in September 2013 to 23% in October 2014. Over the same period, the corresponding figure for Willie Rennie fell from 50% to 38% and for Patrick Harvie from 58% to 38%. This doesn’t always mean that their satisfaction ratings improve but does mean that voters are more aware of them, a clear consequence of intense media coverage during the referendum debate.

Second, we are clearly happier with those heading up Scottish parties than with the leaders of the equivalent parties at a UK level. So, while 35% of Scots are satisfied with the job being done by Davidson, just 24% are positive about David Cameron. Similarly, Rennie outperforms Nick Clegg, though by a much smaller margin (22% versus 19%) and, while we did not collect views of Johann Lamont since she had resigned, a look at her trend rating (around 40% satisfied) suggests that she would have scored significantly higher than Ed Miliband at 18%.

Third, despite the referendum result, leaders of parties which campaigned in favour of a ‘Yes’ vote in September have enjoyed the most significant boost in voter ratings. Most notably Nicola Sturgeon will take over as First Minister with an approval score of 65% among Scots, a rating not seen for any party leader in the UK since the early days of Tony Blair’s government when the new Prime Minister peaked at a satisfaction score of 75%. Harvie has enjoyed a similar, if less pronounced, rise in popularity, with satisfaction increasing from 27% in September to 45% now.

Of course such public popularity rarely lasts, and in the carefully-managed media glare of the next few months public attitudes to leaders are likely to fluctuate, just as support for the parties will ebb and flow.  But, taken with our latest polling showing a significant lead for the SNP ahead of May’s general election, these leader ratings reinforce the current public mood – there may have been a ‘No’ vote in the referendum but it is the parties and leaders who supported independence who look most likely to benefit in the next national electoral test.

All this makes the challenge for Scottish Labour clear as it goes about choosing its next leader. Media coverage can help get your image and messages recognised, but the greatest priority for the new leader is to focus solely on Scottish issues and to ensure that their stance on the new devolution settlement is in tune with voter sentiment.

Questions for the SNP depute leadership candidates

The SNP may know who their next leader will be, but the polls are open until Wednesday night for the depute role, and there are three contenders. I thought I’d ask them all three awkward questions, and they were all kind enough to answer. I know it’s too late for most SNP members to use when making their minds up, but it may be of interest to any last-minute waverers. Thanks again to all three candidates.

Are there areas of policy innovation the SNP should consider?

angelaAngela Constance MSP Party policy should always be open to review, challenge and improvement. Rather than focus on specific areas of policy myself, I am more concerned with ensuring that the rank and file membership, through their branches, is empowered to discuss new ideas and improvements to existing policy such that our party is led by initiatives inspired by our grassroots and their communities. I will not seek to lead the party to particular policy positions, rather I will seek to find the best mechanisms through which our branches can develop policy, informed by their everyday personal and professional experiences, and make the party much less driven by policy initiatives from parliamentarians and their advisers. However, it is clear from hustings meetings that I have attended that the party will wish to address the issue of fracking.

stewartStewart Hosie MP The key thing I would like the SNP to change is the way in which major policy is formulated. National Assembly, which was the policy formulation body of the Party, should be re-constituted to meet on a regional basis. This would give many more of our members, particularly new members with a great wealth of experience in all sorts of areas, the opportunity to have a real input into SNP policy making.

keithKeith Brown MSP The most pressing area is in relation to poverty and child poverty.  We need to have full powers over taxation and welfare, amongst others, from the Smith Commission.  We need to eradicate child poverty and the need for food banks, and we need control over tax and benefits to do it. We haven’t done nearly enough work on reserved areas and we need to sort that now. We have to be bold and imaginative in our plans and building a better future. We’ve done well in devolved areas and I want to see us go further. Early years education; something like the Reggio Emilia approach. More emphasis on health promotion to lessen the costs of treating sickness and reduce health inequality. Support for small businesses and new business start-ups.  It has to be done by the whole SNP membership – we have to give policy-making back to the members.


