Where it’s *really* at

My last post has been met with incredulous hostility by some commentators, hostile incredulity by others (all in personal communications), so I need to flesh it out a bit. To provide continuity with the previous post, I thought of heading this one “Where it’s really at, asshole”, but since the skeptics were my friends I’ve forborne to do this.

The first point in my previous post – that Nicola Sturgeon would either commit or not commit to an indyref this year – was not controversial (how could it be? – it covered all possibilities). In the event, NS’s response contained many fine words and high aspirations, but you should always listen to the small print. What she actually said was, “it is still my hope [that we can get an indyref in 2020]”. That doesn’t sound like commitment to me.

My second point – that SNP policy is based on the belief that indyref without a Section 30 order would create too much hatred and division to be sustainable – attracted no adverse comment. Looking at it again now, I’m not sure that it’s true, but that question needs a separate post.

My third point – that the SNP doesn’t want independence, it just wants to stay in power for ever – is the one where my skeptical friends thought I’d lost my grip on reality. However, there are plenty of pointers in the SNP’s conduct over the last six years:

– The only actions the SNP have taken to further independence is Ian Blackford saying repeatedly and untruthfully that Scotland won’t be taken out of the EU against its will (it has been), and Nicola Sturgeon saying repeatedly that Scotland’s right to a referendum will be recognised (it won’t);

– They’ve mounted no legal challenge to the need for a Section 30 order, their refutation of mainstream media lies is non-existent, and they have not moved the opinion polls by any noticeable amount;

– The Scottish political scene is glacial, with the SNP running a straightforward social-democratic programme, and the opposition ineffective beyond belief. But with independence, that will change. After the honeymoon period, the growth of better-formulated dissenting views on how run a country will mean that they’ll have to work for their living;

– Their record in government has seen some ill-prepared legislation put forward – the Offensive Behaviour (Football) Act, the Named Persons Scheme, the Gender Recognition Act. They’re good at managing money, but poor at managing public opinion. So the return of normal politics is a threat to them;

– Their finances won’t cover a second indyref. They have £400,000 cash-in-hand, membership has halved since 2014, and indy will mean losing their £1.5m per annum share of the ‘Short money’ gifted by the UK Government to opposition parties.

More on the SNP’s true policy below.

On my fourth point – that the Salmond trial is a stitch-up and Sturgeon helped bring it about – the skeptics really had a field-day; “About as realistic as eating fish and chips on Mars,” was one comment. But my analysis is not unrealistic: my information comes from Craig Murray, the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan who was hounded out of office for showing that Britain relied on intelligence obtained from torture. You can read what he has to say here, and it’s very disturbing. By “at the heart of Holyrood” Craig means, of course, in the heads of Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell, Chief Executive of the SNP. And as a coda to this, let’s note that the name of Alex Salmond is not now to be found anywhere on the SNP’s website. Here is everything the SNP has to say on the 2014 referendum:

The 2014 independence referendum was Scotland’s greatest ever democratic event. In the months building up to the vote, the Yes campaign – spearheaded by the SNP and its then depute leader Nicola Sturgeon – engaged with every community in Scotland. Support for independence reached record highs[,] and levels of political participation blossomed across the country.

While the result delivered in the wee small hours of September 19th fell short…

I know that memory plays us tricks, but I think I remember Alex Salmond being around at that time. Wikipedia supports me on this: in its article on the 2014 referendum, it mentions Alex Salmond by name 89 times. The SNP names him, um, zero times.

Putting my third and fourth points together – the SNP’s inactivity and the Salmond stitch-up – we can derive a coherent account of the SNP’s policy over the last six years:

a. The UK will never let Scotland go if it can avoid it, because Scotland is too valuable. (For a summary of this, read Craig Murray’s opening paragraph here.) This makes independence is virtually unachievable, except by UDI and the risk of bloodshed (which the UK is perfectly capable of fostering). Sturgeon understood this early on, and decided not go go for it;

b. Her career plan is therefore to leave the SNP after five to ten years, and move on to an international career;

c. The modus operandi will be to talk up independence, but do nothing, just as the Brexiteers have talked up a “free” Britain, but will balk (we hope) at actually making much of a difference with Brexit;

d. Salmond is a threat to this, because he’s a cunning political animal and is committed to independence. He must therefore be neutralised;

d. The Gender Recognition Act – which gets you lots of brownie points internationally – is the jumping-off point for her international career. This is why she’s packed the party with transgender activists. The GRA is her passport out, and needs to be more or less in place if possible before the Salmond trial, which could see her forced to resign, and in any case before the 2021 Holyrood election, which could be the high point at which she departs.

