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.
From “Chapter 5: Scotland” of the UK parliament’s House of Lords European Union Committee report on Brexit and devolution, published today:
We conclude, on the basis of the weight of evidence submitted to this inquiry, that the Scottish Government’s further proposal, for continued Scottish membership of the Single Market, through the European Economic Area, while the rest of the UK leaves the Single Market, is politically impracticable, legally highly complex and economically potentially disruptive to the functioning of the UK single market.
Nevertheless, we urge the Government to respect the particular circumstances in Scotland. While we acknowledge that the referendum was a UK-wide vote, giving a UK-wide result, the Government needs to recognise the fact that the vote to remain in Scotland, at 62%, was the largest and most decisive (either in favour of remaining or leaving) in any nation of the UK.
We therefore consider that, in the event that the UK Government does not secure a UK-wide agreement that adequately reflects Scotland’s specific needs, there is a strong political and economic case for making differentiated arrangements for Scotland.
The Scottish economy has particularly pressing needs, including its reliance on access to EU labour, which is acute in sectors such as health and social care, agriculture, food and drink, and hospitality. We also note Scotland’s demographic needs, and its reliance upon EU migration to enable its population (and in particular, that of working age) to grow. Scotland’s more sparsely populated regions are disproportionately reliant both on EU migration and EU funding. Many of our witnesses argued that the most pressing case, in view of Scotland’s economic and demographic circumstances, would be for a standalone approach to immigration policy. We address this issue in the next chapter.
Our witnesses have also suggested that differentiated arrangements could be reached in fields such as energy policy, justice and home affairs cooperation, participation in Europol, access to EU structural or research funds, participation in such programmes as Horizon 2020 or Erasmus, reciprocal healthcare provision, workers’ rights and working hours, and agriculture and fisheries.
Finally, we reiterate that maintenance of the integrity and efficient operation of the UK single market must be an over-arching objective for the whole United Kingdom. But that objective does not preclude differentiated arrangements for Scotland in some areas, and nor does it justify excluding the Scottish Government from the Brexit process. […]
According to the UK government’s Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell “[t]he Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) was established to facilitate engagement between the UK Government and devolved Administrations” in “seeking the best deal for all parts of the UK” in EU negotiations.
The JMCs seems designed to leave representatives of the devolved nations under no illusions as to who is in charge. JMC meetings have only once been held outside of London. A single meeting was held in Wales. On that occasion, the Welsh government was not permitted to organise the event — it seems that only the UK government has the capacity to undertake that Herculean task.
JMC meetings are always chaired by a UK Minister and are always heavily populated by UK government officials, something which does much to colour the dynamic of meetings. Meetings are scheduled for just one hour. This is surely a ludicrously short time to allocate to a ‘monthly’ meeting on an issue as serious as how we leave the European Union.
Scottish representatives report typically having only around ten to fifteen minutes to articulate Edinburgh’s position during these meetings. They also express concerns over how receptive UK government officials are to discussing areas where there appears to be a divergence of view between Edinburgh and London. Indeed, Scotland’s Brexit Minister Mike Russell is on record as saying that such divergences are not necessarily acknowledged by London; key substantive issues which have been raised during the JMCs have been ‘simply taken away after discussion for UK officials to consider, and they have never re-emerged.’
Conservative election strategist Lynton Crosby urged Theresa May to hold a fresh Scottish independence referendum ahead of Brexit, it has been revealed.
“While it may seem sensible to delay a referendum until after Brexit negotiations are complete this is not necessarily the best strategic position to adopt,” he wrote [in a leaked memo].
“Holding a referendum on independence before Brexit is complete will mean that voters have to grapple with the uncertainty of the outcome of Brexit in addition to the uncertainty of their choice in the referendum.
“Delaying the referendum until after Brexit is complete removes one of these unknowns.”
He said a Brexit outcome that dissatisfied Scots could “easily result in Scotland voting for independence”.
