Archive for the 'Scotland' Category


Three days to go and three big developments overnight

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

New Holyrood poll suggests that the Tories could still overhaul LAB to come 2nd

Ex CON general election candidate quits party over Zac’s campaign

And a plot to oust Corbyn


Focus on Scotland in a PB/Polling Matters TV show special

Saturday, April 30th, 2016

Thursday’s Holyrood elections, Labour struggles, Brexit and the possibility of Indyref2

Keiran Pedley is joined in the studio by Kate Devlin from the Herald and Craig McAngus of the University of Aberdeen. They discuss the upcoming Scottish Parliament elections and why the SNP is so popular, why Labour is struggling, the upcoming EU referendum and prospects for a second independence referendum.

The audio podcast version

Mike Smithson


Now YouGov suggests that Labour’s Scottish nightmare is getting worse

Saturday, March 12th, 2016

ScottishLabourParty   YouTube

Third place behind the Tories in the Holyrood elections a distinct possibility


Holyrood 2016: the SNP’s hegemony continues

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

Scottish Labour Conference Halloween Special   YouTube

But how bad will it get for Scottish Labour?

You wouldn’t know if you only received your news from the London media but there are three general elections in the UK this year. Voters will go to the polls in May to elect new Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland and to the Scottish Parliament (as well as a London mayor, various lesser mayors, a bumper set of councillors and PCCs across England and Wales – it’s probably the biggest polling day before the next general election). But clearly that’s far less interesting than the EU referendum in June or the dramas of the US presidential primaries.

There are interesting questions surrounding the outcomes of both the Belfast and Cardiff assemblies but the most fascinating race lies north of England, where the political landscape has undergone a revolution unlike any in Britain in almost a century.

At the heart of that revolution is the SNP, who will be seeking to win a third term and a second overall majority. Going by current polls they seem as certain to do so as can ever be the case in politics. Not since August 2014 has the SNP trailed Labour and since the referendum changed everything, the SNP has never led by less than 10%; their smallest lead since last year’s general election in the crucial regional vote is some 22%. That the best odds on an SNP win are 1/50 tells you all you need to know.

Two questions follow such overwhelming dominance: just how well can the SNP do, and who will be best of the rest?

On the first question, Ladbrokes are offering 7/2 that Sturgeon’s army will take all 72 constituency seats and 1/6 that they won’t. That’s quite a big margin and I don’t really see any value there. Achieving a lock-out of all other parties is hard: you only have to make a mistake in one constituency or with one candidate and it’s lost. And some constituencies will be hard to win anyway with Shetland perhaps proving the toughest nut.

A lesser target is that of the overall majority which Ladbrokes have priced at 1/16 that the SNP will, and 7/1 for a hung parliament. There might just be a smidgen of value in the latter. Winning half the seats under AMS is difficult. The SNP won a majority of nine in 2011 on a 44% regional vote. That, however, was with parties outside the main four gaining 12% of the vote but just three MSPs (two Green and Margo MacDonald standing as an independent).

Current polling is far from consistent: TNS typically report the SNP as well into the 50s, a level that would produce an easy overall majority; by contrast, Survation and YouGov only put the SNP in the low- to mid-forties. Just as relevant are the scores at the bottom. If TNS is right, then the Greens, Lib Dems and UKIP will be unlikely (again) to reach double figures between them; if Survation is on the mark then they should be in the 15-20 range.

As for best of the rest, Labour is 2/5 (again Ladbrokes), against 7/4 for the Conservatives. It’s a measure of how far Labour has fallen that we are seriously talking about them finishing third, something they haven’t done at any election in Scotland since 1918*. All the same, they should do so and despite the unattractive odds, there is a little value there. The Conservatives have had great difficulty breaking through a barrier at 17% (other than presumed margin of error) and there has to be a limit to how far Labour can fall. All the same, punters would be well-advised to invest it in, for example, the US presidential race where more attractive options exist.