That may all sound out-to-lunch, but in my view it adds up. So that’s all I’ll say for the moment, except for one final point. One of my skeptical friends describes BoJo as “a fatuous prick”, meaning (I assume) that he needn’t be taken seriously. I disagree. BoJo’s fatuous prickery is a stance, an act, designed to endear him to the voting public; underneath it, he’s a shrewd performer with a steely grasp of all the things he needs to do to further his career. He’s ruthless and skilled and uncontrollable, and that adds up to dangerous.

The Salmond trial opens on Monday. We live in interesting times.

Where it’s at

That title reminds me of a linguistic joke, so let’s get that over with:

New student at Harvard, seeing a clearly established student whom he can ask for information: “Say, is this where the library’s at?

Established student (snootily): “This is Harvard. We don’t end sentences with a preposition.”

New student: “Oh, I’ll rephrase my question. Is this where the library’s at, asshole?”

To the point, now. It’s been a long time since the Scottish independence movement has been anything other than murky, unpredictable, unbelievably baffling or just plain hopeless. However, things are beginning to turn the corner, with some upcoming dramatic events:-

  1. This coming Wednesday, it is said, Nicola Sturgeon will set out her response to BJ’s refusal of the request for a Section 30 order. This either will or will not contain a commitment to an indy referendum this year. It’s difficult to see how it will plausibly do that. But if it doesn’t, the SNP’s credibility will slide down by another notch.
  2. The background to this, and the basis of all SNP policy on independence since 2015, is their belief that independence can only be securely won with the consent of the British government; anything else will create too much division in Scotland, and too much risk of non-recognition abroad.
  3. An alternative explanation of the SNP’s conduct since 2015 is that they don’t in fact want independence – they want to stay in power and keep their jobs and perks for ever. Political life after independence will become much more difficult for the SNP, with their primary aim accomplished and the rise (let us hope) of a proper Scottish opposition.
  4. The Alex Salmond trial opens soon, and there’s open discussion among commentators that this will destroy the SNP. It will destroy the SNP because the accusations against Salmond are (commentators say) a stitch-up, and Sturgeon (they say) played a large part in setting that stitch-up up. She did this (they claim) to demolish a rival who wanted to take the party in a direction she didn’t favour. (The thought of the honest, open, red-headed wee wifie whose mouth butter wouldn’t melt in being revealed as a corrupt and self-seeking political turd is an unsettling one, until you remember Blair’s metamorphosis in just a few years from left-wing poster-boy to financial scammer and international war criminal.)
  5. A line of argument that might mitigate the SNP’s dishonesty is that their proposed direction – indy with consent – is truly the only viable one, but that this will take ten to twenty years. Their only dishonesty is that they haven’t admitted to that timescale.
  6. If the SNP is eviscerated by the Salmond trial, a new party will head the independence movement (let’s just assume it’ll call itself the Scottish Independence Party, for heaven’s sake!). It’ll be much more aggressive in calling out the lies of the mass media on Scotland’s economic and cultural strengths, and in challenging Westminster’s machinations to erode devolution. If the movement is eventually forced to go for UDI, it will be a UDI which Scottish voters are in favour of because they’ll have listened to all the arguments, and one for which international recognition has been prepared through diplomatic initiatives.
  7. This might not be far off. After January 31st, an EU that wanted Scotland to join it (because of its economic potential and cultural compatibility) would be able to twist the arm of the UK, because the UK will no longer be an EU member and the UK will want a trade deal.

The Scotsman doesn’t believe this last point: it reports that the EU has stated categorically that it will not readmit a Scotland that has separated from the UK without consent. What The Scotsman doesn’t say, however, is that the EU will twist the British government’s arm to give consent, and that will be the price of the trade deal. So there’ll be consent, and therefore indy. And the Northern Ireland settlement shows that BoJo does actually back down when he has no cards.

