Archive for the 'Scotland' Category


Only divorce can save the Union

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

It is time to set the Scottish parties free

Unprecedented is not what it used to be. The splintering of the party system and the increasing willingness of voters to shop around means that the previously extraordinary has become rather routine. To take one example, prior to this week, in no election since 1918 had more than three parties polled over a million votes each*; this year, six did so. But nowhere was the scale of the unprecedented more obvious than in Scotland.

It wasn’t just the size of the SNP victory, far outshining their previous Westminster best of eleven seats set back in October 1974, and eclipsing even their 2011 Holyrood landslide; the near-whitewash went beyond what any other party has ever achieved in Scotland. For comparison, the previous record was the Liberals’ 52 seats out of a possible 58 way back in 1880 (Labour never managed more than 56 out of 72 seats, in 1997 and 2001). Swings on a scale usually only seen in the most extreme by-elections were repeated again and again.

What’s clear is that a profound political change came over Scotland during and immediately after the referendum campaign. The SNP made two charges against their opponents and both have hit home. The first is that Labour MPs, in campaigning for the Union with the Conservatives, were essentially no better than Red Tories. Logically, this holds no water other than for those for whom independence is the only issue worth discussing but it seems to have stuck anyway, perhaps due to Labour’s ambivalent attitude towards cuts, austerity and public spending reinforcing the perception that they were Tory-lite.

The second charge, however, is harder to shake off: that the Scottish Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative Parties are merely branch offices of the ‘London’ parties, jump to the UK tune and are as such un-Scottish or even anti-Scottish. Having their own leaders north of the border makes little difference: who really calls the shots to an MP – the Scottish leader, who has little direct control or power over him or her, or the Chief Whip or leader in Westminster, who can determine their promotion prospects? Again, that logic’s a little unfair: why shouldn’t a unionist party operating in an all-UK parliament organise across the whole country?

But logic is frequently trumped by emotion and identity, which is why the Scottish party structures exist in the first place. However, because the essence of the charge is correct, that partial solution fails. There will always be an unresolvable contradiction as long as an MP has two masters, one in Scotland and one in London. (MPs have, of course, always had two masters: their party and their constituents. However, voters tend to accept that as part of the deal that goes with primarily voting for candidates as party representatives rather than individuals. The party itself having two heads is a different matter.)

The workable solution then is for the Scottish sections of the parties to become wholly independent from their current forms. While radical, this wouldn’t be without precedent. The Scottish Greens are independent of the party in England and Wales; the Scottish Unionists were at one time a separate party from the Conservatives. No doubt it the Scottish sections did go their own ways – with their own policies and manifestoes, and they would have to have these if the separations were not to be a sham – life would become more complex. It would, for example, lessen the prospect of any Scot serving as prime minister. That said, until England or the regions of it enjoy similar devolved powers to Scotland, that will be difficult anyway. Indeed, symmetrical devolution to England is the essential political accompaniment to match party reform.

The alternative, however, as long as Scots place such a premium on national identity, is to hand the SNP a lasting and substantial starting advantage.

At this point I’ll be partisan. To my mind, Murphy struck me as an excellent choice to lead Scottish Labour but as I’m neither Scottish nor Labour, my judgement may be suspect. Certainly the voters north of the border haven’t agreed. Even so, his defeat may be a blessing in disguise: he should run for and lead Labour’s Holyrood delegation. How the Lib Dems come back is more difficult and will first require them to define what they are for. For the Conservatives, the matter is more simple and is to do with historic legacy as much as anything. Disassociating from the Thatcher inheritance and developing a more local interpretation of a centre-right party will remove the glass ceiling of 15% the Scottish Tories are stuck beneath, particularly with the Lib Dems in collapse and the SNP actively chasing Labour’s voters with strongly left-wing rhetoric.

Given that the Holyrood elections take place in less than a year, with the Scottish locals in 2017 and – if Sturgeon can match or surpass Salmond’s achievement in Holyrood – the prospect of another referendum at the backend of the decade, there’s no time for delay: change must come within months not years.

David Herdson

p.s. The Conservatives came in for some criticism before the election for sticking to their 40-40 strategy of targeting a relatively limited number of defences while simultaneously looking to make the same number of advances; the argument being that, given the polls, they were overstretching and so exposing their flank of middle targets to Labour. CCHQ hasn’t always got its targeting strategy right over the years but on this occasion it couldn’t have planned it much better. Getting that right has markedly improved the Tory vote efficiency.

p.p.s. On the subject of predicting where the election result would end up, I hope some readers exercised the caution I advised last week on not being overly reliant on the polls and considering both the possibility of the Tories doing far better than was being projected, and of the Lib Dems doing far worse. (I accept I also suggested considering Labour doing far better but it’s a percentage game and any losses there should have been more than offset by the gains elsewhere).

* That’s not quite true: there have been various instances where two parties in an electoral pact have both polled over a million, such as the SDP-Liberal alliance in the 1980s, but that’s a technicality; this year, six distinct electoral forces all cleared the million mark.


Ipsos-MORI Scotland phone poll has SNP a staggering 34% ahead

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

This could be down to “shy unionists”

With the ongoing debate about phone polls versus online ones there’s a new Ipsos Scotland survey for STV which has extraordinary figures with the SNP on its biggest level yet.

The firm is the only one that regularly carries out phone polls in Scotland and its findings this morning are remarkable.

There’s been a lot of talk about “shy responders” to phone polling with supporters of less popular positions said to be reluctant to volunteer that information in a live conversation with a pollster. Could that be happening here?