FT.com, today, in an article on the UK government’s legislative agenda announced in the Queen’s Speech:
There were growing fears in Whitehall that the Scottish nationalists could hold London to ransom by voting down the Great Repeal Bill—which puts EU law into British law.
Britain’s devolution settlement was developed under the auspices of the EU single market.
The government now believes that the relevant framework should be reset at a UK level, in particular for devolved policy areas such as agriculture, fisheries and environmental protection.
But that requires the authorisation of all the devolved administrations in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast through “legislative consent motions”.
A Conservative official said that there was likely to be sabre-rattling by the SNP during the process, which could take eight weeks, but said there were hopes that Holyrood would not stand in the way. “It’s common sense. There would be major consequences for Scotland if this wasn’t passed, there would be holes in the law,” he said.
This is a consequence of what is known as the Sewel convention, which says the Westminster parliament should not legislate on matters devolved to Scotland without the Scottish parliament’s approval.
As we learned earlier in the year, the Sewel convention is just that—a convention—and is not (as far as I believe) enforceable by the courts1. The UK Government, however, has thus far not (as far as I’m aware) overridden a vote in the Scottish Parliament. It seems that it could legally do so but in such a scenario we would be in uncharted constitutional waters.
Update: The Guardian has published an article looking in more detail at this issue. The piece includes quotes from Mike Russell, the Scottish Government’s Brexit minister, and Graham Matthews, president of the Law Society of Scotland.
Detailed plans have been drawn up for Scotland to set lower barriers than the rest of the UK for low-skilled immigrants after Brexit.
Experts at the University of Edinburgh believe they have devised with a “politically viable” way of sustaining the net inflows of EU workers currently propping up key industries such as tourism, hospitality and food processing.
The landmark report has been welcomed by the Scottish Government who described the current UK-wide approach to immigration as “damaging to Scotland’s economy”.
Business leaders fear the end to freedom of movement and hardline cuts to UK-wide immigration targets following Brexit will spark crippling labour shortages in Scotland.
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.
I started writing this article in totally different state of mind from the one I’m in right now. That was on Saturday, eagerly waiting for the latest polls and keeping track of all the campaign events in Scotland. Then the London Bridge attack happened. Once again terrorists sent the message that they hate our democracy and want to destroy it, especially by interfering in our democratic election process. And they hit London, a city I love despite all its faults.
Fear and hate will lead us nowhere except to a darker future. Today say no to fear and hate and get out to vote massively.
So I will start this last article of my General Election 2017 series with a picture of togetherness, hope and joy. Nicola Sturgeon hugging a wee lad who gave her a homemade card while she was campaigning in Ayr on Saturday.
As the last article, this one has to be the riskiest as we will know only a few hours from now if I was spot on, wildly off or just slightly off. I venture ‘slightly off’. I owe a lot of thanks to Jamie Smith for hosting my articles on his blog. Also lots of thanks to all those who fed me with information and all those who follow me on Twitter.
Of course next week I will perform a post-mortem. I will try to sort out what was right and what was wrong in the polls. And also what was right and what was wrong in my model itself (and the others too).
But first let’s see what scenarios we have right now for this election in Scotland.
Scenario #1: Polls are right
By ‘polls’ I mean here only the few full Scottish polls we had this year. In 2015 Scottish polls were pretty accurate and missed individual parties’ results by at most a share of a percent. So if they perform just as well this year, here are the vote shares we get, based on all full Scottish polls since mid-April. And the range of seats each party would get on such results.
This scenario would be quite good for the SNP, but other parties would not see all of their expectations fulfilled. Except if tactical voting is stronger than expected, which might happen in any scenario anyway.
Scenario #2: No Conservative surge
In this scenario, Conservatives fail to bag the extra votes needed to gain a significant number of seats. Tactical Unionist voting is kept to a minimum, most Labour voters remain faithful to their party and (most importantly) the swing from the SNP to the Conservatives in key regions remains low. That way we get a GE result quite close to the Scottish Parliament 2016 elections. This scenario leaves only seven seats tied or marginal.
