Archive for the 'Scotland' Category


The pollster that was first to pick up the scale of the SNP surge now has and IndyRef YES with 9% lead

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015


It takes a nation of millions to hold us back

Monday, August 17th, 2015

Indy Result

Antifrank asks should the SNP commit to a second independence referendum?

Picture yourself for a moment as Nicola Sturgeon. Right now, she presides over a hegemony.  At every level of Scottish politics, the SNP has routed its opponents.  It has 56 out of 59 MPs.  It has an absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament.  It has more local authority councillors than any other party.

And the SNP is strengthening its grip.  In the most recent local authority by-elections, it is recording bigger swings even than it achieved in the general election in May.  In the most recent opinion poll, the SNP polled 62% support for the constituency section of the Scottish Parliamentary elections for 2016.  Its dominance in the area is surely unprecedented anywhere in the United Kingdom.

For most politicians that would be more than enough to be going on with, but the SNP has a higher purpose: independence, and so far it has remained out of reach.  Alex Salmond has declared another referendum to be inevitable, a view shared by Angus MacNeil MP, who expects one before 2020.  One might think that Nicola Sturgeon would be gearing up for another referendum pledge for the Holyrood elections.  Yet she has so far been surprisingly chary about committing to this.

We know that Nicola Sturgeon is reserving the right to make the decision whether or not to include a manifesto commitment for a referendum for herself.  Before the May election, she told us that there has to be a substantive change in circumstances before a second referendum would be called.  But recently she stated that “if in Scotland we faced exit from the EU, effectively against our will – something which the polling suggests could happen – it would not be at all surprising if that caused a swell of demand for a further independence referendum.”

Given that it is far from clear that the terms on which a referendum on EU membership will be conducted will have been settled by the time that the Scottish Parliament elections take place next year, that suggests that Nicola Sturgeon is inspecting a hurdle that will not have been jumped by the time that the SNP manifesto comes to be drawn up.  If she is weighing a second referendum pledge in the next manifesto, that’s a decidedly odd thing to be doing.  So what exactly is she doing?

A picture tells a thousand words and this picture (courtesy of What Scotland Thinks) tells it all:

What Scotland Thinks

No retains a small but consistent lead in nearly all the polls taken since the last independence referendum.  The SNP’s huge popularity as a party has not translated into additional support for the idea of an independent Scotland such as would get them to Yes.  The SNP’s political hegemony would increase its chances but set against that the continuing low price of oil would make the economic case harder to put across.

Not only that, much of the public is in no hurry to think about the subject again.  There have been five polls since the last referendum asking respondents when, if at all, they thought the next referendum should take place.  In all five polls, around 60% of respondents who gave an answer preferred a date that is at least five years away.

So to call for a referendum in the course of the next Scottish Parliament risks alienating voters who really don’t think now is the time to look at this again and who in any case on balance are currently inclined to give the same answer.  Maybe the SNP’s superior campaigning would get them over the line, but failure would surely rule out further referenda for a generation, the length of which this time would definitely be determined by the unionist parties in power in Westminster.

Right now, calling a second referendum in short order looks like an odds-against strategy.  When you’re leading a hegemony, you don’t want to follow odds-against strategies.  Far better to try to advance incrementally, using your dominant position to frame the debate and change opinion over time, turning the odds in your favour.

This potentially gives Nicola Sturgeon a big problem because the one group of voters who really want a referendum as soon as possible are the SNP core voters.  If the manifesto for the Scottish Parliament does not include a pledge for a referendum, there will be uproar among the #45.  George Kerevan, SNP MP for East Lothian, has advised us to “Expect the SNP conference to fizz with the question of putting a mandate for independence into the 2016 manifesto.”

So Nicola Sturgeon has to decide how to keep her supporters happy while if possible avoiding a commitment to holding a referendum that she is more likely than not to lose.  Given her comments about the EU referendum, it seems that she may well be thinking about copying a technique drawn up by Gordon Brown and Ed Balls.  In order to forestall any attempt to take Britain into the Euro, they drew up a five point test to assess Britain’s economic readiness.  By placing conditions before the case could be made to the country, they put off the time of reckoning.

Unlike Gordon Brown and Ed Balls, who were privately opposed to joining the Euro, Nicola Sturgeon is undoubtedly keen for Scotland to go independent as soon as possible.  If, however, she puts conditions in the manifesto that need to be met before a referendum can be held, she can defer the decision until such point as she feels a referendum would have good enough chances of being won.

There is a fly in the ointment.  When Gordon Brown established his five economic tests for joining the Euro, Labour were in full control of any decision whether to hold a referendum on the  subject if the tests were passed.  The SNP do not have the same control over any decision to hold a referendum on Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom.  So even if Nicola Sturgeon declares that the hurdles have been cleared, David Cameron may disagree.  Even before the Holyrood elections next year, David Cameron has indicated that he is opposed to a second referendum taking place.  Without the clearest of mandates for the SNP to call for one, he will almost certainly feel that he can hold the line against one.   So a conditional manifesto commitment for a referendum is probably no better than no commitment at all.

So perhaps Nicola Sturgeon in the end will feel that she has to include an unequivocal manifesto commitment to demand a referendum on independence after all.  If she does, she will have been trapped into doing so by her party’s most fervent supporters.  If she felt that a second referendum was a worthwhile proposition in the short term, she would already have committed to giving the public the chance to vote for one next year.  That she hasn’t done this tells its own story.

It may take a nation of millions to hold the SNP back, but that nation is not England.



Good news and some potentially worrying news for the SNP in latest TNS Scotland poll

Monday, August 10th, 2015

Salmond & co should be doing better on the NHS

But a big 2016 Holyrood result looks on the cards


How SNP supporters could sabotage the EU referendum

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

Could tactical Scottish Nationalist voters win it for OUT?

Panelbase polled 1,002 voters in Scotland and 956 voters in the rest of the UK from June 26th to July 3rd and got the above results on the forthcoming EU referendum, so this isn’t an analysis of English and Scottish sub-samples but a properly weighted poll.

A few weeks ago Nicola Sturgeon said

“I previously stated my view that if Scotland were to be taken out of Europe despite voting as a nation to have remained, it would provoke a strong backlash amongst many ordinary voters. Quite what the result of that would be no-one can perceive but I’ve stated before that this could be one scenario producing the kind of material change in circumstances that would precipitate popular demand for a second independence referendum.

Bluntly, I believe that the groundswell of anger amongst many ordinary people in Scotland under these circumstances could produce a clamour for another independence referendum that may well be unstoppable.”

In light of these comments by the First Minister, I wonder if some supporters of Scottish independence might vote tactically for OUT in the EU referendum, to ensure the UK as a whole votes to leave the EU, but ensuring Scotland votes to remain in the EU, purely for the greater good of ensuring a second Scottish independence referendum.

Scotland voting to remain in the EU whilst the rest of the UK voted to leave, would also amplify the differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK, which would also be good for the Scottish independence movement.

An informal UKIP/SNP alliance would be the most unlikely alliance since the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, but politics, like war, breeds strange allies. If the focus of the EU referendum becomes about Scottish independence, then the IN side might struggle to come up with a response that satisfies both Scotland & England/Rest of the UK and ends up displeasing both.


The Panelbase poll also brought more good news for the SNP and bad news for Labour in next year’s Holyrood election.


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