The EVEL Alex Massie

Alex Massie (http://blogs.new.spectator.co.uk/2015/10/the-snps-attitude-to-english-votes-for-english-laws-is-as-hypocritical-as-it-is-tedious/) titles his most recent piece for the Speccy “The SNP’s attitude to English votes for English laws is as hypocritical as it is tedious” There are many aspects to this argument about EVEL, but one that I really don’t think has any traction whatsoever, is that those of Massie’s opinion find a critical attitude toward EVEL to be “tedious“. I dare say they would be very happy if we just gave up and went away, but Alex, that is not going to happen.

There is though a more important point here. Last time round the Unionists “owned” not just the debate – for instance while every nuance of independence was subjected to forensic investigation up to and including exaggeration and sometimes downright lies, the proposition that we stay in the Union was not subjected to the same attention – but also its vocabulary. Thus anyone supporting a Yes a vote was a “separatist” with the connotations that this brings. Massie’s contention, that the independence movement’s reaction to EVEL is “tedious“, reflects a similarly privileged claim.

Just over 50 years ago in “The Two Faces of Power.” (American Political Science Review, Volume 56, Issue 4 (Dec., 1962), 947-952.) Peter Bachrach
and Morton S. Baratz pointed out that power could be exercised by one party (A) over other parties (B) by preventing a decision from being taken. This is one current strategy of the Unionist side to manage the claim for Scottish independence. It has a number of forms, including arguments focusing on the “once in a generation” statement in the Edinburgh Agreement, as well as statements by Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon before the referendum vote that this was a “once in a lifetime opportunity“. The “settled will of the Scottish people” is another instance. Encouragement to govern Scotland, implying that taking forward independence is such a distraction that government suffers, is another. But so too is the somewhat patrician “oh dear, do you people have to keep banging on about independence. Can you not find something else to talk about?”. Massie’s use of “tedious” here is one example of that tactic.

It is therefore important to remember that in saying this Massie is making a strong claim to privilege in the ongoing independence debate, and it is important that he is challenged. Of course, we will be told that it’s just a joke, don’t we have sense of humour etc. But this is about more than incidental comments. Rather it is an attempt to manage the independence debate, by belittling it and ultimately closing it down, if possible.

But let’s get beyond Massie’s personal sensitivities. First of all, he is careful to ignore the fact that any supporter of independence (certainly that I know) has any in principle problem about England – or the rest of the UK – making its own decisions about its own affairs. Hence some of the quotes he attributes to Pete Wishart such as ““The voters of Perthshire could not care less about policing in Peckham or Plymouth”. However, if we accept that the limit of my freedom is when it impinges on that of others, the difficulty with EVEL as implemented, becomes clear for there are many decisions taken about England in Westminster which impinge on Scotland. For instance, spending decisions in England on matters devolved to Scotland have consequences for the resources available in Scotland. What can appear to be an English only matter, which should be determined by English MPs, can have important implications for Scotland.

If, in contrast, the UK was a federal state – particularly with federal parliaments which contributed TO the national Parliament rather than being funded BY the national Parliament – so that England had its own Parliament like Holyrood then many of these difficulties would disappear, for how much or how little was spent on policing in Plymouth would have no consequences for Perth. However, that is not what has been done to Standing Orders. There is no English Parliament, other than Westminster, which bears no resemblance to a federal model. Instead there are 650 MPs, some of whom can vote on everything, but – depending on decisions by the Speaker – some who can only vote on some matters, but are excluded from full consideration of others.

Massie uses the mooted new runway at Heathrow or Gatwick as a practical instance, protesting that this decision COULD be certified English only, but, on the other hand it might not. He considers English only certification improbable since, as he correctly points out ” airport capacity is a pan-UK issue“. But another runway at Heathrow or Gatwick is not about airport capacity, and certainly not a pan-UK issue, if you are a Tory MP in a marginal seat in the south east, with even any proximity to either airport. This is an issue that might determine whether or not you keep your seat in 2020. It is almost impossible to deny that local issues wont loom very large indeed if a decision to build another runway is taken. Is there not a motivation for Tory MPs to seek to take out Scots MPs? After all, they might vote in their own interests, and support building another runway so as to, for instance, limit the time spent “parked” above London waiting for a landing slot, especially if you are on an early morning flight.
However, Massie considers EVEL to be “a question of perception” and indeed in many respects it is. But, the reality underlying that is that there are now two classes of MPs – those from Scotland (and occasionally from Wales and NI) who can vote on some matters, and those MPs from English constituencies who can vote for them all. The difficulty for those who adopt Massie’s position is that it is this reality which the electorate will perceive. From an English perspective this was always the idea. It was why Cameron came rushing out his front door at eight o’clock in the morning on 19th September last year, to reassure the English electorate that their interests were not going to be rolled over by Scotland. But, at this point Massie would do well to contemplate Owen Thomson’s question, that if EVEL means only English MPs can vote on English matters, then why should it not be that Scottish MPs alone should be able to vote on the current Scotland Bill?
The fact is that even if EVEL is never ever used, that it has created two classes of MPs, and that Mr Massie is not a matter of perception. It is just a fact.