One question to ask is whether we should be placing too much faith in the polls at this stage after the experience of 2015, when they were badly wrong, and 2011 when they moved heavily late on. I’d say cautiously yes for two reasons. Firstly, I don’t expect a late swing this time because the numbers are in alignment: Sturgeon is a popular leader and her party is well ahead. There’s no tension there to be resolved. And secondly, last year’s general election gives us all the evidence we need as to the big picture assuming that little’s changed – and we’ve no real reason to think otherwise.

David Herdson

* This is definitional. I’m counting parties that fought an election under a pact as a single entity. I’m also using MPs elected as the decisive factor. If votes are used, then it would be the first time since December 1910 (Labour outpolled Asquith’s Liberals in 1918 but won two fewer seats, eight to six).

There seems to be a problem with Vanilla comments. Hopefully his will all be sorted asap. If you still wish to post, go here.


Turning on taxes. The tectonic plates of Scotland’s politics are moving

Thursday, December 10th, 2015


The changes in the way Scotland is taxed

We have heard a lot in the last few years about the desire for Scottish independence.  This has often been couched in general terms as a desire for a fairer and more prosperous Scotland based around a social democratic consensus.  Specific large scale points of difference from current UK policy, however, have been largely elusive.  While the Scottish Parliament has substantial powers, so far the Scottish government has been quite tentative about how it has used them.  Positive policies first introduced in Scotland include the indoor smoking ban (borrowed from Ireland), a charge on plastic bags (also borrowed from Ireland), free personal care for the elderly and a reorganisation of the police into a single national force.  Scotland’s points of departure from the rest of the UK have often been more negative than positive – declining to introduce student fees and not updating NHS structures being good examples.  Taken as a whole, successive Scottish governments have been small c conservative administrations.

Scottish nationalists may argue that the scope of powers devolved has to date been quite limited.  However, some tax-raising powers have been devolved for many years, but have been left largely idle.  So far as the last few years are concerned, this could be interpreted either as timidity on the part of the SNP or as an unwillingness to make devolution work for fear that a successful devolution might weaken the demand for independence.  The one foray that the Scottish government has taken into tax affairs, remodelling the stamp duty regime, has apparently proved a flop so far, with revenues falling far short of those anticipated when it was launched.

As from the next tax year, the UK basic, higher and additional rates of tax will each drop by 10 pence in the pound for Scottish taxpayers as budgetary responsibilities are being transferred from Westminster to Holyrood.  The Scottish Parliament can decide to levy a Scottish income tax rate.  It must impose the same Scottish income tax rate for all Scottish taxpayers (whether basic, higher or additional rate). On 16 December the Scottish government announces what the proposed Scottish income tax rate will be.

The structure of a Scottish income tax has been much-criticised: it is a flat rate tax, which means that the Scottish government can’t yet increase the amount that top rate taxpayers pay without also increasing the amount that basic rate taxpayers pay.  So it is likely that John Swinney will announce that the Scottish rate of income tax is 10% when he delivers the Scottish draft budget.  So the only practical difference will be that the administration systems of every organisation that has to deal with those subject to Scottish income tax are being revamped.

Change is coming.  Following the Vow made immediately before the referendum and the Smith Commission recommendations that followed it, substantially more powers are being devolved to the Scottish Parliament, including much greater tax-raising powers.  As from 2017/18, the Scottish government will get considerably greater powers.  It will be able to set its own bands and rates of income tax (it will also get control over some of the VAT raised in Scotland, air passenger duty and new powers in relation to benefits and welfare payments).

    The SNP disputes whether the Smith Commission recommendations have been met in full but on any reading the Scottish government is going to be able to do a lot more if it decides that it wants to.  Does it want to?

The SNP is not going to be able to duck this question indefinitely.  Holyrood elections are due in May and the SNP manifesto is going to need to set out how it intends to use these new powers.  Meanwhile, the unionist parties will each be seeking to use these powers for their own positioning.  Labour is already proposing to raise the top rate of tax to a UK/Scottish combined 50%.  Will the Conservatives advocate reducing basic rate tax in return for spending cuts?  Will the Lib Dems push for an increase in the Scottish zero rated band?  And how much discussion will each such position generate?