Voting for Dummies: Part 2

I left a few points hanging in my previous post. One was that AMS, being a proportional system, makes tactical voting impossible. Tactical voting, under a first-past-the-post system, is where your preferred party is polling third, with the two despised enemies neck-and-neck at the top: you vote for the enemy you despise less, because at least it will keep out the other scum. But under AMS, where parties with even 4% of the vote get seats, voting for the less-despised enemy simply gives them a better chance of a seat, and reduces your own party’s chances of winning one.

Another complication is how we should properly refer to the two votes that you have under the AMS system, and I sidestepped this issue by calling one the ‘constituency’ vote (which is not controversial) and the other the ‘second vote’. However, even ‘second vote’ won’t do, because the ballot paper could well ask for your constituency vote in its right-hand column, and what I’ve called your ‘second vote’ in its left-hand column. This would make my terminology disastrously counter-intuitive. So a better term for the second vote is the ‘list vote’, because you cast your vote not for an individual member but for a party list.

But even ‘list vote’ isn’t the term used in official descriptions, and that’s because of a complication that I haven’t told you about. The complication is that list votes aren’t totalled and seats allocated for the country as a whole; instead the country is divided into 8 regions of 7 list seats each, and those 7 seats are allocated in proportion to the list-vote shares for that region only. Each constituency is also within a region, and it is the constituency seats for that region that are topped up. So the more widely used (but less informative) term for the list vote is the ‘regional vote’. The regional basis of the top-up also makes the election result hard to predict: you can’t just say, “X party has Y percent of the votes, so they’ll get Z seats,” because different parties can be stronger in different regions.

The third and almost last complication is both interesting and infuriating, and arises from two inherent constraints in the seat-allocation process. One is that to allocate seats in exact proportions, you would have to allow fractions – one-third each of 10 seats is 3.3333 seats per party – and that won’t do. The other is that if you avoid the fractional problem by not allocating all the seats – give the three parties 3 seats each and leave the 10th seat unallocated – that won’t do either.

The formula used to get round these problems is the d’Hondt formula, which operates like a bidding system, but with the bids rigged by the formula. In the first round, each party bids its full number of list-votes, and the party with the most list-votes wins the first seat; but for the next round, that party’s list-votes are divided by the number of seats it now has plus 1 – i.e. it’s now divided by 2 – so that party can only bid half its list-votes for the second seat, which will therefore go to a party whose list-votes are more than half those of the leader. And so it proceeds: at each round, what you can bid are your list-votes divided by the number of seats you now have plus one; algebraically

Q = V / (S + 1)

where Q is what you’re allowed to bid, V is your list-votes and S is the number of seats you currently have.

To take a simple example, if you’re the Big Party and I’m the Tiny Party, and there are 7 seats to be allocated, your bids round by round will be all of your list-votes, then 1/2 your list-votes, then 1/3 of your list-votes, then 1/4 of your list-votes, and so on, and as long as that fraction of your list-votes is more than the whole of my list-votes you’ll be allocated that seat. If my list-votes are more than 1/7 of yours, but not more than 1/6, I’ll get the last seat.

The immediate importance of d’Hondt is that you can’t convert votes into seats by simple arithmetic: if you want to know how many seats a party would get if it won a given percentage of the vote, you have to specify an assumed vote-share for each party and then run d’Hondt: anything else is mere guesswork. For a Holyrood election you have to do this for each of the 8 regions separately. You also have to specify, for each party, the number of constituency seats – d’Hondt sets the value of S in the first round to each party’s constituency seats. Running a d’Hondt calculation is an easy and mechanical task, but not all commentators do it. There’ll be a d’Hondt calculator on my website soon, and when it’s ready I’ll post the link here.

It’s the last complication of all, however, that’s the most interesting. The aim of the system is to arrive at a proportional parliament by adding to the constituency seats a top-dressing of list seats. But what if a party’s constituency seats already exceed its list-vote share? Supposing, for example, in a 100-seat parliament with 60 contituency seats and 40 list seats, the party vote-shares and constituency seats are as follows:

VOTE-SHARES: SLOBS 40%, TOADS 50%, EARWIGS 10%

CONSTITUENCY SEATS: SLOBS 50, TOADS 10, EARWIGS 0

The Slobs are due 40 parliamentary seats, but they already have 50, and you can’t take those away; the Toads deserve 50 parliamentary seats, which are available, but then the Earwigs would get none, and they deserve 10 parliamentary seats. The problem is of course logically insoluble, because the terms of the system don’t allow it: AMS assumes that each party’s share of constituency seats will fall short of its list-vote share, giving room for a top-up.

