Wha kent whit, an when did thay ken it? E’er syne thay catcht auld Dick Nixon wi his lug tae the Watergate waw, oor politeecians hae makkit a guid haundlin oot o the doctrine o plausible deniability, itherwise kent as the virtue o unexpectit ignorance. Knawledge, tae oor current crop o baby-kissers, is a volatile thing, ayeweys apt tae blaw up in yer face; an in fact is just like Schrödinger’s box — naebody kens for shuir whit’s in there, but it’s fifty-fifty ye’ll be left wi a deid cat tae explain.
Onygates, it leukt as if the Donald had takken yon trend tae its logical conclusion when he wis electit high heid yin o the free warld on the basis o kennin absolutely naething aboot absolutely onythin — weel, until this week, that is, when his auld sparrin pairtner, Mister Salmond o Lithgae, admeetit in a student paper that, afore 2015, he had niver actually read a beuk.
Fake news or whit! It turns oot aw oor yin-time First Meenister said wis that he hadna written a beuk afore 2015. An honest mistak aw roond, it seems, an strauchtent oot sprig eneuch, tho that didnae stap a few radges on baith sides breengin in bits-first, tryin tae get their licks in afore the nee-naw caurs pullt up.
Aw o which so faur is juist same stuff on a different day. But whit interestit me wis hou mony o the fowk that war gettin their knickers in a twist aboot this — the scandalous suggestion that Alex Salmond had never rade a beuk — war, thairsels, fowk wha plainly dinnae value the act o readin. Mak a muckle point oot o it. Hinnae the time. Hinnae the interest. Get aw the news thay need fae Facebook. Arenae bothert. Are kind o prood o it. An yet find unacceptable the notion that somebody thay admire michtna read themsels.
Declaration o interest, here: A’m a librarian bi tred. Will be as lang as onybody thinks it’s a job wirth peyin for. A dicey proposeetion the nou, tae be shuir — every day some library or anither, be it a thrivin Carnegie in a muckle toun centre, or a vanfu o Westerns putterin aboot the Hebrides, is faced wi the axe. Stock cuts, staff cuts, openin oors slashed tae ribbons. Libraries growin e’er mair reliant on donations o beuks, siller an time. Big haun for the Big Society, aabody. Weel din, Davie C — ye finally really did it.
A’m no flingin oot ma cap for a whiproond, like. Ye can aw pit by yer hankies the nou. Nane o yon is news tae onybody. Ye aw ken the fankle that libraries are in. An gin ye dinnae ken the nummers aff bi hert, ye’ve a notion o thaim. Mair fowk gan tae libraries than tae fitba gemmes. Readin maks a bigger difference tae a bairn’s educational ootcomes than social class. Twa libraries a week shuttered unner the Tories. An on, an on, an on. A dinnae want tae get ower wrapped up in the specifics o whit libraries hae tae offer. Tae fetishize the date stamp an the auld caird catalogue is playin richt intae the hauns o thaim wha cry us the relics o the past.
Nou, like ony guild, the grave profession o the librarians has got its mysteries, an A’m gonnae let ye in on a big yin here. As a caird-cairryin member o the shush brigade, there’s naething gets ma back up like hearin fowk gaun ower big for libraries. Aye, ye heard me richt. The Prime Meenister, the Culture Meenister, the specialist czar for literacy — the meenit ony o them gets oot the pompoms, ma heid’s fair bouncin.
Acause the idea o libraries has niver been short o cheerleaders. A mean, even the Tories ken that fowk like libraries. An there’s plenty o politeecians inby the faurest reaches o government (whaur a guid soundbite, like a bent bawbee, costs naething an is wirth less) happy tae gab awa aboot the idea o libraries, in the same elegaic tone thay employ for ither fantastical notions that hae lang syne shot the craw, sic as post offices or lichthooses or a fair day’s pey for a fair day’s wirk. An, siccar as ye like, yon tone-deif mythologizin o the Gowden Age o Libraries aye rins straucht intae rueful conseederations aboot the real warld we happen tae leeve in, an sic haundy factoids as hae takken up bidin in it, austerity an e-beuks an whitever else cams tae mynd.
Weel, let’s face the facts. The Internet has makkit leeteratur mair accessible an, tae an extent, affuirdable tae a wheen o fowk. Moby Dick has went fae bein a £7.99 Oxford Edition tae a £1 Everyman Classic tae a free dounload on Project Gutenberg. Wha’s complainin? But the real price o yon free e-beuk isnae the Kindle ye need tae read it or the bandwidth ye need tae access it — it’s the accelerated capitalism that’s assignin these mercat values tae these priceless things. The cost o a free Wuthering Heights, in ither wirds, is a wirthless Wuthering Heights, the loss o oor capacity tae express whit things mean tae us in ony ither currency than pounds an pence.
E’er syne 52% o fowk votit tae cut oorsels aff fae the continent — fae the warld — the pound’s been fleein up an doun like a firework let aff in a livin room. Maist o us dinnae really ken why or hou that wirks, juist that withoot spendin ony siller we’ve somehou wound up wi less, like some Christopher Nolan reboot o the Loaves an the Fishes. The anely currency we ken tae uise has been unpegged fae reality — it’s nae wunner that we’re left skytin aboot like contestants on The Price is Right, no shuir gin the act o readin beuks is priceless or valueless.
Nae dout ye ken whaur A’m gaun wi aw this. Ony meenit nou, ye’re thinkin, A’m gonnae mount the barricade wi ma flaming sword an a muckle cry tae airms. Save oor libraries!Save oor dog-eared Famous Fives! Save oor specky spinsters! But ye’re wrang. Yon idea o libraries is awready deid, an onybody strivin tae keep yon alive isnae daein it oot o nostalgia, tae bring back the libraries we’ve lost. Thay’re daein it tae get rid o the yins we’ve still got. In Scotland, we’re still aheid o that gemme. But let’s no dislocate oor shouders wi pattin oorsels on the back. The initiatives are braw, but let’s aye mynd that whit we’re leukin for is mair than juist the First Meenister’s Readin Challenge. It’s evidence o the First Meenister’s challengin readin.
Hou can we meisur the value o abstractions? Hou dae we represent oor feelins aboot democracy ‘cept throu oor pairliament? Oor ideas aboot justice ithergates than in oor coorts? The notion o libraries — weel, yon’s a grand an noble story. But gie us some brick an stane ower stories. Gie us some concrete ower castles in the air.