All the discussion about the SNP to date has focussed on whether they will call for another referendum in the next Scottish Parliament.  But come the referendum campaign, the parties’ policies on taxation and spending are likely to be at least as important.  So far there has been little discussion about this, which is pretty amazing really.  Five months before a UK general election, the parties would be knocking seven bells out of each other with scares about tax bombshells and countdowns for saving the NHS.  In Scotland so far, almost nothing.

That’s partly a reflection of the SNP’s dominance, partly a reflection of the unionist parties’ irrelevance and/or ineptness and partly a reflection of the immaturity of Scottish political debate.  This will not last.  The unionist parties have little to lose and the opportunity to seize the headlines through an insurgent campaign built around tax and spend will surely be irresistible to at least one and probably all of them.

If the SNP are not going to be caught flat-footed, they are going to need to take a position of their own.  Promising to stick with the status quo will beg the question what independence is going to offer and would sit uneasily with the SNP’s proclaimed anti-austerity stance.  Equally, promising to raise taxes substantially would hit some SNP supporters in the wallet.  For now the SNP will probably steal Labour’s policy of a 50% top rate of tax from 2017 but not commit to much else.  It will all look a bit small scale.

In practice I anticipate that the SNP are sufficiently dominant this time round that they will get through the elections without being derailed by a tax and spend controversy, but I would rather be backing “No Overall Majority” at 7/1 in the Holyrood elections (available with Ladbrokes) than laying it.  I’ve placed a small bet accordingly.

In the longer term, with Holyrood assuming a steadily increasing importance in decision-making in Scotland, the Scottish public are going to become increasingly concerned with pocket book decisions when voting in Holyrood elections.  The next Scottish government is going to have bigger decisions to take and bigger decisions lead to more disaffected voters.  The SNP has successfully for many years positioned itself as a party for all Scotland.  That time may well be drawing to a close in the next couple of years.

Alastair Meeks


At 10.30 am we’ll find out if the 2nd by-election of the 2015 parliament will be in Orkney and Shetland

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

UPDATE Carmichael cleared

The election court will announce its decision in the Carmichael case

If the case goes against the former Scottish Secretary then the LDs could lose the one seat in Scotland they hold and have to fight a by-election.

Based on what happened in the Phil Woolas case in 2010 the Speaker might delay calling a vacancy in the constituency pending the possibility of an appeal.

The action against Alistair Carmichael was crowd funded.

Mike Smithson


The EU Referendum demographic battlegrounds and boost for SNP in latest Holyrood TNS poll

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

The pollster was James Morris whose firm polled for LAB at GE2015 and has featured in PB/Polling Matters podcasts. His article linked to above is well worth reading. REMAIN had 3% lead but so much, Morris argues, could depend on Cameron.

In Scotland the latest TNS face to face survey on next year’s Holyrood elections provides more good news for the SNP and it’s leader.

Mike Smithson


The Sunday Trading vote: Dave/Osbo’s problem is not the SNP but the rebellion on the issue by 20 CON MPs

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015


Aside from the EU a developing story at Westminster is the decision by the SNP to vote against the planned changes on Sunday trading that Osborne announced in the budget for England and Wales. In Scotland this is a devolved matter with decisions being made at Holyrood.

Inevitably this will raise the whole English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) debate because of the devolved nature of such a measure.

    But before we get too deep into this let’s remember that the reason that the 55 SNP MPs have any influence is that Cameron/Osborne do not command the support of the full contingent of Tory MPs on the matter.

If there was no threatened Tory rebellion then the measure would have got through the Commons. This wasn’t in the Conservative manifesto and soundings should have been taken in the party before Osborne made his announcement in the budget.

Sunday trading is a hugely controversial issue as we saw in the early 90s when big supermarkets were allowed for the first time to open for a limited number of hours on Sunday.

Governments should be able to get their measures through the Commons with, if necessary, their own MPs alone.

Mike Smithson