I’ll deal in a later post with how d’Hondt resolves this conundrum – it’s a fair result in fact, but it has unexpected effects. And it will lead us, as some readers will already have guessed from the way my argument here is going, directly on to the Wings Over Scotland Devastating Electoral Initiative, which is looking as though it will play a crucial role in the 2021 election.

Voting for Dummies

Looking at blogs and Twitter, I see a disturbing lack of knowledge about how the Holyrood voting system works. Even the basic fact that you have two votes seems incomprehensible to some voters. Given that the next Holyrood election will be upon us in or before Spring 2021, and is likely to be crucial for independence, readers might welcome this short ‘Voting for Dummies’ guide.

1. You have two votes. One is called your ‘constituency’ vote, and elects the MSP for your constituency. It operates under the first-past-the-post system (FPTP). We’re all thoroughly familiar with that, so it needs no further comment.

2. Your second vote has various names – your ‘regional’ vote, your ‘list’ vote, your ‘second preference vote’ – but they’re all unsatisfactory, so for the moment let’s just call it ‘your second vote’.

3. Your two votes are votes for different things. With your constituency vote, you vote for a person, the person you want to represent you, albeit they have a party identifier attached to them. With your second vote, you vote for a party, and your ballot paper shows no candidates’ names (though it may show the name of the party leader).

4. Your second vote determines the make-up of the Parliament: in the final result, the number of seats each party has will match its share of the second vote. So if the shares of the second vote, across the whole country, were these:

SECOND-VOTE SHARES: SNP 49%, Con 24%, Lab 18%, Green 5%, LibDem 4%

then, in a 129-seat Parliament, each party would end up with the following numbers of seats:

SEATS TO MATCH VOTE-SHARE: SNP 63, Con 31, Lab 24, Green 6, LibDem 5.

This was indeed the result of the 2016 election.

5. Given that some seats are filled by the constituency vote – 73 of them out of the 129 – how does the system ensure that the final number of seats matches each party’s share of the vote? Simple: to each party’s constituency seats, it adds the number of second-vote seats that will bring that party’s total up to the required percentage. Of the 129 seats, 56 are distributed in this way. In 2016, the 73 constituency seats were:

CONSTITUENCY SEATS: SNP 59, Con 7, Lab 3, Green 0, LibDem 4,

So to bring the each party’s seats up to the required percentage, second-vote seats were allocated as follows:

ADDITIONAL SEATS: SNP 4, Con 24, Lab 21, Green 6, LibDem 1,

giving the ‘Seats to Match Vote-share’ shown above.

6. We needs actual bums to put on these seats – bums of Members of the Scottish Parliament – so where do they come from, given that the second vote is not for a person, but a party? The answer is that each party maintains a list of candidates who are called off to fill that party’s second-vote seats. So the Conservatives, for example, needed to have at least 24 candidates standing by, and Labour at least 21, to occupy those seats. The Members to whom these seats are allocated are sometimes called ‘list’ members.

7. A number of points need to be made before closing this short guide:

7a. The system as a whole is called the “additional member system”, or AMS, because it adds second-vote Members of the Scottish Parliament to the constituency Members.

7b. The final proportions of seats are based on the second vote, not the constituency vote or the total vote, because consitutency votes are notoriously prone to tactical voting. Your second vote answers the question, “Which party do you want to form the government?”

7c. Because the second vote allocates seats to lists of members, it’s often called the ‘list vote’. And because the country is in fact divided into regions for the allocation of second-vote seats – more on that in a later post – the second vote is often also called the ‘regional’ vote.

7d. Because second-vote seats are allocated proportionally, it’s not possible to vote tactically with your second vote.

I’ll take these points up in my next post, quite soon.

Construe as Mince

Craig Murray’s petition to bring in OSCE observers for the next Scottish referendum (which I hope you’ve all signed – DO IT NOW!) has resurrected the doubts about postal votes in 2014. These doubts solidify, for some people, into the claim that the 2014 referendum was rigged by the UK Government packing the postal vote with “No” ballots, as evidenced by the extraordinarily high postal turnout. This is a consoling narrative for those indy supporters who were gutted by the massive “No” wrecking-ball that crawled out of the woodwork on September 18th to steal the referendum (which many Yessers feel in their bones was in truth a clear victory for Yes) and demolish their dreams. So we need to look at that claim again now.