What does a roadmap to independence now look like?

stewartStewart Hosie MP There are many roads to Independence! The bottom line, though is that the Scottish people will determine the speed and direction of travel.  We have just been through a referendum where the result was clear and I personally think that the referendum route remains the most credible. There are however many things which could trigger another referendum. For example an in/out referendum on Europe where Scotland and rUK vote different ways. Perhaps an overwhelming demand from many who voted No – expecting substantial devolution – if the UK Government fails to deliver on that promise. The key thing is to keep making the case for Independence and to keep campaigning.

keithKeith Brown MSP The same always – get a mandate and hold a referendum. We can’t run the referendum again, though, our tactics have to be better: build momentum earlier, have different Yes voices lay out their visions of an independent Scotland so it’s not one vision with fractures but different visions with the same first step. Trust those tens of thousands of Yes activists who put heart, soul and imagination into this campaign – they should lead; our big victory was that the people took the referendum and ran with it. Want another shot at the prize? Campaign, win and deliver. We can’t be the Jim Bowen of Scottish politics and saying “let’s see what you could have won”, we have to be the party and the movement looking to the future and saying “this is what you can win”. Scotland will be better after independence but we have to work for it.

angelaAngela Constance MSP The SNP is a democratic party and, whatever our view of the approach of the No campaign, we must accept the result. That said, the promises that were made in support of securing a No vote must be kept. We have every right to hold the vow-makers to account and to continue to persuade people of the case for Independence. If the final fortnight of the Referendum campaign proved anything it is that only the prospect of Independence forces Westminster to consider conceding meaningful power. Ultimately it will be the people, not politicians and parliaments, who will dictate the timetable and route to Independence. It is our job as a party to continue to persuade the people to make the journey.


How should the SNP act if the party holds the balance of power at Westminster in 2015?

keithKeith Brown MSP It’s a bit of a jump from here to there but if we hold the balance of power the negotiations over what we’ll do will be led by Nicola Sturgeon. The incoming UK Government will have to decide how to respond to the Smith Commission and whether to deliver on additional powers for our Parliament. That’s why it has to be the First Minister of Scotland and her team doing the negotiating – Scotland’s interests have to come before the SNP’s interests or the interests of MPs. She’ll have Angus Robertson as leader of the Westminster group to advise her but it will be her job to do. As she’s already pointed out, though; we won’t prop up a Tory Government and Labour isn’t much better, so our deal has to be just about what Scotland can get and how much we can squeeze out of Westminster for Holyrood. Coalition with Labour is possible but we’ll act in Scotland’s best interests.

angelaAngela Constance MSP  It would be my preference for some form of Yes Alliance to hold the balance of power rather than the SNP in isolation. However it would not be the job of either to prop up a Unionist government at Westminster. Our job will be to work day by day, issue by issue, to deliver the best deal we possibly can for Scotland and, obviously, there would be a particular task in delivering meaningful constitutional change. At the present time I cannot see the circumstances arising where we would seek to be part of a formal coalition with any Unionist party, but the rise of UKIP raises the spectre of a rather unpleasant kind of government emerging. Therefore if the only alternative to a Tory/UKIP coalition government is to enter a formal coalition with others then, in my view, there would be a strong case to do so.

stewartStewart Hosie MP The SNP needs to win more seats in the 2015 General Election. That should be our sole focus. Our ability to force Westminster to sit up and take notice will be determined by that and that alone. The job of the SNP Parliamentary Group (with the possible addition of other Independence supporting MPs) will be to get the best possible deal for Scotland. While the SNP will be the guarantors of new powers, it would be wrong to speculate on precisely how any arrangement might work or what any demands would be. Let’s win the seats first and look at the Westminster arithmetic later!

Faraway, so close!

In Weiter Ferne, so what?

In Weiter Ferne, so what?

25 years ago the Berlin Wall came down. The most physical symbol of the division between East and West was pulled apart by the people that feared it. The spectre of a border dividing what was supposed to be whole lives long in the memory and lingered uncomfortably in the background of the independence referendum. Threats of border posts and razor-wire played on the idea that Britain would be another Korea or Germany, people the same cut off from one another by ideologues.

Today Berlin is not the run down and crumbling liminal city of Bowie and Wim Wenders Wings of Desire and Faraway, so close! The cultural tropes live on though.  Everything from the rebuilding of the Hotel Adler to the demolition of the East German parliament building is designed to pretend fifty years of history did not happen.

Instead Berlin’s history is increasingly remembered through a series of arbitrary official sites, from the Holocaust memorial to the Topography of Terror exhibition on Nazism. The real scars though are covered up under the skyscrapers of Potsdamer Platz and the Dunkin Donuts stores in Mitte, the central district. The decision to put balloons up along the wall to mark its path was symptomatic of one of the ironies of post-89 Berlin: everyone is aware of the city’s history but most of the young hipsters would struggle to tell you exactly where the wall ran, or even its proper history.

