(Sincere apologies for the lack of online activity: various things going on behind the scenes. No health or legal issues or anything like that.)
The Scottish Conservative party has ditched half its election candidates in an attempt to make itself Scotland’s second-biggest party in parliamentary elections in May.
The makeover sees a new breed of younger, moderate Tories replace many of the party’s longstanding candidates, as it seeks to appeal to voters from the centre ground.
According to allies, Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish conservatives, believes her party can capitalise on (the Other Party)’s leftward shift by positioning itself to appeal to the country’s 2m unionist voters, who opposed independence in the referendum last year.
Funny thing about those “2 million Unionist voters”: it’s balderdash on several levels.
First of all, the idea that there are as many as 2 million “Unionist” Scots based on the referendum is deeply misleading, since it’s clear that not everyone who voted in the referendum was nearly as invested in the future of Scotland or the United Kingdom as the diehards tend to be. It’s thus difficult to justify calling them “unionist” (or to call the 1.6 million Yes voters “nationalists” for that matter: plenty of people who believed in federalism reluctantly realise it’s a busted flush, and went for the guarantee of more powers that comes with independence). But this is based on the assumption that nothing has changed since the referendum.
An election is not a referendum, as we found out in May. 50% of Scots voted for the SNP, the other 50% voting for literally any other party, which resulted in 95% of Scottish seats turning gold. Meanwhile, the Reds ended up with fewer MPs from Scotland than at any time in its electoral history, while the Blues had their lowest vote share in over a century. And since then, the SNP have actually improved on their general election flourish, regularly in the 50%+ range for Holyrood voting intentions (even one absurd poll that gave the Blues a 66% increase on their general election washout in Scotland – and the Purples a preposterous 400% increase – still granted the SNP an otherwise dramatic 41%).
So with the best will in the world, even as the Reds go into freefall, the Blues have a long way to go if they want to end up the official opposition in the Scottish Parliament.
At the moment, the Conservatives have just 15 seats in the Scottish parliament, against 38 for (The Other Party) and the Scottish National party’s 64.
In the 2011 election, 13.91% voted Blue in their constituencies, 12.35% for the regional list. They got a wee bit more in May – but not by much. In any case, the Blues haven’t breached the 20% mark in Holyrood, Westminster or Council elections in 20 years – coincidentally, the last time in the 20th Century they were elected to government – and it doesn’t look like their fortunes will turn around unless something dramatic happens. Their all-time Holyrood record is 16.6% constituency/15.5% list, which resulted in 18 seats. Why are they having such a difficult time?
The Scottish conservatives also plan to limit the number of campaign visits that prime minister David Cameron and other senior Westminster Tories make during the Holyrood election campaign, in an attempt to focus attention away from the party’s English, public-school associations, the Financial Times understands.
… So they’re going after the “2 million Unionist” voters, who voted for the Union, but actively avoiding having the Prime Minister of that Union make too many appearances in Scotland? You’d think those 2 million unionists would be thrilled to have the illustrious Prime Minister deigning to visit little Scotland given his busy schedule, wouldn’t you?
Ms Davidson, a former BBC journalist, became leader in 2011 on a promise to fight against further devolution. The gay, Christian member of the Scottish parliament confounds Conservative stereotypes and uses her frank Twitter account and self-deprecatory sense of humour to bring an informal touch to the leadership.
Since she was elected, the party’s share of popular support has risen, while the growth of the SNP has won over numbers of (The Other Party) voters.
Wait a minute, whit?
Since she was elected, the party’s share of popular support has risen
Since Ms Davidson was elected, the election results for her party in Scotland were as follows:
Technically it’s correct: her party’s share of popular support has risen. It’s just that it’s also fallen – and that “popular support” in this case means “14.9% (2015) is a slightly bigger percentage than 13.9% (2011).”
An Ipsos Mori poll last month put the two parties within the margin of error of each other for the first time, emphasising Labour’s precipitate decline. Labour’s vote share was static while support for the Conservatives has risen 6 percentage points since August to 18 per cent — its best performance for many years.Mark Diffley, Ipsos Mori Scotland director, said the Scottish Tories are “now seriously challenging (the Other Party) as the main challenger to the SNP”.
The problem is that Ipsos Mori’s 18% refers to constituency results, and they only make up half the picture. Of the 15 Blue seats in the Scottish parliament, only 3 are constituency seats: the other 12 are regional. The Red party also have more list seats: 15 constituency, 22 list. So since both Blue and Red parties have more regional members than constituency, the difference on the regional list is much more important to both parties. There, the Reds still enjoy a 3 point lead, and average 6.6 points over the Blues.*
Kezia Dugdale, leader of (the Other Party in Scotland) is trying to reposition her party as a credible but radical alternative to what (the Other Party) paints as an arrogant and unadventurous SNP government. She has benefited from thousands of new members who have joined since Mr Corbyn’s victory in the leadership election in the south.
