Archive for the 'Scotland' Category


Ladbrokes make Sturgeon going his year an 11/10 bet

Monday, February 24th, 2020

Are we heading for an SNP leadership contest?

With rumours swelling that Scotland’s First Minister is to resign, the bookies make Sturgeon 11/10 to have left her post before the end of 2020, however it is odds-on at 4/6 she is still in charge.

Sturgeon’s problem is that her party is very much divided and next year Scotland goes to the polls to elect a new Scottish Parliament when issues such as how the SNP has run the country for a decade will be put to an electoral test. The Telegraph is reporting that the storm clouds are hovering over the First Minister.

As and when Sturgeon does depart, it’s Angus Robertson who is the 4/1 to replace her as FM, or there’s 6/1 on offer for John Swinney (6/1) and Kate Forbes (6/1). 

Ladbrokes latest betting Next Scottish First Minister

  • Angus Robertson 4/1
  • John Swinney 6/1
  • Kate Forbes 6/1
  • Joanna Cherry 10/1
  • Humza Yousaf 12/1
  • Keith Brown 12/1
  • Richard Leonard 16/1
  • 20/1 bar

Mike Smithson


Memo to Sir Keir Starmer: Unless LAB can start winning MPs in Scotland again the chances of you becoming PM are slim

Friday, February 21st, 2020

Your first big electoral test looks set to be the Scottish Assembly elections next year in a part of the UK where for decades your party was totally dominant. Recovering some of the ground lost there to the SNP might be an indicator that a general election victory could be in reach.

The charts above from the Commons Library analysis of the last general election set out in stark terms how Scotland’s Westminster MP party distribution changed dramatically less than five years ago. Labour went into GE2015 defending 41 of the 59 Scottish seas and ended up, like at GE2019,with a single MP.

So from a situation where LAB getting two thirds of Scotland’s MPs was almost a forgone conclusion you start from a base north of the border at the next general election as the fourth largest party. And without that hefty block of Scottish LAB MPs what will soon be your party has to make many more gains in England and Wales.

All this changed, of course, in the aftermath of the September 2014 Scottish IndyRef. Although the vote was to remain within the UK the referendum set off a dramatic rise in the SNP which in May 2015 won all but three Scottish seats.

The overall picture is very daunting for LAB. In September 2015 when Corbyn became leader he declared that Scotland was his first priority. Assuming you become leader you need to do the same but unlike Corbyn you need to make a success of it.

Mike Smithson


Trouble over bridged waters. Boris Johnson’s plan to link Scotland and Northern Ireland

Wednesday, February 12th, 2020

While love can build a bridge, it’s far from clear that Boris Johnson can.  He planned one across the Thames, but that was scrapped.  Then he mooted one across the English Channel, to be shot down quickly.  Now he is shelling out public money to investigate the possibility of a bridge across the North Channel between Larne (half an hour from Belfast) and Portpatrick (50 lightyears from anywhere).  Is it going to be third time a charm for Boris Johnson?

The omens are not good.  The first reputed attempt to build a link from Northern Ireland to Scotland ended in its destruction after Finn McCool found that he had bitten off more than he could chew.  If giants should come to grief on such a project, what chance for mere mortals?

It’s not as though there is a compelling economic need.  It won’t by itself shorten the time to get even from Belfast to Glasgow and any infrastructure projects to address that would drastically increase the cost.  Most people would carry on catching the plane to Glasgow or London or wherever. For those who must drive, there are perfectly good ferry services.

At a mooted cost of £20 billion for the bridge, there would probably be more economic benefit giving each inhabitant of Northern Ireland and Galloway a lump sum of £10,000.  You’d have change left over too.

Perhaps the intention is not economic but to build a physical connection between Britain and Ireland that the Northern Irish can feel.  Boris Johnson wouldn’t be the first. Though he would not appreciate the comparison, Russia recently built a bridge across the Strait of Kerch to connect Crimea to Russia and the physical link to the conquered territory is certainly part of Russia’s motivation.  With Scotland continuing to flirt with independence, however, even this rationale looks to have shaky foundations.

I’m not an engineer so I’m not going to do more than list the apparently formidable difficulties of building such a bridge.  The lousy weather, the currents, the width of the channel, the need to have a bridge of sufficient height to allow shipping to pass under it, all these are normal considerations.  Abnormal considerations include the unusual depth of the channel and the fact that it has been used as a dumping ground for very large quantities of explosives and nuclear waste. To a non-expert, it sounds a daunting undertaking.

All of which leads me to the conclusion that this project simply isn’t going to happen.  So why is the government talking about it? The problem resembles that confronting Sherlock Holmes in the Speckled Band.  If a bell-cord does not ring a bell, it is just a rope. Similarly, if a feasibility study into a bridge is not going to result in a bridge, it is just an announcement.  Its purpose is simple: the government wants us to talk about it.