The claim

The detailed account of this rigging (the “Dunoon Report”) has gained some traction among the Indy community. It was authored by Andy Anderson, Education Officer of the Dunoon Unit of the Democratic Socialist foundation, and a video of Andy explaining the report to a group of activists shows him as a sober, thoughtful and concerned individual. We can summarise his report as follows:

1. Three public figures (John McTernan, political strategist and advisor to the Labour Party; Susan Dalgety, former Labour councillor and civil servant; and Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives) said in public, before the count had started, that the postal ballot showed a clear lead for No. It’s illegal to count postal votes early, so these people couldn’t have acquired this information legitimately: there must have been government malpractice.

2. The reported postal-vote turnout is not believable as it stands, and broke world records in four local authority areas. To quote the Dunoon Report, “[The Electoral Management Board’s] claim that there was a spectacular world record 96.4% turnout in the PB in Argyll and similar spectacular results in the PB all over Scotland, needs to be carefully assessed, before it can be accepted as a fact.”

2. In Argyle and Bute, more people voted postally than were on the postal-ballot register. “We have a grand total of 743 people on the PB register who could not vote,” says the Report, when the count shows that only 526 people did not vote.

3. Areas with a higher proportion of postal votes returned a higher proportion of No votes; this correlation held across all 32 local authority areas. In the words of the Report, “[A]s the level of the [postal ballot] rises, so the No vote rises with it and takes a stronger and stronger lead.”

5. The fraud was committed by the UK Government replacing unused postal votes with fake votes for “No”. Clandestine government agencies will have access to local authority records, and therefore will have known how many postal ballots had been issued. They also knew, as the referendum approached, who had voted and who had not, and had copies of their signatures (which are on local government computers). So they printed postal ballot papers for electors who had not voted, and submitted them in the normal way through the mail or at local authority offices, reversing the result of the referendum. To quote the Dunoon Report, “[A] massive No vote was inserted into [the postal vote], ensuring an overall No vote majority at the Referendum.” This fraud left no trace in the counting process.

Evaluation

I found this account persuasive (and worrying!) when I read it in detail for the first time recently, so I decided to flesh it out with numbers. The data I used comes from Wikipedia, with postal ballot details from the Electoral Management Board, as quoted in the Dunoon Report. A copy of the Dunoon final report, and my extracted data-sets, are on my website here. Let’s take the Report’s five claims in order:

1. Public figures knew some postal results before the count. These politicians’ comments are consistent with there being government-sponsored fraud: they would have made the comments to soften up the public for the massive No that was about to engulf them. An alternative explanation is that some unscrupulous busybody had counted postal votes, and had primed three political idiots to talk about it in support of No.

2. The postal turnout was unbelievably high, and set world records. The postal-vote turnout was 93.7%, as against 82.5% for the in-person turnout. Postal-vote turnouts are always higher, but I could find no data that would show whether this particular turnout was unbelievably high or not. I could find no data at all on world records for postal-vote turnouts. The claims that these turnouts are unbelievably high and constitute world records are concrete and verifiable, so the absence from the Report of data to support them is worrying.

3. In Argyle and Bute, more people voted than was possible. The electoral register was a year old at the time of the referendum, and therefore included people who could not have voted. The Dunoon Report estimates their numbers as follows:

Those who had died since the register was updated: 125
Those who had moved away since the register was updated: 250
Those in prison: 6
Those with dementia: 362
TOTAL: 743

This total of 743 people who could not vote is clear evidence of fraud. 14,409 people were registered for postal votes, and 13,883 votes were received (13,926 in my data-set, due to rounding differences): so only 526 people did not vote. But 743 people could not have voted, so more people voted than was possible.

If we examine the data critically, however, more holes appear than we can be comfortable with. Firstly, “couldn’t have voted” – the form of words used consistently throughout this section of the Report – is not the same as “a ballot paper couldn’t have been sent in”, and the outstanding case of this is the group of people with dementia.