Ms Dugdale had planned to focus her campaign on a promise to use devolved powers to reverse George Osborne’s tax credit cuts.
The chancellor’s decision to call off the cuts last month means (Other Party in Scotland) must rethink its election strategy — and removes a major problem for Ms Davidson.
Which just leaves 98 other major problems for Ms Davidson, along with “how can we convince people to vote for us when most of the country despises our cabinet?”
The Conservatives are also hoping to capitalise on a series of setbacks for the SNP, including allegations of involvement in dodgy property deals against a high-profile MP. Police are investigating past house purchases involving Michelle Thomson, who until recently was the party’s business spokesperson at Westminster.
No mention, of course, of recent actual scandals involving MPs from a certain other party – like a young man allegedly being driven to suicide by bullies within the party, another MP who invented a death threat from one of her own constituents, and an MP who “championed greater transparency” being investigated on expenses irregularities… and this is just the past month. Maybe that’s why the SNP continue to have positive approval ratings after 8 years in government, while Ms Davidson’s manages to be hated because 35% of the vote is enough for an overall majority.
But let’s go back to those “2 million unionists” the Financial Times, Ms Davidson and her party pals seem to think exist. You would think that if there were indeed such a vast number of potential Blue voters, the 2015 election result would reflect that, with some 44.7% of Scots voting for the SNP (because, as ever, the media likes to pretend absolutely no other pro-independence parties exist in Scotland), and 55.3% voting for some hue of Unionist party.
So let’s see how that stacks up.
2014 Independence Referendum official turnout: 3,619,915
Official Yes count: 1,617,989 (44.7&)
Official No count: 2,001,926 (55.3%)
2015 UK General Election official turnout in Scotland: 2,910,465
Votes for pro-independence parties: 1,494,536 (51.4%) (1,454,436 SNP, 39,205 Greens, 895 SSP)
Votes for pro-Union parties: 1,408,286 (48.4%) (707,147 Red, 434,097 Blue, 219,675 Orange, 47,078 Purple, 289 National Front)
So if there are really “2 million Unionists” in Scotland, then only 70% of them turned out in the General Election: in comparison, 92.4% of the “1.6 million Nationalists” went on to vote in that same election – and resulted in an outright majority for the pro-independence side. Indeed, the SNP alone received more votes and a greater percentage than all the other unionist parties combined (1,454,436 or 50%, compared to 1,408,286 or 48.4% – 1,360,919 or 46.8% if you include only the parties who are represented by MPs at Westminster). Why has this happened?
An interesting comment below the line from one Hari Seldon (rather ironic handle choice given the great flaw of Seldon’s psychohistoric predictions was the inability to predict powerful individuals’ effect on social trends) suggests a possibility:
Good. I think it will work. This is one nation, only right the governing party tries to appeal to the sane people of Scotland who although the majority are reeling against the loudmouth bully boys from the Nationalist camp.
Despite the clear and obvious dichotomy of the question “should Scotland be an independent country,” there is a great breadth of nuance and opinion on the constitutional question beyond it. Some want more powers, other to have powers taken away; some want the UK to become more federal, others want Holyrood abolished altogether; some think Scotland should remain a country in the UK, others seem to want it to become little more than a region of One Nation Britain. On the pro-independence side, there are still more nuances: many wish to remain in the EU (which you’d think would make them “unionists” according to the FT), others want out, while nearly half of SNP members voted against the current policy to remain part of NATO.
This is part of an unfortunate malady that affects both sides of the debate – that those who voted in the referendum for either side are as dedicated and devout as most people who actually go out and campaign tend to be. Hence how many independence supporters believe that once you decide to vote Yes, there is no turning back, while I’m sure plenty of No campaigners think that every single person who voted No is as staunch a unionist as they. Yet the reality is, as ever, complicated by those who are undecided on the question, and to very different degrees:
Which of these statements is closest to your view?
– I would never vote for independence under any circumstances: 30%
– I’m not convinced by the case for it, but I’m not opposed to it on principle: 28%
– Scotland should definitely be an independent country: 41%
The official result in the wee hours of the 19th September was 55.3% to 44.7%. Polls since then have only tightened the gap, with several even showing a Yes lead. Yet if we go by the logic where there are still 2 million “Unionists” 14 months on, as if nothing had changed, then we could presumably apply these numbers to the referendum, right? To do so paints a bleak picture indeed for the diehard unionists – for it means that a far greater percentage of Yes voters are committed to independence than No voters are to the Union.