It serves two purposes.  First, the public can only talk about so many stories at any given time.  If they’re talking about bridges or trains, or even the Coronavirus, they’re not talking about Brexit.  The government wants to move the conversation on from the last few years. You can understand why. Construction projects are perfect for this, because everyone has views on the idea and the ideas behind them are easy to grasp.

In some ways the ridiculousness of the proposal actually assists in this aim, as all the many drawbacks are talking points.  Would the IRA seek to blow up the bridge by depth-charging the munitions dump? Would the disturbance caused by the bridge’s foundations lead to Dublin Bay prawns becoming radioactive?  All grist to the mill for those wanting to get the country talking about new things.

The second purpose is less noble.  The government’s entire election prospectus was built around getting Brexit done.  Its current claim is that it has done so (implausibly, given that the dismal grind of negotiating the ongoing relationship with the EU is going to consume this year, but let’s leave that to one side).  That leaves a vacuum at the heart of government, a vacuum that could last for five years. That needs to be filled with an impression of energy. The government is deep in debt, so eye-catching initiatives are going to have to be cheap in the main.  That means announcements rather than action.  

Announcements of infrastructure work well on this front too.  No one expects them to be fulfilled in the short term. In the meantime, they can imagine how the bridge would glitter, span the miles majestically and stretch like a silver thread out into the invisible mist.  It doesn’t have to be built to be politically effective as other populist heads of government long ago worked out. Donald Trump’s wall has served him well. Silvio Berlusconi twice announced building a bridge between Sicily and the tip of Italy.  In this context, being all fart and no follow-through is entirely harmless, even beneficial.

Expect more of this stuff.  The government needs to give an impression of energy.  That impression doesn’t need to be borne out by action.  Judging by Boris Johnson’s track record, it won’t be.

Alastair Meeks


The SNP’s Brexit conundrum

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

Drink, says the Porter in the ‘Scottish Play’, is an equivocator with lechery: “it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance…. it sets him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and disheartens him”.  So it may prove with Brexit and Scottish Independence.

Nicola Sturgeon loses no opportunity to remind Scots that Brexit is taking them out of the EU ‘against their will’, citing this as justification for holding another independence referendum so soon after the last one.

It’s a good political argument, as far as the provocation of desire is concerned; Brexit does indeed seem to be acting as a lever prising Scottish self-identity further away from the Union.  For now, Boris Johnson has ruled out authorising another independence referendum, but that does not look sustainable for very long; no doubt it will be another of his promises which he can’t keep

You can expect Brexit to continue to figure very strongly in the SNP’s case both for another referendum, and for a Yes vote when they eventually hold one. Yet the objective effect of Brexit will be to make Scottish independence much more difficult than was envisaged when Scots voted in the 2014 referendum.  The Scottish government at the time claimed that Scotland could ‘remain in the EU’ and that therefore there would be very little disruption to trade not only with the Continent, but much more importantly with the rest of the UK. 

Of course there was a lot of hand-waving here: it was never clear how the transition from being part of the UK to becoming a member state of the EU was going to happen, and the then EU President Jose Barroso emphasised how difficult it would be, requiring a full accession process and the formal consent of all member states. This is disputed by some experts, but, whatever the exact legal position, the SNP’s broad point was surely correct: it was inconceivable that Scotland would be excluded from the EU for very long, and in practice some transitional mechanism would have been agreed to avoid disruption to trade and the economy.

EU membership is not only central to the emotional and identity-based case for Scottish independence, in 2014 it was central to the economic case.  There would have been no need for a ‘hard border’ between Scotland and the rest of the UK; closely-integrated trading relationships across the border, accounting for 60% of Scottish external trade (the EU accounts for just 18%), would have continued undisturbed.

Not any more.  Although the Scottish border thankfully doesn’t have the violent history of the Irish border, in other respects the same problems of creating an external EU border within the British Isles, as would happen if Scotland left the UK and then joined the EU, would apply.  Brexit makes Scottish independence more difficult, and more economically damaging, with the damage being more severe the more the UK detaches from the Single Market.  The SNP’s siding with Corbyn and the ERG to torpedo Theresa May’s softish Brexit, which would have produced a much more frictionless border than Boris Johnson is aiming at, looks short-sighted. 

Further, the political argument that Scotland would be ‘remaining’ in the EU can no longer be deployed.  There will be no status quo of Scotland being part of the EU, with the UK’s opt-outs, to build from.  That in turn makes accession to the EU more problematic: adopting the Euro, and perhaps even joining Schengen, would be harder to resist.