Around Checkpoint Charlie, famous because it was the point at which you passed from American to Soviet controlled Berlin, people buy mass produced communist memorabilia. When I lived in Berlin you could see queues of tourists waiting to have their picture taken with actors dressed as border guards. The sentry post in the centre of the street is a fake, made to be more authentic than the larger 80s building demolished on reunification.

From the second world war to the 1990s Berlin was the centre of a frozen proxy conflict. Neither East nor West Germany were truly independent. Now though Berlin is controlled by a different group of outsiders, a youthful international class of people from Britain, the US, Israel, Russia, Poland, Scandinavia and Italy who all move to Berlin on wave upon wave of myth building. For young Israeli’s unable to come to terms with the limitations of living in a religious state or the idea of doing a term in the IDF, Berlin offers a way out. It is a city of many subcultures, but the Israeli expat gay scene is one of the more remarkable ones. Importantly, it is a significant step in Jewish people reclaiming central Europe as a natural home in a more modern guise, but now in the company of a multitude of other European ethnic groups.

This is the Europe that the UK seems reluctant to embrace. Those fanning the flames of an exit from the EU seem intent on resisting the reality of the open and interconnected Europe that has sprung up. For some that is a colonial hangover, for others a misreading of the way the continent has almost always worked with people moving from north to south and east to west. Only through British eyes does it become an instrumental project, interesting when it is useful and derided when not. Britain could play an integral part in the next twenty-five years of Europe, or it could build a wall and tell stories about what is on the other side.

Scoring the Labour candidates

It’s time for a bit of science on the Labour leadership. Or at least an entirely subjective game of Top Trumps. If I’ve missed anything out, do let me know. All scores are out of 10.

Issues Sarah Boyack Neil Findlay Jim Murphy
Record of interest in reforming Labour 7 3 4
Compliance with UK Labour 4 1 10
Media support 2 3 10
Appeal to SNP voters 5 4 0
Appeal to Tory voters 2 0 8
Appeal to Green voters 4 4 0

In terms of the appeal to other parties’ voters, 10 out of 10 is the notional figure awarded for each party’s ideal current person, so 10/10 for the SNP would be Nicola, 10/10 for the Greens would be Patrick, and 10/10 for the Tories would be perhaps a reincarnation of Margaret Thatcher. In my unscientific view (like everything else here) Findlay and Boyack appeal to different parts of the SNP and Green electorates – he reaches the more left segments of both, while she reaches the more centrist part of the SNP voting pool and the more “eco” part of the Greens. Those figures tend to be low, especially for the SNP and the Greens, as both parties are on a bounce in terms of support. You’d have to be really aligned to beat 5 for either group, in my view. Malcolm Chisholm might get a 6 for current SNP voters.

I’ve also not put a figure for appeal to current Lib Dem voters. I really don’t have any idea what they want. The other thing to bear in mind there is that Labour will in part here be deciding whose voters they want to target. Are Tory voters a big enough pool for Labour to want to fish in, at a Scottish level? If I were them I’d want to focus the party’s appeal on SNP voters, perhaps most specifically that fraction who voted No in September, although holding off the Greens is apparently also high on Labour’s list of current objectives.

Excessive compliance with UK Labour for me does not count as a positive for a Scottish Labour leader: Johann Lamont’s criticism feels spot on, and fraternal operational independence seems the only structure that can help with the deep problems there. However, to be generous, I’m not convinced that vociferously opposing Miliband on a wide range of policy issues (as Neil Findlay would do – and I would tend to agree with him) would necessarily help with any hypothetical Labour revival. I think about 4/10 is in fact potentially the sweet spot there. I also find it hard to tell whether the media, especially the bits edited in London, are backing Murphy because they think he’ll help Labour or because they think he’ll sink them.

The upshot is this. If I were a Labour member, my policy heart would be inclined towards Findlay (despite the serious problems cited here by @3psteve), but my head would be decisively in favour of Boyack. Both head and heart would be united in the view that Murphy would be Scottish Labour simply doubling down on all its problems: the privatising, warmongering, tuition-fee-introducing legacy of Blairism, the clammy hand of London controlling the Scottish party, and the a obsessive focus on the SNP rather than Labour’s own offer.

Declaration of interest: I have, in a vote of confidence in the Labour membership, who still oddly only get a third of the votes, put £100 down on Boyack at 9-1.