Is Scottish football being short-changed by TV?

In this morning’s Daily Mail, Neil Doncaster expresses his unhappiness with the TV contract the SPFL have with the BBC (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3273253/SPFL-chief-Neil-Doncaster-calls-BBC-pay-Scottish-coverage.html)

Speaking as the SPFL announced a six-figure sponsorship deal for the League Cup with the energy company Utilita on Wednesday, Doncaster reaffirmed that the overwhelming view from within Hampden was that the national broadcaster was selling the Scottish game short.”

The value of the present contract sees the BBC pay the SPFL one million pounds per season for the thirty minutes Sunday highlights show, Sportscene. As is pointed out in the article, the BBC currently pay £68 million for Match of the Day on Saturday and Sunday (Match of the Day 2), as well as the online show Match of the Day 3. So there is a great more content involved – two hours and fifteen minutes against thirty minutes.

But leaving that to one side, the fact is that the BBC does put a great deal more into English football than it does for our own game in Scotland. In that respect, the complaints made by Doncaster, and his chairman Ralph Topping, do have some traction. For instance, if we assume that the BBC pays £70 million per year for broadcasting league football – £68 million in England, £1 million in Scotland and £1 million between Wales and Northern Ireland – then on a per capita population basis, Scottish football’s ‘share’ ‘should be’ £5.8 million (8.3% of £70 million). Clearly £1 million is a good deal short of that.

Moreover, if we look at TV spend elsewhere, Scottish football is not well served. There is little point in comparing Scottish football to England, for the latter is more like Marks and Spencer compared to our own corner shop. However, we might make meaningful comparison with other “small” countries. For instance, the TV deal in Denmark – which has only about 45% of Scotland’s match attendance – is worth 45 million euros. The population of Denmark is comparable to our own (5.6 million to our own 5.3 million), yet at present exchange rates their TV deal for football is worth £33 million. You can just imagine the smile that this would put on Neil Doncaster’s face if the BBC came up with that figure.

In fact, if we look at pretty much any “small” country in Europe – Belgium, Switzerland, Norway, Greece, Austria and Poland – Scottish football fares less well financially than any of these.

However, Neil’s warlike noises seem doomed to failure, since, notwithstanding that the BBC is so skint that it is reportedly giving up its franchise for “The Voice” (forecast to go over to ITV in due course), the BBC has already been pretty clear about where it stands on this matter. In a report in May this year, headlined “Scottish football doesn’t deserve more cash, insists BBC supremo Barbara Slater” (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3082609/Scottish-football-doesn-t-deserve-cash-insists-BBC-supremo-Barbara-Slater.html?ITO=1490&ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitterfeed) Ms Slater, BBC’s Director Sport, is quoted as saying “the ‘inequality’ was a price worth paying to retain highlights of England’s more lucrative Premier League.” Or put another way, that she wasn’t going to pay more for Scottish football as it might mean losing the Premiership.

I actually have a great deal of sympathy for Ms Slater on this point. TV after all is a “bums on seats” industry, and more seats will have bums on them for Manchester United playing Liverpool than for Inverness playing Kilmarnock. That is the sort of calculation that she has to make.

But the population share argument, and in particular the comparisons with other, even small, European countries misses an important point. All the European countries we considered are independent with their own independent national broadcaster. The Danish example quoted above reflects the support of Danish TV for its football. Scottish football lacks that quality, for its national broadcaster is a national broadcaster for the UK, and thus has to make its decisions based on UK criteria. As Slater contends in the latter Mail report, Match of the Day is an important programme for the BBC, showing highlights of the Premiership, which has become a global brand. It is that which is competing for TV cash with the SPFL.