To make things worse, the North Sea oilfields, once seen as the primary economic opportunity of independence, now look much less attractive, with the oil price much lower and climate change concerns mounting.  The SNP’s economic case, already thin in 2014, has been severely damaged by all these ‘changes in circumstances’. Enough to scare Scottish voters off independence in a second referendum?  Maybe not; we should know by now that identity politics often trumps economics, and perhaps Brexit will, as many believe, lead to Scotland breaking up the Union, in an act of self-harm ironically similar to Brexit.  But it doesn’t look a slam dunk: desire may have been boosted by Brexit, but performance would be even more difficult than looked to be the case in 2014.  Project Fear v2 will have plenty of material to work with.

Richard Nabavi


Can the Scottish Tories without Ruth Davidson hold onto most or all of their 13 MPs?

Saturday, December 7th, 2019

At a pinch this might impact on Johnson’s majority hopes

Two and a half years ago the Tory star was then Scottish leader Ruth Davidson who saw her party north of the border make 12 gains to add to their previous single seat in Scotland. She was widely hailed as the future of the party and, even though not an MP, rose sharpy in the next Westminster leader betting.

There was little doubt that it was Davidson who saved TMay’s bacon.

This coming  Thursday those seats will have to be defended but there is no Davidson around any more. She stepped aside at the end of August citing family reasons and her conflict over Brexit.

The big question, and this could just impact on whether the Tories get their overall majority, is how many of those gains of GE2017 will remain.

The polling suggest that the Scottish Tories are holding onto their vote shares from last time but the gap behind the SNP has increased. This is largely as a result of the further collapse of Scottish LAB. In the seats being defended, though, LAB was largely irrelevant.

It could be that the Scottish Tory contingent is returned largely intact. Whatever there are a lot of fierce fights taking place.

One thing that might help is that the SNP seems to be making Jo Swinson’s East Dunbartonshire their main target.

Mike Smithson


New Ipsos-MORI Scotland poll suggests SNP gains from LAB and CON north of the border

Friday, November 29th, 2019

This could make Johnson’s majority bid that bit harder

The part of the UK that has seen the most turbulence with many seats changing hands at the past two general elections has been Scotland which is why special attention needs to be paid to Scotland only surveys. Scottish cross-breaks in GB really don’t give a full picture and this is where the seat calculators can slip up.

Ipsos-MORI, most accurate pollsters at the May Euros has just published the above which sees CON down with LAB down even more on what happened in June 2017. Then it will be recalled hat then the Tories jumped from one to 13 MPS, LAB from one to 7 MPs and the LDs up from one to 4 MPs. At the same time the SNP dropped from 56 MPs to 35.

This was something of a reverse compared with the GE2015 Scottish outcome which had the SNP winning 56 MPs north of the border with CON, LAB and the LDs picking up one each.

This polling suggests that big change there could be happening again with Sturgeon’s party the main beneficiary at the expense of LAB and CON.

If the Tories do indeed suffer losses there then Johnson’s party is going to have to make that up with gains in England and Wales something that current GB polling suggests they should do.

Mike Smithson


If this polling turns out to be accurate then it is great news for the SNP and Boris Johnson

Sunday, November 24th, 2019

I have to admit I wasn’t expecting to see this, after all it was heavily trailed earlier on this year, that the Johnson/Cummings strategy to sacrifice Scottish and Remain inclined seats to win a plethora of Labour held Leave inclined seats.

As the country’s greatest ever psephologist, Professor Sir John Curtice, writes

Just a few weeks ago, the Scottish Conservatives appeared to be at serious risk of losing most of the 12 seats they captured from the SNP two years ago. Now, the picture is much brighter for the party, and it looks as though it might be able to retain most of those gains.

We should not be surprised. Since Panelbase last polled north of the border in the first half of October — before Boris Johnson secured his revised deal with the EU — support for the Tories in Britain-wide polls has increased by as much as 10 points. Leave voters have increasingly switched from Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party back to the Conservatives.

My own unscientific hunch for quite some time has been if the Conservatives are doing well in Scotland then that bodes well for the Conservatives in Remain inclined seats in England and Wales.

You can argue that for Conservatives that have doubts about Boris Johnson in Scotland and England & Wales will fall behind the Prime Minister on polling day as you can argue that these voters are disdainful of Scottish Nationalism and Jeremy Corbyn’s Venezuelan tribute act respectively.

As for Scottish Labour, it really is looking like Ajockalypse Now Redux as they hit 2015 levels. I think far too many people in Labour failed to realise their 2017 gains in Scotland were mostly down to the SNP misplacing nearly half a million voters, not because of some great love for Corbyn. 

Only the myopic would say this is a bad result for the SNP because they fail to hit the dizzying heights of 2015, winning nearly 70% of the seats in Scotland is an impressive record, especially after the SNP have been in power for over twelve years at Holyrood.