Thomas Clark is a makar an scriever fae the Scottish Borders. He is currently editor o Scots at Bella Caledonia, an poet-in-residence at Selkirk FC. He gabs awa at www.thomasjclark.co.uk and on Twitter @clashcityclarky.
Puir infrastructure is a belt aboot Scotland’s thrapple. Oor roads are pithailed anachronisms. Boats tae the isles are auld an dear. Fleein tae ony airt ither than London gars ye travel tae the ane o the central belt aeroports, doublin the cost an time o ilka journey. Scotrail is a mixter-maxter o the sorry an the sublime. On ae haun there’s a braw new electric service breengin atween Embra an Glasgae. On the ither haun ye hae twa-carriage vintage trains rattlin aroon an aboot the hielands, gangin nae place fast. No ainly is infrastructure puir, but infrastructure inequality is severe an growin worse ilka year. Gin ye want tae gang onywhaur in Scotland north o the Forth, by car, sea or rail, it’ll be slaw an it’ll be dear.
The effects o this are extreme. Hail sections o Scotland are economically uninhabitable.
Ane o the worst effected airts is the Buchan. The Broch. Peterheid. Buckie. MacDuff. Big touns thrang wi culture, business an potential, cut aff fae mercats an cities by an infrastructure that’s oot o date by decades.
A solution is chuggin reekily owre the horizon: the Buchan railway line. There aince wis a line linkin aa the North-East tae the rest o Scotland, but it wis torn oot by Beeching in his cuts. Nou the clash is a reinstatement is possible. The SNP are getting ahint the idea. It has grassroots support.
Whether it’d be a full relaying o the auld 57-mile track that linked Peterheid an the Broch wi Dyce, or some new configuration, isnae yet set in stane. But whit is gey clear tae the maist blindit o een is the sair need in the area for a train line.
The fowk o the Buchan are haein tae thole gey sair times the nou, in the wake o the oil crash an the decline o fishin. Unemployment is a huge issue. The nummer o fowk needin a haun fae the state rose by 97.5% in 2016. The lack o ony ither employment opportunities in that airt means that thae fowk wha are dumped oot on their dowp efter years o guid wark in the oil an gas industry arnae likely tae finn new posts ony time soon. The unemployed are mair nor likely tae be hail, hearty men atween the ages o aboot forty an saxty, an skilled warkers intae their sectors. Ae muckle barrier tae wark wis that thay juist coudnae gang intae Aiberdeen for tae finn wark or mak contacts; it wis juist owre far. Nou, ye’re mibbie ainly spikkin aboot forty mile or so, but on thae totty wee roads, wi their ferm clart an tractors blockin yer run, it micht weel be twa hours tae drive. It’s fower hours an twenty quid return on the bus.
So aa these gey talented lads, richt in the middle o their warkin lives, are bein left tae rot in the fields like unhowkit tatties, their skills deid tae the economy o Scotland.
An exaimple fae near at haun shaws us clearly the benefits o a train line.
Ballatar an Braemar are baith Cairngorm conurbations. Baith were on ane o the vital routes through the Cairngorms an therefore hud every reason tae be a vibrant economic hubs. In the nineteen-hunners a trainline wis planned, tae link Braemar tae Aiberdeen. Construction got sae far as tae big a railway station at Braemar, a biggin that stauns there yet.
But then intae this natural development cam big Queen Vicky. She bocht Balmoral Castle, an a guid skelp o the laun thereaboot. She soon cam tae ken that the new railroad wad gang richt by her new front door. So the train wis stapped at Ballater, saxteen mile doun the road. Braemar was left tae stew in parochialism.
The difference atween the twa touns — ane wi a train station durin a century, the ither withoot — coudnae be mair marked. The population o Ballater is double that o Braemar, its tourism infrastructure is weel-developed an it has a relatively diverse economy.
The tearin up o the North o Scotland railroads pit a stap tae Ballater’s development, but the tale o the twa touns is a usefu fable for unnerstaunin the importance o infrastructure in rural areas.
There is a braw modren test-case for rebiggin the Buchan railway line: The Borders Railway. The Borders line rins fae Embra doun tae Tweedbank, juist ayont Galashiels. The area wis ane o the maist disconnectit in Scotland, wi a hirplin tourism industry an prohibitive travel costs. Busses tae Embra took owre twa hours, but this train taks unner ane. This situation is mirrored by the Broch an Aiberdeen.
The economic impact o the Border Railway has been staggerin. Owre a million passengers in the first year — 350,000 mair than expectit — an a huge shot in the airm o local businesses. The Scottish Tourism Economic Assessment Monitor (STEAM) figures for the Borders efter the biggin of the railway were aa fantastically positive; a 27% increase in visitors steyin at hotels an B&Bs. 20% mair spent by visitors on bevvy an scran. Aa across the board nummers are heized up.
There’s naebody doun there scratchin their heids speirin whaur aa this new money cam fae. thay ken fine. “The introduction of the railway has undoubtedly contributed” tae aa this growth, says Stuart Bell fae the Borders Cooncil.
The Buchan needs this railway like it needs its neist breath o air. The belt o 19th century infrastructure needs lowsed aff the thrapple o the North-East.
The Transport Minister, an indeed aabody in the SNP leadership maun pit their shooder tae the wark an mak absolute certain that this project comes tae fruition. A new trainline will be the artery, pumpin the lifebluid o cash an fowk tae the Buchan hertlands that’s sae sairly needit. Wi’oot it? It’ll be yet anither toom airt, anither Ross, anither Cairgorms, anither bleak wasteland that aince supported life but nou ainly exists for grouse shoots an postcairds.
Alistair Heather is the Scots Editor at Bella Caledonia. He studies History an French at Aiberdeen University, an warks wi the Elphinstone Institute promotin the culture o the North-East. Gie him yer chat @historic_ally on Twitter.
Editor’s note: many thanks to James for Discourse.scot’s first article in Scots. You can read about the rich history of Scots, and explore its vocabulary, over at the Dictionar o the Scots Leid website. There’s also a selected glossary at the end of this post. Happy reading. JS.