This would be the dream scenario for the SNP. As James Kelly reminded us, what matters most in first-past-the-post elections is how far ahead the first party is. And this scenario maximizes the SNP’s lead over the Conservatives. Losses could be kept to a minimum, possibly as low as one or two in Borders and one or two in North East. But Labour still doing well makes gaining Edinburgh South less likely. Sorry for that, Jim.
Scenario #3: Maximum tactical voting
This is the mirror image of #2 and the nightmare scenario for the SNP. It would have the SNP roughly on current polling average. But on top of it, this includes a noticeable swing from the SNP to the Conservatives in key regions. If this is combined with full-blown tactical voting from Labour voters and some LibDems, it spells doom for many SNP MPs. Here we have nine seats tied or marginal, though obviously not the same ones as above. The swingometer has moved deeper into SNP-leaning territory and some unexpected losses may happen like East Dunbartonshire, Stirling, North East Fife or Ochil and South Perthshire.
Please note that this ‘doomsday scenario’ still has SNP winning 70-75% of Scottish seats. I know many governing parties in Europe who would welcome that kind of ‘defeat’. Anyway, after a series of major Conservative trainwreck appearances on various media during the campaign, this is obviously the unlikeliest of all.
Done with scenarios now JB, why not tell us how the actual polling data evolved?
There’s a little bit of my three scenarios is this week’s polls: not too good for the SNP, no real Conservative surge, tactical voting mostly (and surprisngly) favouring Labour with the ‘Corbyn surge’ still alive.
These results are nevertheless still better than could be feared for the SNP who maintain a 14% lead over the Conservatives. And even if Labour are doing better than expected (and very close to their 2015 result), the SNP’s lead in SNP-Lab competitive seats is such that no Labour gains are to be expected.
And now JB, why don’t you tell us what we can actually expect tonight?
The slight changes in polling average have some marginal impact on the seat ratings. Tied seats are now East Dunbartonshire, Edinburgh South West, Perth and North Perthshire, Stirling.
And the usual seat-by-seat projections (compared with ScotlandVotes and ElectoralCalculus) and my updated prediction.
I think the SNP will finally do well today, better than some pundits predict. But some symbolic seats will be lost. I still think local factors will see the SNP hold Perth and North Perthshire. But I am not too optimistic about the Edinburgh seats, contrary to my first predictions about them. Organized tactical voting from Unionist parties was tested here last year for the Scottish Parliament elections and it worked. I have a hunch a similar scheme is at work now and will produce fairly similar results: Labour hoding South wille the SNP lose West to LibDems and South West to Conservatives.
But in fact none of the psephologists knows exactky what will happen tonight, even if we like to pretend we do. Always believe the old saying ‘Timeo psephologistos et dona ferentes’. We are just as clueless as our readers are. Perhaps crystal ball and tea leaves would help. Or sacrificing a black goat. In the end, with all we can deduce from statistics and make a great show of it, the best we can come up with is the proverbial best educated guess. Here is what various predictor sites or individual predictors had in store this morning:
And here’s my ‘exit poll’, some hours ahead of the actual one. The best prediction I can offer with all available data and the obvious uncertainty that is part of every election. And that it matches the average of all predictors is pure coincidence. You know how I work so you can take my word for that.
So tonight on 10pm we will know. Don’t forget 48 seats is 80% of the Scottish representation in the House of Commons. So still a resounding victory and a mandate for the SNP, whatever you might hear elesewhere.
And until then…
Ach ‘s math dhomh bhith seo an drasd
A cur failt air a’ bhlas
‘San tir a tha cho you’re dhomh an diugh
Is a bha I nuair bha mi ‘nam phaisd
It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves
Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt
Boldness be my friend
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.