Archive for the 'Scotland' Category


How the economic case for Scottish Independence was weakened in the last week

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

Oil figures

Picture credit: Twitter

How opponents of Scottish independence may have struck metaphorical oil in the last week.

The top table (table 5) is taken from the Scottish Government’s white paper on independence published in late 2013, whilst the bottom table (table 1) is from the Scottish Government’s Oil & Gas bulletin published last week. As the Guardian notes

The Scottish government has been accused of trying to bury a report that predicts North Sea oil revenues could be £40bn less than the SNP’s most optimistic forecasts by releasing it the day before Holyrood’s summer recess – and after the deadline for emergency questions.

The oil and gas bulletin published by John Swinney, Scotland’s finance minister, reveals that revenues are expected to plummet to well under a quarter of recent forecasts, falling to as low as £2.4bn in total over the next four years.

The bulletin shows a vast gulf between the most optimistic figures given to Scottish voters before last year’s independence referendum by Alex Salmond – then the Scottish National party leader and first minister – who said a future oil boom would underpin a surge in productivity and national wealth after a yes vote.

It will be difficult for supporters of Scottish independence to attack these figures, as they were produced by their own side, no wonder the Scottish government released them on the last day before Holyrood’s summer recess.

I’ve always proceeded on the premise that the Scots will never vote for independence if it leads to them becoming poorer nor will they vote for independence if it leads to economic uncertainty.

Coupled with the Scottish independence movement’s lack of definitive answers on a currency union or the currency an independent Scotland would use, as Greece may well provide a real life example of a country with debt/deficit problems and issues over the currency they may use, might prove to be alarming and illuminating to Scots contemplating Scottish independence.

In any future independence referendum, with the substantial role the oil industry has in the Scottish economy, you can be sure opponents of independence will be reminding the advocates of Scottish independence of their terrible forecasts on oil in the past.



Holyrood 2016: who will come second?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

Making a tissue on a “Betting Without” market

This is a betting thread without a market as yet. However, the best prices on any political market can usually be found within either the first six hours or the last six. So a little forethought as to what you’d be prepared to back – and at what price – can often be rewarded handsomely. Someone launching a “without the SNP” market on Holyrood is only going to be a matter of time and there’s every reason to think there might be value about. Let’s make our own tissue.

A quick refresher on the voting system: voters get two votes, one for their local constituency, and one for a regional list (regions comprising between 8 and 10 constituencies). The list seats are doled out using a d’Hondt system, but taking the constituency results into account.

Polling at 60% in the constituency section, the SNP are going to win. Indeed, Ladbrokes only offer 5/2 on them winning all 73 constituencies, which might be a touch skinny. But the 2/7 on an overall majority (65+ seats – the parliament has 129 MSPs) looks about right: they will probably be in a position to win one or more top-up seats in a region where they sweep the constituencies – just as they did in North East Scotland last time.

So, in the face of an SNP near-sweep, who will come second in seats is predominately a question of who will come second in list votes. Even if Labour or the Conservatives pick up a constituency or two this will usually be at the expense of a list seat they would have won anyway. An exception might be if one party could do especially well in the constituencies of a specific region: there’s one plausible possibility I’ll highlight below.

The TNS list polling [from 13th-31st May] was as follows (changes from 2011 result):

SNP 50% (+6)

Labour 19% (-7)

Conservatives 14% (+2)

Greens 10% (+6)

Lib Dems 5% (=)

I think we can pretty safely rule out the Lib Dems coming second in seats, so I’ll examine the case for and against the other 3 parties. It looks like around 18% will be enough to win.


Labour are deservedly the clear second favourites on the main market – 10/1 at Ladbrokes. But this is because they are best placed to benefit in the event of any major scandal or cock-up on the SNP’s part. Absent that, there’s actually little reason to assume that there might not be a further net movement away from Labour.  As John Curtice puts it:

Labour’s figures in [the polling quoted above] are also much worse (and the SNP’s better) than they were in polls conducted by YouGov and Survation just before the May 7th ballot that saw all but one of Labour’s MPs swept away.

In short, it looks as though that disaster may have further dented voters’ confidence in the party’s ability to govern and/or persuaded them the SNP is better able to advocate and promote Scotland’s interests.

For all that, I think Labour should still be well odds-on, representing as they do the default opposition.  I’ll say 70% for now.


The Scottish Tory surge has been a long-running meme on PB, and a profitable one for those who’ve opposed it. In the context of the SNP dominance, the Tories are now surging by standing still.

The Tories might also manage to pick up several constituencies in South Scotland. They already hold Ayr, Galloway and West Dumfries, and the triple-barrelled Ettrick, Roxburgh & Berwickshire, though the SNP are a potential threat in every one of these. Dumfriesshire is a target gain from Labour for both Con & SNP. If they were to win all four seats this is likely to be a net improvement on their theoretical entitlement based on the list percentages.

However unless the Tories can actually put on votes (from ex-Lib Dems, maybe?) then they’re going to have a hard time getting enough to come second overall.  Let’s give them a 15% chance for now.


The Greens aren’t going to overtake both Labour and the Conservatives on the strength of their message. But they are likely to be the beneficiaries of an attempt to play the voting system by independence supporters voting “SNP constituency : Green list”.

By voting this way their votes will definitely go towards electing two independence-minded MSPs – whereas if they go SNP:SNP they may not see any extra list SNP members elected at all in a region, because the constituency sweep will already have given the SNP their fair share.

So the nub of this market is to assess how widespread this phenomenon will be. The SNP can’t endorse it explicitly and even if they do so tacitly they run the risk of upsetting their own list candidates. But some of the membership will think differently of their own accord and spread the message online, where the SNP have a strong presence.