Anither newins tae dae wi the Scots space industry, the possibeelity o a spaceport, wis proponed an aw, bi Commonspace. This idea wis descreived as “science fiction” bi Adam Tomkins, Tory MSP. But this is in maugre o the first spaceport bein biggit in Kazakhstan in 1957 (on lease tae Roushie syne Kazakhstan’s wanthirldom in 1991) an twa new yins biggit juist last yeir, in Roushie an Cheena. Sae it’s mair tae be science fact. An Scotland awready haes its ain space industry, becomin sonsier an sonsier, as Commonspace pynts out.
An Scotland investin in its space industry wad be a braw idea, in ma view, for a hantle raisons. The investment wad forder a industry that, forrit an ayont, coud be crucial for the hale o Jock Tamson’s bairns. It wad create jobs that fowk coud actually be greeshochie anent an aw. An, on tap o that, it wad pit Scotland at the forebreist o innovation, as it’s afttimes been.
But whit can be daen for tae forder this industry?
Och, the state o the economy is relevant: a economy that isnae diverse eneuch, a economy that isnae even biggin the components for caurs, willnae can produce a major space industry. Anither relevant element is the financial an infrastructure investment fae the govrenment. An the encouragement or discouragement hings on whaur individuals an firms is makkin thair efforts an aw: whiles, in ony domain, ye juist need the yin-twa eydent buddies for awthing tae gang fae naething till something.
But hou can thae eydent buddies even hae thair ideas, gif thay dinnae learn anent thaim? Och, it’s possible that thay can gang awa thairsels an learn things aw bi thairsels. An that comes o some fowk. Some fowk juist learn things on thair ain. An that is a rare thing. This kin o willint naitur can an should be upsteert. But awbody isnae sic a aiver learner. An, even for the fowk that learns on thair lanesome like that, thay dinnae necessarly finn the swecht for tae resairch thair favourite topic on thair ain: thay found the topic through fowk shawin it tae thaim, wis interestit in learnin mair about it, an then gaun awa an learnt about it.
Hou can we git fae wir present knawledge o an interest in astronomy in Scotland tae a generation wi mony buddin astronomers?
Ma idea is tae pit astronomy heich up in the curriculum. The idea that astronomy shud hae a place in the curriculum is supportit bi the journal airticle Teaching Astronomy: Why and How?
Afore leukin at alternatives, we’ll see whit astronomy lessons is like in Scotland awready. Thir days, there a fair differ aqueish astronomy in Scots heicher eddication an eddication afore that: scuils pit astronomy as pairt o pheesics, while universities gie it its ain place. This is true in general; outthrou different kintras, there is mair availability o astronomy at universitie level than at scuil level. At the moment, there isnae a National Qualification for astronomy though there a pheesics unit that is anent astronomy, an it is guid that there is something.
Obviously, we can say astronomy is pairt o pheesics. But astropheesics is in fack juist the ae subdiscipline o astronomy; there is forby ither owerlaps wi ither subjecks: astrobiology, astrochemistry, even archeoastronomy, as weel as ither domains athin astronomy, like celestial mechanics, pheesical cosmology an planetary science.
Turnin tae ither times an places, we can see that there wis or is mair astronomy lessons. In auncient Greek scuils, astronomy wis gien date an gree amang scuil subjecks. In the Pythagorean scuil, for insaumple, it wis yin o the major subjecks.
Nou that we recognise the importance o space traivel an the propines it can bring us, it should be mair important, no less. Thir propines can range fae the space traivel itsel (for tae hae the potential tae can stairt colonies on ither planets some day) tae technology developpit bi NASA, an then transfert tae Earth uise, like artificial limbs amang ither innovations. Sae we should, by wey o it, be mair interestit in space than the auncient Greeks were.
Nou tae leuk at anither kintra, in pairts o whilk astronomy is awready heich placed in the curriculum. That kintra is East Germany, whaur there wis obligator astronomy clesses fae 1959 on. This is true yet in fower o the five Eastern Länder (states): Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Sachsen-Anhalt, Thüringen an in Brandenburg. Famous astronomers like Martin Fiedler, Jens Kandler, Maik Meyer, André Knöfel, Lutz D. Schmadel an, maist notably, Thomas Henning, wha wirks as director at the Max Planck Astronomy Institute (Max-Planck-Institut für astronomy) is aw astronomers that haes been through the East German seestem wi astronomy lessons. The situation in Eastern Germany wad obviously no be replicate like for like in Scots scuils, wi the wey Scots scuils is mair intae chyce, but we cud offer mair aften the chyce tae learn the astronomy.
In Scotland, whit we coud dae is eik astronomy intae Scots scuils as a separate subjeck, leastweys at Higher level. Obviously, we cannae gang straucht fae nae teachers specialisin in astronomy tae aw the scuils haein thaim. There wad need tae be a hauflin process through whilk things wad temporarily gang.
On tap o that, anither thing we need tae think on is the wey in whilk fowk learn. This is important an aw: we wad aye want tae teach it richt, an in a wey that forders a gey wheen o the pupils tae continue in the field. As Neil deGrasse Tyson says:
“I would teach how science works as much as I would teach what science knows. I would assert (given that essentially, everyone will learn to read) that science literacy is the most important kind of literacy thay can take into the 21st century. I would undervalue grades based on knowing things and find ways to reward curiosity. In the end, it’s the people who are curious who change the world.”
― Neil deGrasse Tyson
Sae we can see that the feelin o wonder for the warld, an the promuivin o whilk, is fundamental tae the forderin o society.
“I am trying to convince people — not only the public, but lawmakers and people in power — that investing in the frontier of science, however remote it may seem in its relevance to what you’re doing today, is a way of stockpiling the seed corns of future harvests of this nation.”
Och, he’s talkin anent the Unitit States in yon statement, but it isnae less true for Scotland or ony ither place.
Sae, aw in aw, astronomy wad be benefeicial gin it’s for the future o humanity or for the future o Scotland’s space industry, or Scotland’s economy mair generally, or the potential inventions, or ony ither raison. An that’s hou A wad think that it wad be braw gif we coud see astronomy pit heicher up in Scots scuils. An teach in it in a wey that fowk can be inspired by.
James McDonald is a Scots polyglot steyin in Réunion. He is keen on different leids, inspecially local leids, an thair forderin, whether it’s Scots, Gaelic, Réunion Creole or ither leids. He wirks in scuils, helpin bairns wi thair hamewirk an giein chess lessons. Ye can contack him on jmcd89 [AT] googlemail [DOT] com.