I’d expect the momentum for another independence referendum in the first half of the next decade will become an irresistible force, on these figures it is the clear will of the people of Scotland. Exciting times for gamblers.



Betting on the Scottish battlegrounds

Monday, November 11th, 2019

Goodness knows I try not to offend. Among the more controversial posts that I have ever put up, however, was one that concerned the SNP’s results at the last election. I noted that the SNP had lost more seats than the Conservatives and that they came within a whisker of losing many more. Their strategic position for the next election looked terrible.

This did not go down well with the nationalist fraternity. Yet here we are in 2019, facing that next election. How do things look for the SNP now?

This gets a bit data-heavy, so forgive me for giving you a couple of external links. Here is a link to a table of the Scottish seats organised from an SNP perspective, from safest seat to most challenging target (I’ve included all the best odds at the time of writing as well – be aware that Coral also have seat prices taken from Ladbrokes and Betfair Sportsbook have Paddy Power’s prices).

As you can see, from Paisley & Renfrewshire North onwards, there is an abundance of marginals. 15 SNP seats would fall to an adverse swing of 2%. Six seats could be taken with a favourable swing of 2%. For a party that got swings of 30% and more in 2015, these margins are the vibration of a grass stem on the edge of a volcano.

From an SNP perspective, however, recent polls have been broadly encouraging. They are polling ahead of their vote share in the 2017 election – though it should be noted that they underperformed their pre-election polling then. One hopes that the pollsters have made appropriate corrections this time around. Better still, both the Conservatives and Labour have fallen back since then, with the Lib Dems making something of a revival. The Lib Dems pose little threat this time for the SNP, seriously challenging in only one seat (Fife North East). This turn of events suits the SNP well. 

None of this alters the strategic position. In a world of four party politics, Gore Vidal’s dictum applies: it is not enough to succeed, others must fail. The big risk for the SNP is that there is greatly increased tactical voting this time round from unionists. The big opportunity for them is that with the unionists having fallen out over Brexit and over Jeremy Corbyn’s politics, tactical voting may in fact wane.

Let’s turn to the betting. Here are the Scottish seats ranked by odds on the SNP winning them (I’ve stripped out parties with a best price of more than 20/1 to make the table more usable). You will immediately see that the order differs markedly from the order by swing. Labour are seen as ripe for the taking while the Lib Dems are seen as the tough nuts to crack.  

The effects are really quite extreme. The SNP are 1/8 to take Rutherglen & Hamilton East, a Labour seat and Labour are third favourites in East Lothian, a seat they hold.  Meanwhile the Lib Dems are 4/6 to take Fife North East, presumably because they are seen as very transfer-friendly for other unionist parties.

Enough chit chat. What are the betting opportunities? Well, the first thing to note is that the SNP are best priced at 5/6 (the bookies’ evens) in 47 out of 59 seats. That suggests that if you are going to play the under/over markets, you’re probably better going under – you can get 5/6 with William Hill, with the line set at 49.5.  This looks like a clear bet to me.

Next, the prices seem to be based on the assumption that unionists will not get their act together with tactical voting. This seems very questionable to me, given that the number one topic for most Scots remains independence (whether for or against). The 4/6 with Paddy Power on the Lib Dems in Fife North East looks marked to me, but the point applies still more strongly in seats where the incumbent is not from the SNP.  Many of these are first term incumbents and can hope for a bounce: so the 7/2 with Paddy Power on Labour in East Lothian and even the 4/1 on Labour in Glasgow North East look reasonable bets. The 11/4 with Paddy Power on the Conservatives in Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock looks generous, given that the SNP need a 3% swing to take the seat.

Nor are SNP-held seats immune. They are surely far too short in Perth & North Perthshire at 1/6, given they took the seat by just 21 votes. The Conservatives must be worth a punt at 3/1. While it is one of the longest standing SNP seats, that does not mean all that much in the maelstrom of Scottish politics: three of the six seats that the SNP held in the 2010-15 Parliament have already fallen to the Conservatives. There are similar examples.

I would, however, steer clear of those SNP-held seats like Edinburgh North & Leith and Lanark & Hamilton East where both Labour and the Conservatives fancy their chances. In all probability they will both knock each other out, particularly at a time when their vote share looks to have declined. At 2/9 in both of these seats, the SNP are not going to get you rich, so I wouldn’t bother on that side of the fence either.

Bear in mind: it’s not so much that I expect the SNP to underperform – I don’t particularly – but that their ultimate seat count is at least as dependent on how their opponents work together or against each other as on their own performance. That right now seems murky, so the value will tend to be found against the short-priced bets. Trying to keep hold of what is going on is like trying to keep hold of a greased pig. Of course, when you’re trying to keep hold of a greased pig, the chances of ending up in a mess are high, so these are markets where it’s always wise to have an eye to safety. Proceed with care.

Alastair Meeks