People with dementia can of course vote; in fact it is probably illegal to prevent a person from registering or voting on grounds of dementia. So care-home staff will take steps to ensure that such people are registered and vote; the care staff or a family member may even mark the ballot-paper for them (and there are statutory provisions for bypassing the signature, for persons who can’t sign their name). So it’s difficult to see the justification for including these 362 patients among those for whom a ballot paper could not have been sent in. Removing them reduces the number of impossible votes from 743 to 381, well within the count of 526 people who did not in fact vote.

Similar considerations apply to those who had died or moved away: the ballot papers were sent to their old addresses, and the current residents there could have sent in those votes, and no doubt in some cases did. This means that the Report’s third claim, that more people sent in ballot papers than was possible, doesn’t stand up.

4. A high postal vote correlated with a high No vote across all 32 local authority areas. This at least looks sound: the chart below shows the relationship between postal votes in the local authority areas (ranked by the proportion of the vote that was postal, and divided into four groups) and the No vote in each group:

dunoon-chart-1“R-squared” is a statistic that shows how closely two data-sets match: 0.0 is no relationship at all, 1.0 is a complete match. A value of 0.98 is extremely good for any human-society data, perhaps even too good to be true. So let’s look at it more closely.

I first asked myself why, and on what basis, the 32 areas had been divided into four groups, but the Report is silent on this. Then I looked at the figures for each of the 32 separate areas, and found that the postal-vote levels do not in fact fall into natural groups at all (red bars on the chart below, which show what percentage of that area’s vote was postal). Similarly, the percentage of No votes (blue bars on the chart below) shows no observable relationship to the size of the postal vote (red bars), and in Group Two and Three goes down as the postal vote goes up:

dunoon-chart-2Deeply suspicious now, I inserted the 32 data-lines for the separate local authority areas into a scatter-plot like the first chart above, plotting the full data, rather than just the four group-averages. The scatter-plot looked like this:

dunoon-chart-3A statistician’s professional verdict on this correlation (R-squared = 0.14) would be that it’s a bit below piss-poor. What the Dunoon Report has done here is to hide the detailed data of the 32 local authorities by reducing it to four averages, which give a spectacularly different result. My own qualifications in statistics are nothing to write home about, but I do know that this is elementary data-rigging, arrived at by ignoring the principle of data integrity. Data integrity says that the investigator should look at all the data, not just the bits she likes; next time you meet a statistician, ask them whether data integrity matters, and then hide under a rock until they’ve finished exploding. So no cigar for the Dunoon Report on this one: the full data shows that the level of postal votes has no correlation with the level of No votes, and blows its fourth claim right out of the water.

5. A clandestine government agency replaced unused postal votes with fake No votes, compromising the result. The clandestine tactic, it is claimed, was to hoover up unused postal votes and replace them with fake No votes. So how many votes would have been available to these purveyors of state-sponsored skulduggery? We’ll have the answer if we can estimate how many postal votes were genuine.

We know the electorate size and the votes cast for all voters, and the electorate size and the votes cast in the postal vote, so by subtracting one set from the other we can get the turnout for the in-person vote. It’s 82.5%, slightly lower than the 84.6% overall turnout, which was inflated by the high postal vote. Nobody thinks that the genuine postal-vote turnout could have been lower than the in-person turnout, so let’s take that figure of 82.5% as our baseline, our threshold for genuine postal votes. The possible number of fake votes is the difference between that number, 82.5% of the postal electorate, and the number of postal ballots received, 93.7% of the postal electorate.

A turnout of 82.5% of the postal electorate gives us 657,410 genuine postal votes; the number of postal ballots received was 746,308. The difference between the two – the window for fraud – is 88,898 votes. However, “Yes” lost the referendum by four-and-a-half times that number, 400,000 votes. These numbers are not shown in the Dunoon Report; but, presented or not, they mean that the Report’s fifth claim, that a clandestine government agency changed the result of the referendum by faking postal votes, can only be construed as mince.

Working through these calculations to verify the Dunoon Report’s claims has made me angry. Not because my comfort blanket – that the referendum was stolen from us by some malign agency – has been stripped away, but because of the egregiously dishonest presentation of data. The Dunoon Report says the postal-vote turnout was unbelievably high and broke world records, but shows no evidence for this; it claims that more people voted than was possible, but the choice of words is sloppy and the figures do not stand up; it says that a high postal vote, area by area, always gives a high No vote, but it does not, and the Report hides the data that show it does not; and the Report says that packing the postal votes “ensured an overall No majority”, when the putative packing amounted to less than one quarter of the majority, and this data is not even referred to. That this dishonest Report should have been going the rounds for five years, consoling Yessers with its unexamined data and false claims, annoys me.