An exclamation of peremptory dismissal of a subject (can also be exclamation of weariness, oh!, alas!)
Thought-provoking commentary by Michael Fry in The Nationaltoday:
One thing that has struck me in all the commentary and analysis since the General Election is the refusal to accept that there might be a kind of right-of-centre Scottish nationalism, and that its alienation from the present leadership of the SNP could be a reason for the setbacks last Thursday.
… While Salmond was personally a lefty he could, as a former bank executive, walk the capitalist walk and talk the capitalist talk. That was what he and his colleague John Swinney did at a crucial stage more than a decade ago as they made the rounds of Scottish finance and industry persuading moneyed men that the independence of the country might be good for them too—and that, at any rate, things could hardly get worse than they eventually got under New Labour. All the while Salmond remained First Minister, he continued to cultivate these connections, and with a good deal of success. George Mathewson, Jim McColl, Brian Souter, Tom Farmer, Bill Samuel, Peter de Vink and many others have all endorsed or donated to his SNP. But since 2014 the ample flow of business funding has dried up.
The reasons are not far to seek, and can be found conveniently summarised in the election manifesto the SNP published a couple of weeks ago. Looking inside we find, against dozens of spending commitments and calls for higher taxation, only a couple of lines on how the private sector of the economy (from which all other blessings flow) is to be encouraged and expanded.
So far I never mentioned UK-wide polls as this is a Scottish blog. But this time I feel I have to because something unexpected is happening Doon Sooth. The UK-wide trends show it. Not that it means Jeremy Corbyn will be the next PM, but it might well end up with Corbyn’s Labour doing better than Blair’s New Labour in 2005. On a strongly left-wing manifesto. And that would be good news.
I’m fully aware that it won’t make any difference for Scotland, and won’t make any for England and Wales either as Tories are still hugely favoured to win this election. Labour gaining ground is a sign that the UK might be heading back to sanity after years of delusion. And there is still the possibility that the Conservative lead will shrink even further; and that the last week will see the UK enter hung Parliament territory.
And now back to ‘too wee, too poor, too daft’ Alba.
As weeks go, the last seven days were kind of a ‘septimana horribila’ for the SNP. With the manifesto launch postponed by a week because of the Manchester bombing, the national campaign was pretty much in limbo and failed to get the proper momentum at a crucial moment. The local campaigns went ahead regardless, are working hard, and seem to be doing well especially in battleground seats. And then a new full Scottish poll from SurveyMonkey (published by the Scottish Sun) found the party at its lowest in three years, ahead of the Conservatives by only 10%.
Facing such an outlier I had to give it some thought before deciding what I would make of it. I finally decided to ignore it. Not because it’s bad for the SNP but because the underlying methodology is unreliable and not abiding by British Polling Council (BPC) rules. For the record, well-established aggregator sites like UK Polling Report ignore SurveyMonkey results entirely. Martin Baxter at Electoral Calculus confirmed to me he won’t include it either as he only uses polls from BPC members.
So here are the updated trends and rolling average:
The most intriguing part of this week’s rolling average is that the SNP, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats all lost some votes. And all these votes have shifted to Labour, who are up 2% from last week. I find this surprising as it happens just after the uproar caused by Labour-Conservative coalitions in several Scottish Councils, most in defiance of Scottish Labour’s National Executive Committee decisions.
I don’t quite know what to make of it because it could mean one of two things: either voters approve the ‘SNP out’ coalitions (which I would find deeply disturbing because I had expected these situations to have the exact opposite effect); or it is just a by-product of the real Labour surge seen in the most recent UK-wide polls (and then it might change during the last week depending on which direction the UK polls go).
I also compared this week’s results with the rolling average a month ago when I started this series. The SNP (-1.2%), Conservatives (-0.6%), Liberal Democrats (-1%), Greens (-0.4%), and UKIP (-0.9%) are all down. Part of it is surely due to voters now factoring in that Greens and UKIP don’t field candidates in every constituency and reassessing their vote accordingly. But the swing away from the SNP, Conservatives and LibDems benefits Labour, now up 4.2% from a month ago. I find these results to be totally counter-intuitive; and fully expect the last week to have its fair share of surprises too.
And what does that change in the projection and prediction?
As can be expected, this week’s polling average projects into a weaker SNP result. It also makes the outcome more uncertain in a number of battleground seats (twelve now qualifying as ‘Tied’ or ‘Marginal’).
And finally my updated projection compared with two other models (Electoral Calculus and ScotlandVotes) and my updated prediction. This time I also identified the few seats who qualify as ‘Tied’ on Electoral Calculus’ seat-by-seat analysis.
I have altered my prediction to 50 SNP seats, the lowest so far. This week’s polling improved the Conservatives’ position in several marginal seats and made a number of SNP holds more unlikely. Coincidentally (or not) 50 seats is also what YouGov predict using their own model and voting intentions from a 50,000 UK-wide panel.
Seats to watch
To conclude my ‘Seats To Watch’ series, let’s have a look at two of the most important seats: Moray, Perth and North Perthshire. Both are held by SNP ‘superstars’ (Angus Robertson and Pete Wishart). Both are part of the ‘historic five’ seats that the SNP has held continuously for the last 20 years in various incarnations through boundary changes. Both are squarely in the danger zone on the current polling average. So will these two seats provide the SNP’s ‘Portillo moments’ (or ‘Balls moments’ if you want a more recent reference) on election night? Possibly, or possibly not.
It should be noted that the two sitting SNP MPs held their seats in recent years with a relatively low share of the vote (40% or below) and thanks to a fractured opposition. Both seats are no longer safe as they turned into the now classic SNP-Conservative one-on-one, with a much stronger Conservative vote than before endangering the SNP. And both are also prime targets in an Unionist ‘coordination scheme‘ revealed by STV.
In both cases I will provide some statistics on recent elections. These will clarify why my perspective on Moray has changed since my first article. Trends in both constituencies clearly show why the SNP should be worried and pay special attention to both constituencies. Basic statistics also show how the SNP vote (and to a lesser extent the Conservative vote) evolved on strikingly similar patterns in both seats. These were once SNP heartland. This year they might turn into Conservative base camp. Or not.