Perversely, if the SNP continue to poll 50% or above the appeal of this manoeuvre is reduced since that makes the Nats more likely to pick up list seats. 45% is probably the sweet spot.

Overall, I’ll credit the Greens with a real shot at pulling this off and say 25% for now.

Making a tissue

We now need to scale our 70:15:25 estimates back to total 100%, giving us 64:14:23. Converted to the nearest classical bookie prices that gives us a tissue of:

Labour 4/7

Green 7/2

Conservatives 6/1

If, when the market goes up, you see a price bigger than this on any of these I’d tentatively suggest that it might be value.

If we wanted to act as a bookmaker, we would scale back up to e.g. 110%, to give ourselves some margin. But rather than multiplying through back up to 70:25:15 it would be more usual to stick 3% or so onto each realistic runner (which is all three, in this case).

Labour 1/2

Green 11/4

Conservatives 5/1

Finally, when trying to estimate political probabilities, I’ve frequently found the comments on pb threads to be a huge source of wisdom and information.  So no doubt I’ll be re-evaluating these prices in an hour or so!

Tissue Price


New guest slot team member DavidL on the other leadership election – the fight to lead Scottish Labour

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

SLAB posters

I’d like to talk about the Labour leadership election. No, no, not that election but the Scottish one that no one is paying any attention to. On 16th May Jim Murphy announced, having won his vote of no confidence, that he was standing down, not there and then like his esteemed leader but a month later. That month is up next week.

    As always in the Alice in Wonderland of Scottish politics, Scottish Labour can’t go back to yesterday because they were a different person then. Today Labour must run as fast as they can, just to stay in place. And if they wish to go anywhere they must run twice as fast as that. They have not made a propitious start.

Firstly, what are the rules? Well, so far as I can tell Scotland continues to be bound by the rule book that elected winners like Ed Miliband. Unlike that other leadership contest we do not have OMOV in Scotland although they could certainly do with the £3.

Ken Macintosh, one of the potential candidates has written to Jim Murphy and others saying:”This is a time of exceptional political engagement in Scotland and people have never been so active in the politics of our country.  I want to enlist their help in re-shaping and rebuilding the Scottish Labour Party.  I am not going to make bland assertions of seeking party unity if that means protecting or preserving the influence of vested interests, but reclaim this party for the people we seek to represent.”

I believe holding open primaries throughout Scotland will offer Scottish Labour a real opportunity to engage with a politically energised electorate, to listen to their concerns, their hopes and their aspirations and allow our movement to share our principles and our passion for Scotland free from the constraints of an election.

If there has been any reply, it has not been made public. Murphy’s plan was to have a coronation for his deputy and friend Kezia Dugdale who is the interim leader. If you look at the Scottish Labour website you might think that had happened already. There are currently the only two declared candidates but since Murphy’s month has not been used to organise any election, primaries or rules there is plenty of time. After all, “If you don’t know where you are going any road can take you here”. Neil Findlay, who came a respectable second to Murphy only last year, is not standing.

One problem that Ken Macintosh might face is that he is a Constituency MSP. He is in a seat where the Tories were a close second but after May 2015 the SNP lurk dangerously in every Scottish seat. Kezia, despite attending my school in Dundee where she was head girl, is a list MSP for Lothian and may have a better chance of hanging on. She says: “The Scottish Parliament is now the centre of Scottish politics, the Labour party has taken a long time to recognise that and I want to be part of a new generation of Labour members that lead that, that put the Scottish Parliament front-and-centre of our party.”

Even as a Tory I recognise the truth in that. Surely Scottish Labour cannot have another leader losing their seat. Despite being Murphy’s anointed (a distinctly mixed blessing) and only having been an MSP for 4 years she looks favourite to me but the only betting odds I have found to date make her an unattractive 1/5 with Paddy Power. Curiouser and curiouser as Alice would no doubt say.


(This is the first post from DavidL, a regular contributor on the site for several years, who has been invited to join the guest slot team to help build up our Scottish expertise. Welcome!)


At last! Betting on the May 2016 Scottish Parliamentary Election

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Understanding the Scottish system

Given what we’ve seen it is very hard to envisage anything other than a big SNP victory. Unlike last month’s general elections north of the border where the SNP were able to pick up 56 of the 59 seats with 50% of the vote the system for Holyrood is different and should see many more parties being represented.

This is how the parliament itself describes it on its website:

How the Additional Member System (AMS) works

There are 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs)

There are two ways an MSP can be elected.

Each elector (voter) has two votes.

Scotland is divided into 73 constituencies and each constituency elects one MSP. These are known as constituency MSPs and are elected by ‘first past the post’ in exactly the same way as MPs are elected to Westminster. This is the elector’s ‘first vote’.

The ‘second vote’ is used to elect 56 additional members. Scotland is divided into 8 parliamentary Regions and each region elects 7 regional MSPs. In the second vote the voter votes for a party rather than a candidate. The parties are then allocated a number of additional members to make the overall result more proportional. The regional MSPs are selected from lists compiled by the parties. These MSPs are also sometimes referred to as List MSPs.

Features of the Additional Member System

  • Voters get two votes – to elect 1 constituency MSP and 7 regional/ list MSPs
  • Each person living in Scotland has a total of 8 MSPs to represent them.
  • The overall result is fairly proportional.
  • It is unlikely that one party will get an overall majority, although the SNP did that in 2011, and therefore coalitions are likely. (For example, see the 1999 election results when Labour and the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government – the Scottish Executive)
  • New parties and smaller parties are more likely to get representation than by using ‘first past the post’. (e.g Green Party, Scottish Socialist Party)

I like the Scottish approach because it keeps the constituency link while providing a degree of proportionality.

Mike Smithson


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