Lessons

What can we learn from this? I think there are two take-aways for us. The first is fairly obvious: if a document comes your way that makes a data-based case, examine the data carefully, compare it with other data that you know or can easily acquire, and verify that it all makes sense. The second relates to how we expect to win IndyRef2. We should not console ourselves with comforting narratives, false expectations and wishful thinking. Instead we need to concentrate on clear, factual arguments, presented soberly and straightforwardly; at the end of the day, we want an IndyRef2 that has been properly thought through by the electorate and reflects the considered consent of most voters. That’s not an impossibility; all the facts are on our side, and we just need to put them over properly.

A Quiet Word about the Debate

Last Sunday, on the day after the AUOB march in Glasgow, the Herald gathered and published comments by three SNP politicians about the conduct of the independence debate. This was a remarkably unprincipled piece of journalism. A four-page front spread, it did two things: it crowded out any mention in that day’s Herald of the joyous and sensationally good-natured 100,000-strong march, and it manipulated the three politicans’ comments into a narrative where Yes-supporters were portrayed as vigorous abusers of their own side. It’s also thrown commentators on Wings Over Scotland (the seriously outspoken pro-independence blog, which Unionists hate and fear in equal measure) into a fury. Fantastic smack in the eye for indy! Herald’s job done!

However, under the fury with and the contempt for the various participants, there’s a serious point which indy-supporters need to consider, namely that our goal is to win the coming referendum. It’s true that our goal is independence, but, as we stand now, we’re not going to reach that goal by declaring UDI, or using the entrails of Michael Gove to strangle Boris Johnson, or by telling the UN that we really, really want it: the only way we’re going to get independence is by winning a referendum. And that means winning over to our side a proportion — a small and manageable proportion — of those who voted No last time. (Even if we went UDI, we’d still have to ratify it by a vote, so that goal would still be there – we’d still have to persuade enough people that it was the right decision.) Think about that for a moment, and think about how you would persuade someone who disagrees with you to change their view. Clearly you wouldn’t shout at them that they’re a lying fascist scum-bag, or a piece of zombiefied Unionist maggot-feed; you’d suggest to them – gently – that Scotland could be more prosperous if England had less say in its development, and you’d do this in a quiet, friendly one-to-one conversation. That’s how we’re going to win the referendum – by a million such conversations.

Wings Over Scotland would be a more effective promoter of such conversations if its comment forums were less strident. At the moment, the forums are unpersuasive – they’re talking only to the Yes side, and participants shout and holler. My guess is that the only non-Yessers who read the forums are Unionist trolls wanting to undermine them, and that Undecideds won’t bother to brave the onslaught of violent opinions. This is a pity, because the Rev Stu Campbell, who runs the site, has created a runaway success in terms of visibility – his readership is awesome, and the sheer quantity of comments on his forums is to die for. More than that, with his political acumen and his formidable research skills, he exposes on a daily basis the untruths spread about by the lying toads who oppose us. The Rev Stu is cantankerous and outspoken, and not easily deflected from his chosen path. But could he be gently nudged to move the forums in a more positive direction, so that they influence more people?

Stu already has form on this – his Wee Blue Book, published one month before the 2014 vote, looks as though it shifted opinion by about 10 percentage points, and it was (as one would expect) abuse-free. So he’ll readily understand how an abuse-free forum could positively influence the debate. The steps that he could take towards this are, shall we say, (KLAXON: PUN AHEAD!) fairly pedestrian: establish a ‘play the ball, not the person’ rule (contravening posts get bombed), ditto for foul language, ditto for posts without substance, spread the workload among a team of moderators, close comments after 24 hours, etc., etc. – and these could be implemented incrementally, so as to make the workload manageable, and to gently nudge the participants towards a more productive engagement.

This is what we need to do to win. Could you give it some thought, Stu?

Hands full of Aces?

What is going to happen with the indy ref? And why did Theresa May call the 2017 general election?