The Moray House of Commons (HofC) constituency covers the same area as the Moray Council. It is also the area covered by the Moray Scottish Parliament (SP) constituency except for one-and-a-half wards that are part of Banffshire and Buchan Coast. So here comparisons between the HofC, SP and Council votes seem relevant even if different elections follow different patterns. The widely similar trends in recent years are what matters.
Moray (and its almost predecessor seat Moray and Nairn) was a Conservative stronghold from 1923 to 1987, except between 1974 and 1979 when Winnie Ewing held Moray and Nairn for the SNP.
It is also worth remembering that (apart from the 2015 landslide) the SNP never did better than 44.5% in the current Moray (Margaret Ewing in 1992). Sitting MP Angus Robertson (again apart from 2015) was elected three times on less than 40%. So there are clear hints that 2015 was an outlier and the SNP is not as safe here as you might think at first glance.
Martin Baxter at Electoral Calculus gives the Conservatives a 58% chance of winning here. His demographic statistics also point to a more favourable profile than average for the Conservatives (older, larger proportion of ‘UK born’, equal split on EU membership). His projection of vote shares and mine are pretty close, with a Conservative lead of about 4% to 6%. Not coincidentally in my opinion, the Conservative lead over the SNP in last month’s Council elections was within that range.
Finally the most significant statistical result is that, unlike other parts of Scotland, there has been a real Conservative surge here recently. Conservatives nearly doubling their vote share in 2016 and more than doubling it in 2017 is obviously a bad sign for the SNP. The Unionist vote visibly coalescing around the Conservatives here also makes this seat a golden opportunity for a gain.
The SNP candidate is Angus Robertson, who obviously needs no elaborate introduction. As the party’s Group Leader in Westminster since 2007 and Depute Leader since last October, he has been one of the most visible SNP figures recently, second only to Nicola Sturgeon. Robertson was the SNP panelist in yesterday’s Election Debate instead of Sturgeon for genuine practical reasons. But the extra media exposure it offered him was obviously welcome as he faces a tough re-election.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats will obviously play third and fourth fiddle here, so I will not discuss the merits of their candidates, especially as both are complete unknowns to me.
The Conservative candidate is Doug Ross (this one, not that one), assistant football referee and list MSP for Highlands and Islands. Also the Conservative spokesperson for Justice in Scottish Parliament. Ross had his fifteen minutes of fame last September when he was away for a whole week on a ‘referee trip’ to Switzerland. He missed a Justice Committee meeting and also a key vote on the Council tax that the SNP government won while they should have lost it (63-63 with the Presiding Officer casting the tie-breaking vote in favour of the government as convention requires). At the time Kezia Dugdale’s vote ‘failing to register’ made headlines. But it wouldn’t have mattered if Ross had been present; then the government would have lost 64-63.
Though Ross supported ‘Remain’ during the EU referendum campaign, the newly-found ‘best Brexit deal’ talking points might go down well with voters in a constituency which supported ‘Remain’ by only 122 votes. He will of course campaign on ‘No to independence’ like all Scottish Conservative candidates. And probably also attack Robertson on the SNP’s record on devolved matters, just as Ruth Davidson did during the BBC’s abysmal Scottish leaders’ debate. That this is irrelevant in a General Election campaign probably doesn’t matter as a precedent has been set. And unfortunately it might very well work if Robertson falls for it as Nicola Sturgeon did.
I think the SNP will do a little better here than statistics say but not by much, even if I predict they will lose less votes here than the national average. I also have a hunch that even the incumbency factor will not be enough to overturn the projected Conservative lead. In the end I go with the statistical evidence and the high probability of a major upset, so reluctantly…
I rate it as a Conservative gain from SNP Conservatives 47% (+16%), SNP 46% (-4%), Labour 6% (-4%), LibDems 2% (-1%)
Perth and North Perthshire
This constituency has an electoral history pretty similar to Moray’s. It and its ‘near-predecessor’ seats were held by the Conservatives from 1924 to 1997 except for a short Liberal Unionist interlude in 1935. Its near predecessor Perth and East Perthshire was also held by the SNP between 1974 and 1979, with Douglas Crawford as its MP. Then as North Tayside it was John Swinney’s seat from 1997 to 2001. When Swinney stood down to avoid double-jobbing as MP and MSP, Pete Wishart took over. As in Moray the SNP’s vote share under current boundaries was always below 40%, except in the 2015 landslide. And the 2015 result was pretty similar in both seats.
I based the comparisons with SP and Council elections on the Perthshire North SP constituency on one hand, and the eight wards covered entirely or mostly by the Westminster constituency on the other. Perthshire North does not exactly overlap Perth and North Perthshire as it does not include the whole of the city of Perth, but the boundaries are close enough to identify a trend.
I have to disagree with Martin Baxter on this one. His projection includes an ‘Other’ candidate while in fact there is none here. The 2015 Independent candidate Xander McDade (an opposition independent councillor on the current Conservative-led Perth and Kinross council) appears to be quite left-leaning on a number of major national policy issues, so I expect his absence this year to benefit the SNP.
Just like Angus Robertson, sitting SNP MP Pete Wishart does not need an elaborate introduction. As the keyboardist for Big Country and Runrig he was in the public’s eye long before his first election. Since then he has done his best to maintain a high profile and high visibility, even (or perhaps especially) when it implies taking provocative and controversial positions on some issues. His Twitter account draws a lot of attention since he was awarded ‘Parliamentary Tweeter of the Year’ in 2014.
The outcome here will probably be decided by the differential turnout between the rural wards (leaning Conservative) and Perth itself (leaning SNP). So I think the SNP’s decision to hold their rescheduled manifesto launch in Perth (instead of the original venue in Edinburgh) was also clearly devised to bring the constituency and Wishart into the spotlight at a key moment.
The Conservative candidate is Ian Duncan MEP. Duncan campaigned in 2014 on a platform of EU reform and was an early proponent of an EU membership referendum. But his blog posts both before and after the referendum were ambiguous, carefully worded to not explicitly reveal which side he was on. This might not go down too well here as Perth and Kinross voted 61% ‘Remain’, just 1% below the national average. Duncan is surely aware the ‘best Brexit deal’ talking points will mostly fall on deaf ears here and he was careful not to mention it when he announced his candidacy. Duncan might be an accomplished MEP but he does not strike me as much of a campaigner. Even his blog post about the second independence referendum sounded long-winded and bland. And did not even include the magic words ‘No To Independence’.