The answer is that we don’t know but this poll will become a reference point on the shy factor

Mike Smithson

For 11 years viewing politics from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


Tonight’s Scottish debate was superb – the question now is whether it will change votes

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

With what happens in Scotland likely to play a big part in the May 7th outcome the big event tonight was the STV Scottish leaders’ debate. It was powerful and passionate and on a totally different level from the sterile event last Thursday.

The clip above is one of the better bits.

For Jim Murphy this was a massive night and I thought he did well -though at times might have been too aggressive. Nicola Sturgeon found the going much harder than last week’s session and was hit by both Murphy and Ruth Davidson – the Scottish Tory leader.

Whether it will move the polls much I don’t know.

Tonight’s YouGov

Mike Smithson

For 11 years viewing politics from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


Labour’s London progress could be masking a bigger trend: the party’s putting on most support where it doesn’t need it

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

The latest spate of London polls has been very positive for Labour with vote shares in the capital up 9% or more on 2010. It really does look as though the party is going to do very well there.

The only problem is that there aren’t that many CON targets apart from Hendon, Brentford & Isleworth,Enfield North, Ealing Central Acton, Croydon Central. Obviously the party’s got hopes in two or three Lib Dem seats but these are nothing like as important as gains from CON.

    In terms of being top party on seats each CON seat that LAB takes has the same impact as two gains from the LDs

As we’ve discussed here before FPTP elections are as much about where your vote is rather than how many. So if LAB is putting on a disproportionate increase of votes in one group of seats, London for instance, then that will be reflected in smaller elsewhere.

London has 73 constituencies out of a total English contingent of 533.

New ComRes Scottish phone poll points to 28 lost LAB seats


This poll is the first of its kind and is restricted to just the Scottish seats that Labour currently holds. The picture is what we’ve seen with other forms of polling and confirms the difficulties that exist north of the border. It’s estimated that this polling points to Labour losing 28 seats to the SNP.

Mike Smithson

For 11 years viewing politics from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


Yesterday’s interviews could prove to have been Alex Salmond’s Sheffield rally moment

Monday, March 23rd, 2015


Presumption , as Neil Kinnock will tell you, doesn’t go down well

Those of us who are old enough remember the great Labour Sheffield rally before the 1992 General Election which came over in the media as a celebration of the victory that the party presumed was going to happen the following Thursday. It got widespread coverage and on the day John Major’s Tories totally defied all polling and were returned with a 7%+ more of the national votes and an overall majority.

The performance by the then Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, revealed a side of his character that resonated in the wrong way with voters who a few days later turned out in record numbers. A huge mistake.

I got a sense of the same thing with yesterday’s big interviews with Alex Salmond, the former SNP leader who is hoping to return to the Commons in Gordon. Presuming the outcome in the manner that Salmond did before people actually vote can send a very negative message to voters. At the very least it could put fire in the belly of those opposed to him.

The SNP’s great strength in Scotland is its opponents are split between three other parties. Anti-SNP tactical voting might just make their task a bit harder.

Foolish. You should never appear to be taking people’s votes for granted.

UPDATE ICM Scotland poll

Mike Smithson

For 11 years viewing politics from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


It’s inevitable under FPTP that many will vote AGAINST a party not FOR a likely loser

Saturday, March 14th, 2015

Voting smart might be the new clarion call

Charts like the one above, that’s going the rounds on social media, looks set to play a big part at GE15.

Scotland clearly is a special situation and you can understand why those that voted NO should be worried about the SNP picking up 40+ of the 59 Scottish seats and being able to lever their position in a hung parliament.

What’s interesting is that many Conservatives north of the border are taking a very different view from those who aren’t. The latter clearly welcome the weakening in Labour’s position while many in the former regard the SNP as the bigger threat.

In England we can expect other guides given wide circulation via Twitter and Facebook. Some will be aimed at UKIP voters suggesting they return to the blue side to stop EdM. Others will be what we’ve got used to – moves to back whichever party has the best chance of impeding the Tories in their seat.

Quite what impact this will all have it is hard to say at this stage. In 1997 it was reckoned that the Tories failed to win up to 30 sears because of anti-CON tactical voting.

Tonight’s polling I’ll be doing a round up piece when we’ve got them all in. As well as the usual Opinium and YouGov there’s also the monthly ComRes online poll.

Mike Smithson

For 11 years viewing politics from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


YouGov Scotland poll see Labour fail to improve

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

Labour are still on course for a shellacking in Scotland come May.

Jim Murphy isn’t turning to be the great hope that Labour were hoping he would be.

Turning this poll into a seat projection the Times says




TNS poll sees the SNP extend their lead from 10% to 16%

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

Time appears to be running out for SLAB and Jim Murphy to avoid a shellacking in May.

TNS’ second poll this year, brings them into line with all the others bar Panelbase who have substantial leads for the SNP.

For those expecting differential turnout in Scotland to have an effect in May, “A majority of voters (61%) say they are certain to vote in the election, including 74% of both those intending to vote Labour and those backing the SNP.”

Health and education top General Election issues in Scotland

Which are two issues already devolved to Scotland.

“68% said healthcare/the NHS was “very important” in their voting decision, while 50% cited education/schools. Both SNP and Labour voters regarded health as being very important issues, mentioned by 72% and 75% respectively. However, SNP voters were more likely to cite education as an important issue than Labour voters – 57% compared to 46%.

Other major issues for voters are employment/jobs (47%), pensions (43%), taxes (38%), housing (35%), economic management (32%) and energy costs (32%). Immigration and benefits, which are often cited as key issues in UK-wide polls, appear to be less significant in Scotland, both mentioned by 28%.”

The fieldwork saw 1,001 adults aged 18+ interviewed from the 30thJanuary to 22nd February 2015.


UPDATE – Survation poll naming candidates has Farage winning South Thanet