Theresa May didn’t call the 2017 general election to strengthen her majority – she already had a working majority of 17 seats. And she didn’t call it to weaken Labour – Labour was weak enough. In fact, that was the problem. Labour’s job – from the Conservative perspective – was to contain the SNP in Scotland, and Labour wasn’t doing that. But Scottish independence on the back of Brexit would be a disaster for the Conservatives, since the loss of Scottish resources could lead to the annihilation of the neo-liberal dream. So they needed to get into Scotland, win the seats that Labour wasn’t defending, demolish the SNP, and squash the independence movement for ever. They threw at it money and data: data to identify target voters, and money to inundate them with leaflets. And they nearly succeeded: the SNP lost more than one-third of its seats (21 out of 56), its vote-share went from one-half down to one-third (50% to 36%), and Alex Salmond was out. They didn’t reach their goal – the didn’t quash the SNP, or demolish the independence movement, and polls show that support for independence continues to hold up – but they sowed misery and dismay through the upper echelons of the party. They even left some prominent party members brainwashed into believing May’s mantra that “now is not the time”.

I’m indebted to the blogger at A Wilderness of Peace for the above analysis of this election, which I find convincing. But what has it to do with the indy ref? The answer is that it gives us a pointer to the UK government’s likely attitude to the first port of call in the independence journey, namely Section 30 permission to hold an indyref. Other things we need to factor in are what to do if permission is refused, and the SNP’s constant prediction stating that “Scotland will not be taken out of Europe against its will”.

So this is where I think we are now:

  • The UK government will not grant a Section 30 order. David Cameron agreed to one in 2014 because he thought indy would lose, and that that would remove independence from the agenda. That’s no longer the case. The 2017 general election didn’t demolish the indy movement, and the UK government isn’t fool enough to believe the mainstream media’s constant burble that the people of Scotland don’t want another indyref (they jolly well do). No way will they now see a Section 30 order as a risk worth taking.
  • The First Minister has said, pretty well unequivocally, that she won’t mount a referendum without UK agreement. There are obvious tactical risks in doing so (the opposition will make hay with the Scottish Government for allegedly exceeding its powers, an anti-indy boycott could deprive the result of authority, a challenge in the Supreme Court could delay the whole thing), but surely the real point is that it wouldn’t achieve the independence movement’s, and more particularly Nicola Sturgeon’s, overriding strategic priority. This is that independence, when it comes, must be with the consent of the whole country; the last thing we need is a vicious campaign like the EU referendum, that leaves a country irreconcilably divided and bitter. There’ll always be a hard core of bigots, of course, and for some the consent will be grudging, but we must leave every voter in no doubt that the issues have been fully and fairly debated, and that this is what we’ve agreed to do as a nation. That can take time. Phantom Power’s recent report on Norway set out how Norwegians reach consensus by debate before doing anything at all, and “it took us forty years to build an airport”. Let alone a new country.
  • If a Section 30 order is off the table, and the Scottish Government will not mount an independence referendum without one, that looks like the end of the road. It leaves only the option of UDI (which can be dressed up in various ways, but is still UDI). Given that we need to build a consensus, however, UDI would be catastrophic. So it really is the end of the road, isn’t it? Well, no, if we listen to what our politicians have been saying, and perhaps it isn’t.
  • “Scotland will not be taken out of Europe against its will”, they say constantly, turning the issue into one of EU membership, rather than one of Scottish independence. So the next Scottish referendum will not be solely about independence, it will also be about the EU, and the two issues will be bundled together. “Should Scotland join the EU?” would be a good first shot at a question. We all know that Scotland can’t join the EU without first becoming independent, so the question is a proxy for that. And it’s difficult for the UK government to forbid us to ask that question, since they asked it themselves in 2016. Also, there are further factors that make it attractive to bundle the two issues together:
    •  It acknowledges both the conditions set out in the 2016 mandate: “clear and sustained preference for independence” and “material change of circumstances”;
    • It makes victory wholly attainable: 62% voted to Remain in 2016, and that figure has almost certainly increased since then;
    • If the 38% Leavers boycotted the referendum, that still wouldn’t be enough to cast doubt on the result.

The clincher, of course, is that if we can run the campaign like we did in 2014 – that is, as a largely straight campaign that engages people with the issues, rather than like the EU referendum, which was based on all sorts of make-you-boak nastiness and lies – then we place anti-indy in a deep cleft stick. The only argument they have for keeping the Union together is that England needs Scotland’s wealth, and that’s the one thing they can never admit. So it looks like our hands are full of aces here.