Labour’s David Roemmele and Liberal Democrat Peter Barrett will compete for a distant third place. Both of them can’t expect more than watching the SNP-Con one-on-one from the sidelines.
Statistically this seat is a tie, with the Conservatives slightly favoured. But even the Daily Record is very careful not to speculate on the outcome. Unlike Moray, I believe this one is close enough for the incumbency factor to work and get Wishart re-elected.
I rate it as a SNP hold SNP 46% (-4%), Conservatives 45% (+12%), Labour 5% (-3%), LibDems 2% (-2%)
And this concludes my ‘Seats to watch’ discussions. Next update will be on Election Day so I will only discuss the broader picture: what will this GE deliver for Scotland? And, to stay on the cautious side, I will give one straight answer but also propose some possible alternative scenarios.
As we all know psephology is not an exact science, the accuracy of polls is in doubt, and even seemingly minor events can switch voters in sufficient numbers to make the outcome even more uncertain. I’ll deal with that next week.
Saor Alba gu bràth
Jeremy Blackwell, 1 June 2017
Jeremy Blackwell is an analyst and statistician living and working in Edinburgh. You can follow him on Twitter at @WeAreThe59.
On Monday night Manchester was hit by a cowardly and brutal terrorist attack. It targeted young people who were together to enjoy themselves and have fun, just as previous terrorist attacks in Paris and Berlin did. It is yet another sign that those who want to destroy our democracy will stop at nothing.
We won’t back down. We will stand up united for freedom, life and joy.
Some have already tried to make political gain out of this terrorist act. Shame on them.
My thoughts with Manchester and all who lost loved ones or were injured in the attack.
And now back to business as usual, with a heavy heart.
On the reliability of polls
We already know that polls have a reputation for unreliability. The 2015 General Election is the best known example. The 2011 and 2016 Scottish Parliament elections also prove it. And hard evidence demonstrates that polls can often be off by much more than the margin of error. The methodology itself is sometimes flawed, especially the weighting of voting intentions relative to previous votes or other mysterious criteria. A pollster following British Polling Council guidelines doesn’t mean the results should be taken at face value. They all follow the guidelines and have all been wrong at some point in the past.
So let’s see what the projection of seats becomes on three possible scenarios:
Scenario A is based on last week’s polling average. SNP 44%, Conservatives 29%, Labour 16%, LibDems 6%.
Scenario B is SNP overestimated by 4%. Vote supposed to be SNP 40%, Conservatives 31%, Labour 17%, LibDems 7%.
Scenario C is SNP underestimated by 4%. Vote supposed to be SNP 48%, Conservatives 26%, Labour 15%, LibDems 6%.
Note that even the worst case scenario would still give the SNP as many seats as Scottish Labour held from 2005 to 2015. Remember nobody then denied Labour was the dominant party and had a mandate to speak for Scotland. Whether Labour did it or not is a different story and I won’t discuss that right now.
Teaser: this week’s update will definitely be better for the SNP than the previous ones.
Scottish Greens standing down: a game-changer?
Technically the Scottish Green Party are not standing down. They just will be fielding only three candidates, compared to thirty-two in 2015. Whatever the official explanations and carefully crafted talking points, the true political intention is clear: get out of the way in marginal constituencies and hope it will benefit the SNP. And then get something in return. But that’s me going cynical.
In 2015 Scottish Greens received 39,205 votes or 1.3% of the national vote (sixth behind UKIP). In the 32 constituencies where they stood their average vote was 2.6%. Lowest in Rutherglen and Hamilton West (0.5%) and Glasgow East (0.9%). Highest in Glasgow North (6.2%) and Edinburgh East (6.0%). They also lost their deposit in 29 constituencies and that’s certainly something they chose to avoid this year. But that’s me going cynical again.
Recent polls credited Scottish Greens with 2 to 6% of the vote, with pollsters assuming they would stand in all constituencies. On average they’re credited with almost 4%, double their 2015 vote share. Allowing for margin of error and uncertainty about how Green supporters will vote now, it probably leaves about 2 to 3% of the vote literally up for grabs for the SNP nationally.
At the time of the announcement my model identified 14 Scottish seats as marginals. Seven of them with the Conservatives favoured; five with the SNP and two the Liberal Democrats. The Scottish Green Party fielded candidates in nine of these constituencies in 2015 and will be fielding only one this year (Edinburgh North and Leith). So the SNP have a real opportunity either to switch some seats back to their column or to hold them on better margins than projected.
Will the Greens’ decision be the turning point of this campaign? Probably yes if the SNP play it smart from now on. Conservatives have already started denouncing a ‘Yes alliance’ which in fact doesn’t exist; because they know some seats might be out of their reach now. And ultimately it’s up to the SNP to make the best out of the better hand they have unexpectedly been dealt.
UKIP are also fielding fewer candidates this year than in 2015, and this should bring a few more votes to the Conservatives. I expect the impact to be less visible, because polls show UKIP in Scotland down from 2015 as in the rest of the UK. Their vote share was never really significant in Scotland and some of their 2015 voters seem to have shifted to the Conservatives already.
How did the polling data evolve?
Unfortunately we don’t have any new full Scottish poll again this week, but a large number of new Scottish subsamples from UK-wide polls, used with all the usual caveats. Now that the campaign has started, polls show a slight swing towards the SNP and against the Conservatives. This is visible in the trendlines and has started to make rolling average better for the SNP.
James Kelly’s ‘Poll of polls’ on Scot Goes Pop is even more favourable to the SNP. But he doesn’t use the same set of subsamples. I keep some older ones in my set that James has already discarded. They were distinctly less good for the SNP than the more recent ones. And, as I said before, when I have a choice I always choose the scenario that is least favourable for the SNP. Previous elections taught us that a cautious approach is often the wisest.
How do all these factors change the projection and prediction?
I have adapted my model to the new context. In an additional final step I chose to reallocate 60% of the potential Green vote to the SNP and 90% of the potential UKIP vote to the Conservatives in all constituencies where Greens or UKIP stood in 2015 and don’t stand this time. This is obviously an approximation and the real transfers will be more complex. But I had to make an assumption and this one seemed as good as any other.