Here’s a decidedly unscientific thought experiment. 3,619,915 valid votes were counted in the referendum: 1,617,989 for Yes, 2,001,926 for No. What would happen if we apply the percentages from Wings’ poll to the official result?
– I would never vote for independence under any circumstances: around 1,085,974
– I’m not convinced by the case for it, but I’m not opposed to it on principle: around 1,013,576
– Scotland should definitely be an independent country: around 1,484,165
(Obviously we can add or subtract a few thousand here and there accounting for a 3% margin of error: again, I stress this is only a thought experiment. I’m no James Kelly.)
Furthermore, can we suppose where the 28% of “unconvinced but not opposed” decided to vote? 44.7-41=3.7 and 55.3-30= 25.3, so that means the 28% unconvinced/unopposed block became 3.7% added to the 41% “definitely” (around 133,824) and 25.3% added to the 30% “never” (around 915,952). In other words, 13.4% of unconvinced/unopposed voted Yes, and 86.8% of unconvinced/unopposed voted No.
Therefore, if we make the assumption – as the Financial Times and others do – that little to nothing has changed since the referendum, and we can apply these percentages to the referendum turnout, then 91.7% of those who voted Yes think “Scotland should definitely be an independent country”… but only 54.2% of those who voted No think “I would never vote for independence under any circumstances.”
91.7% of 1,617,989 = 1,483,695
54.2% of 2,001,926 = 1,085,043
Only a difference of 470 and 931 respectively from the Wings calculations, well within the margin of error.
(As an aside, this dovetails with the Ashcroft poll which showed 47% of No voters specifically stated their primary reason for voting No as “the risks of independence looked too great,” compared to with 52% combined for “A No vote would still mean extra powers for the Scottish Parliament” and “a strong attachment to the UK and its shared history, culture and traditions.” On the other hand, only 10% of Yes voters stated “no more Tory governments” as their main reason for a Yes vote compared to “the principle that all decisions about Scotland should be taken in Scotland” and “that on balance Scotland’s future looked brighter as an independent country.” It would be foolish to presume direct correlation, but I think it’s interesting to note all the same.)
One last experiment: suppose we strip out the middle-of-the-road voters altogether, and made it so only the 71% (or around 2,568,738 of the 3,619,915) who were completely and utterly dedicated to either independence or the Union could vote. Only Bravehearts and Proud Scots But allowed: if you don’t know, stay at home. How could the vote have gone?
Yes = 57.8%
No = 42.23%
This explains so much about the aftermath of the referendum: because while the official vote went the Unionists’ way, there was no elation or joy sweeping the nation at this surely conclusive and decisive vote in favour of Scotland’s place in the union. No happy parties in the streets waving their union flags, no rallies celebrating the defeat of the SNP, no real sense of triumph or consensus or even definition. Only in the political chambers and the popular press do we see the peals of victory. How could 2 million people outvoting 1.6 million result in such a cataclysmic downer? It’s because barely half those who voted for the Union passionately believed in their cause – but nearly everyone who voted for independence passionately believed in theirs.
This is why the “winning” side in the referendum is falling to pieces. This is why the media and establishment seem more obsessed about when the next referendum will be than the SNP. This is why there’s a strange dissonance between those who demand the referendum be “once in a lifetime” yet demand the SNP announce their plans for the next one. When the dice was cast on the 18th of September last year, the official result went to the Unionists because almost 9 out of every 10 of voters neither convinced by, nor opposed to, independence chose to heed the media, the UK parties, the big businesses, the celebrities, and the mendacious pseudologues of Better Together, rather than follow the road of hope and self-determination in the face of such colossal opposition – a direction of travel which nonetheless saw a 30 point lead shrink to a 10 point one through the campaign.
The Unionists worry – rightly – whether they could have such luck next time. But it means as things stand now, the Union relies on the neutral voters far more than pro-independence supporters do. The diehard unionists needed to convince 75% of voters “not opposed on principle” to vote No just to get over the 50% mark: independence supporters needed only 10%.
– Core Yes support 41%; + 10 to get to 51%; maximum possible Yes vote 70%
– Core No support 30%; +21 to get to 51%; maximum possible No vote 59%
And that’s assuming the numbers remain static. Even with trust in media continuing to dwindle. Even with the SNP tide still cresting as the other parties collapse around them. Even as the pro-independence younger generations become more politically engaged than their elders. Even as the Westminster government ignores the mandate of the Scottish people time and time again.
The next roll of the dice may be snake eyes for the United Kingdom.
*I really don’t want to look back on this post in 6 months’ time and lament about how badly I got things wrong, especially with Kickboxing Tank Commander Ruth as leader of the opposition…