The cumulative effect of the slight change in polling average and the reallocation of Green votes is to shift three marginal seats from the Conservative to the SNP column (Edinburgh South, Perth and North Perthshire, and Stirling). Aberdeen South and Moray remain in the Conservative column because of the reallocation of the 2015 UKIP vote but in both cases the Conservative lead is much reduced.
Martin Baxter at Electoral Calculus has also adapted his model to account for the actual Green and UKIP candidacies. He delivers the exact same number of seats as my model when fed with the same polling average data. But there are still a few differences in the allocation of seats to each party. ScotlandVotes is less favourable for the SNP but close nevertheless. I have a hunch their model has not been adapted in the same way as the others (yet) and still reflects what would happen with a much larger number of Green candidates.
Below are my updated projections (seats by SLLM—Safe, Likely, Lean, Marginal—rating, and seat by seat winner’s margin) and the full seat-by-seat projected results. Again I’m taking a big risk here as some of the detailed results might be way off, but it’s worth it.
In my prediction I switched three seats from the Conservative to the SNP column: Aberdeen South, East Renfrewshire, and Moray. I already explained my reasons for these three seats in previous posts, so I will not elaborate further.
Seats to watch
Dumfries and Galloway
Dumfries and Galloway is one of the top Conservative targets in this election. This seat and its (almost) predecessor Galloway and Upper Nithsdale have been held by all three major parties (SNP, Conservatives, and Labour) at some point in the past 24 years. So it can really be called a battleground.
The decline of Labour in recent years has benefited both the SNP and the Conservatives here. But recent trends point to Conservatives having the upper hand, with the SNP coming second both in 2016 and 2017. Even if Scottish Parliament and Council elections are not predictors of the General Election, they nevertheless give some hints on which direction the electorate is moving.
The SNP candidate is sitting MP Richard Arkless. He gained the seat from Labour in 2015 on a 25% swing and with a majority of 6,500. As a hint of things to come the Conservatives finished second and Labour was already relegated to third place. I didn’t find much to say about Arkless except what you find in his profile on the SNP website and his Twitter account. He comes out as a typical low-profile backbencher, deeply involved in his job as MP and certainly respected and well-liked by his constituents. But is that enough to win in a competitive election that has already turned nasty on the national level?
The Conservatives are fielding Alister Jack (a local farmer and businessman who will campaign on the usual ‘no to independence’ and ‘best Brexit deal’) and Labour Daniel Goodare (a local A&E doctor).
Goodare doesn’t stand a chance as Labour support has gone downhill here just as much as anywhere else in Scotland. Jack will try to build on Conservative success in the area in 2016 and 2017. Apart from the classic Conservative campaign themes, he will also try to rally the farmers’ vote. It already paid off in other rural areas of Scotland in 2016, regardless of the validity of the arguments, and is probably the key to a Conservative gain here.
I rate it as a Conservative gain from SNP Conservatives 41% (+11%), SNP 39% (-2%), Labour 18% (-7%), LibDems 2% (-)
This one will obviously be the most watched of all Scottish constituencies in this General Election, being the last Labour seat in Scotland and an unexpected Labour hold in 2015. Over the last 40 years Edinburgh South has been first a weak Conservative seat and then a weak Labour seat. It is also one of the trickiest to predict as Edinburgh politics have a life of their own and have recently been full of upsets. So whoever wins on 8 June will probably do so by just a few hundred votes.
In 2015 the SNP clearly did not choose the best candidate here. This is obviously not the case this year. SNP candidate Jim Eadie was MSP for Edinburgh Southern from 2011 to 2016. During his term he played an important part in the Scottish Parliament’s work; first as Parliamentary Liaison Officer for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and then as Convener of the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee. Eadie was unseated in 2016 by Labour’s Daniel Johnson though he gained 2,500 votes and 3% of the vote compared to 2011. His defeat was at the time widely attributed to massive Unionist tactical voting, which seems to have become quite common in Edinburgh recently. His nomination for the General Election has been interpreted as a clear sign the SNP intend to put up a real fight for this seat. The SNP can certainly count on Eadie’s high name recognition, personal status and strong campaigning skills to bring in the extra votes needed to gain the seat.
After a seemingly chaotic selection process, the Conservatives nominated Stephanie Smith, who has since been elected Councillor for the Liberton/Gilmerton ward. Previously she stood for MSP in Almond Valley in 2016 and finished a distant third. Other than this I admit I know nothing about her. I find it surprising that the Conservatives did not choose a more high-profile candidate such as Miles Briggs, who stood here in 2015. But this year Briggs is standing in the neighbouring Edinburgh South West, which I will discuss in my next update. The Conservatives probably expect that Smith will automatically benefit from their surge in Edinburgh over the last two years but they should not take it for granted. She could also benefit from UKIP fielding no candidate this year (they received 1.2% here in 2015).
And finally Ian Murray, the sitting Labour MP. Murray was first elected in 2010, taking over from retiring Labour MP Nigel Griffiths. Common wisdom at the time was that he would lose the seat (then a Labour-LibDems marginal) to the Liberal Democrats. But he won by 316 votes. Again in 2015 Edinburgh South was generally considered highly likely to switch to the SNP. But Murray held the seat by 2,637 votes, with some help from the SNP themselves. There’s definitely something of the ‘come-back kid’ in him.
Murray is a member of the Blairite (or ‘progressive center-ground’ as they call themselves) Progress group and it shows in his voting record. He has been the target of harsh criticism from within Labour after his highly publicised resignation from the Shadow Cabinet and also because of his perceived undermining of Jeremy Corbyn. Murray has won an award as ‘most responsive Scottish MP’, whatever that actually means. But he is certainly not as popular as he claims or would like to be, even within his own party. What was once dubbed ‘The Socialist Republic of Morningside’ may well not be as kind to him as it was two years ago.
This seat is technically a three-way marginal bordering on a three-way tie. Common wisdom is that Conservatives will gain it but I strongly doubt it. The Greens’ decision to stand down in this constituency will probably be less of a game-changer here than in other seats. They received 4.2% of the vote in 2015 and it’s likely to switch to both SNP and Labour.
So I will go out on a limb again and…
I rate it as a SNP gain from Labour SNP 35% (+1%), Labour 33% (-6%), Conservatives 29% (+12%), LibDems 3% (-1%)
A little extra: the three constituencies where the Scottish Green Party stands…
Edinburgh North and Leith
I expected Greens to stand down in this one too, because it’s a marginal and the only one of the three where a Green candidacy could actually hurt the SNP’s prospects of holding the seat. Greens received 5.4% of the vote here in 2015 and can be expected to reach 8-10% this year under favourable circumstances. Such a result would reduce the SNP margin to probably 2 or 3% down from almost 10% in 2015. I don’t expect Greens to do much better than that. They do well in the eastern part of the constituency but significantly less in its western part; and their results here in the 2017 Council elections were not much different from 2012. But I think the SNP here would still welcome a fair share of tactical voting within the pro-Independence camp.
Greens intend to campaign here on ‘ban fracking’. The SNP have already explained at length why the current moratorium is the best choice; and how an outright ban would backfire as it would be challenged in court and would be overturned. Greens did not stand here in 2015 so there is little basis for comparison; only that they received 4.7% of the list vote for the Central region (which includes Falkirk) in 2016; and 3.6% in Falkirk Council elections this month. I expect their share of the vote in this GE to be fairly close to that.
Patrick Harvie received 24% of the vote last year in the Glasgow Kelvin Scottish Parliament constituency. But it doesn’t say much about what might happen in this General Election. Greens did well in the Hillhead ward two weeks ago (26%; one councillor elected on first count) but not so well in other areas of the constituency. Greens received 6.2% of the vote here in 2015. So I don’t expect Harvie to do much better than 15% this time. That would have him competing with the Conservatives for third place, not with the SNP for first.
Next week: Edinburgh West, Edinburgh South West
Saor Alba gu bràth.
Jeremy Blackwell, 17 May 2017
Jeremy Blackwell is an analyst and statistician living and working in Edinburgh. You can follow him on Twitter at @WeAreThe59.
Now that the Conservatives have won the Council elections in Scotland, and Ruth Davidson has taken Glasgow and won the French Presidential election, I will have to reconsider all my predictions. Just kidding, but in some cases what happened last Thursday offers a different perspective on what might (or might not) happen on 8 June. So let’s go.
How did the polling data evolve?
For the record, I have my doubts about polls. In 2011 they underestimated the SNP and failed to predict the SNP majority in the Scottish Parliament. In 2015 they were spot on and predicted the SNP landslide in Westminster. In 2016 they overestimated the SNP and failed to predict SNP losing their majority in the Scottish Parliament. So what is it going to be this time?
That being said, there have been few new polls in the last week and unfortunately no full Scottish polls. The trend, not unexpectedly, is again better for the Conservatives than for the SNP:
The rolling average also moved in favour of the Conservatives and against the Liberal Democrats. This obviously has an impact on the projections, and has also changed my prediction for a few seats.
I will have an update on my projection and prediction every week on Thursday until Election Day. I will keep it short and mostly point to the changes since the last update. At the end of each update I will also discuss some specific points like ‘seats to watch’.
How did the polling data evolve?
The complete crosstabs for some of the weekend polls were late showing up. And there were two Tuesday polls to add. But the main trends have not changed significantly since Monday. For better visibility I have hidden the small dots that represent individual polls. The large dots on the left side are the actual 2015 results.
The rolling average barely changed with the new polls in:
You’re lucky this time you won’t have to go through the ‘A few words about me’ and the ‘Hits and misses’ parts. You already got them. So let’s go directly to the heart of the matter.
How does my model work?
Like all election projection models, my model works mostly on ‘Uniform National Swing’ (UNS). With UNS you have all seats moving in exactly the same direction as the national polling average—which never happens in real life.
So I have a second algorithm on top of the first one which I call ‘relative swing’. It factors in not just the usual UNS, but the way parties’ vote shares change relative to each other.
For example, you might start with the SNP on 50%, Labour on 24%, the Conservatives on 15%, and the Liberal Democrats on 8%; then later have the SNP on 45%, the Conservatives on 30%, Labour on 15%, and the Liberal Democrats on 5%. With UNS you simply subtract 5% from the SNP vote, 9% from the Labour vote, 3% from the Liberal Democrat vote, and add 15% to the Conservative vote, in every seat. (And get negative votes for some parties sometimes.)
But the truth is that it’s more complex than this. That’s what ‘relative swing’ takes care of, by taking into account the ‘multiplier effect’. With the above numbers you multiply the SNP vote by 0.9, the Labour and Liberal Democrat votes by 0.625, and the Conservative vote by 2.0 in every seat. (And sometimes get a vote total over 100%.)
So my model is a mix of both, and currently tuned on 80% UNS and 20% ‘relative swing’.
The first step as described above will sometimes deliver negative votes in a few cases. And in some seats the vote total doesn’t add up to 100%. The second step is to eliminate all the negative votes. This is done simply by automatically switching from the model parameters to ‘100% relative swing’. This being a multiplier, it guarantees there can’t be any negative results. Third and last step is to deal with seats where the vote total is not 100%. This is also done automatically by recalculating votes proportionally from what the second step delivers.
Is the model foolproof? Of course not. No statistical model is, especially when you consider tactical voting. That’s why we can get wrong projections even with accurate polls (see ‘Hits and misses’ in my previous article). But I’ve compared my results with those you can get using Electoral Calculus or ScotlandVotes and they’re pretty similar. Not identical, but pretty close (more on that later). So I guess their underlying algorithms are pretty similar to mine.
How do I feed the model?
The source data are all the polls that I can find. Ideally I would rely on full Scottish polls (that is polls fielded in Scotland only and with a sample size of over 1,000). There were plenty such polls before the 2015 General Election and they proved accurate, unlike UK-wide polling. In the graph below the small dots are individual polls. The large dots at both ends are the actual 2010 and 2015 results. The trendlines show the evolution of vote shares and how polls correctly predicted the SNP landslide.
We are not that lucky this year. The snap election took everyone, including the pollsters, by surprise and there are many fewer full Scottish polls: nine so far and only five in 2017.
I therefore also have to rely on Scottish subsamples of UK-wide polls. A subsample size is typically 100 to 150, so they have a much larger margin of error (MOE) than full polls. This is the reason why many people think they should be discarded from any analysis. In principle I agree with this point of view, but this year subsamples are the bulk of the data we have. And there is a simple way to deal with the larger MOE and still get valid projections when interpreting the data. Which I will explain in the next section.