Doncaster, asked if he would lean on politicians, replied “‘Let’s wait and see what happens but there are a number of people interested in this debate who would like to see more investment from BBC Scotland in the game here“. If this were an approach to Scottish politicians in an independent Scotland to lean on its Scottish national broadcaster to put more money into the game, then that could be successful. I fully support Neil Doncaster when he is quoted as saying “There certainly needs to be more investment in the national game” –given the role of money in contemporary football that is axiomatic, though by no means the only matter in ensuring a high quality of Scottish football. But when he goes on to say that this investment should come “from the Scottish national broadcaster” he is dead wrong, for there is no “Scottish national broadcaster”. Scotland is only a region in the UK national broadcaster, the BBC and it’s hard to see the kind of approach implied by this report as being successful, especially with the BBC in its present cost cutting mode. And that Neil, is why when you come to renegotiate the TV deal, you might be lucky to find there is still a million pounds per season on the table, given the financial outlook for the BBC.

But even if that were quite different, on a UK basis Scottish football is sideshow, particularly compared to the Premiership. It is Ms Slater’s role to maximise the TV audience in the UK as a whole. Match of the Day is an enormous draw, and almost certainly puts more “bums on seats” than Sportscene per pound spent. In contrast DR, the Danish national broadcaster, might be expected to have a commitment to the football played in their own country. Leaning on politicians in that sort of context might be successful. However, the BBC have four football leagues which they might support, and must make a commercial decision from the perspective of the UK. And who else, Neil, do you have to negotiate with if not the BBC?

What Neill needs to appreciate is that this isn’t only a football matter. He might want to talk to his chairman about this – “Ex-William Hill Chief Backs Scottish Yes Vote” (http://news.sky.com/story/1313028/ex-william-hill-chief-backs-scottish-yes-vote)

How far can political altruism take you, part 1.

In “The Age of Cult Politics” (in Standpoint), Nick Cohen writes

With Scotland already looking a little too close to a one-party state for comfort” (http://standpointmag.co.uk/screen-october-2015-nick-cohen-scottish-nationalism-jeremy-corbyn-eurosceptism?page=0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C1). The opinion polls for the Holyrood election next year don’t point to a one-party state, but with the SNP’s constituency vote running at an average of 53.5% in the four polls in September, reported on the “What Scotland Thinks” website, as opposed to the 43.6% they were running at on average in the run up to the 2011 election (seven polls in April and May 2011, http://whatscotlandthinks.org/questions/how-would-you-use-your-constituency-vote-in-a-scottish-parliamentelection#table), and the 44% they eventually achieved, it does seem likely that the SNP are likely not just to take the great majority of constituency seats next May, but to add to their number of constituency members. Having won 53 of 73 constituency seats in 2011 (http://ukconstitutionallaw.org/2011/05/09/snp_wins_majorit/), allied to the fact that in May they took 56 out of 59 constituencies, and that if they maintain their current vote forecast by the polls, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that the SNP might well win 70 constituency seats. Their current proportion of Westminster seats is 95%, and 95% of 73 is 69.35. Purely for the purposes of comparison.

Indeed there are reports in the press that high profile SNP MSPs are not using the “insurance” of going on to the Regional List (“Justice Secretary takes back-me-or-sack-me option for 2016” http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/13786606.Justice_Secretary_takes_back_me_or_sack_me_option_for_2016/),. Those who have taken this step include Michael Matheson, Justice Secretary; Fergus Ewing, Energy Minister; Jamie Hepburn, Health Minister; as well as retired Ministers Mike Russell, Linda Fabiani and Bruce Crawford, and backbenchers James Dorman and Sandra White. If any of these fail to be elected by their constituents, they will leave Holyrood. As Tom Gordon notes in the Herald, this is a “mark of growing SNP confidence for May 2016“.

What follows is written on the basis that this confidence is not misplaced, and that the SNP do indeed clean up (or almost so) the constituency seats. In that event focus would shift to the Regional List seats.

The current distribution of seats at Holyood is 73 constituency members, and 56 members from Regional Lists drawn up and nominated by political parties. The purpose of the Regional List members is to make the Scottish election somewhat more proportionate than relying purely on the ‘first past the post’ system used at Westminster, where a government can secure 51% of the seats with only 36% of the vote, as the present Westminster government has done. It might also be argued that the purpose was to prevent any single party achieving a majority on its own. Indeed, in the first two Scottish Parliament elections the government was formed by a coalition of Labour and Liberal Democrats. In 2007, the SNP, as the largest party, formed a minority government, and in 2011 they achieved their own majority, something they look set not only to repeat next year, but perhaps on the basis of constituency seats alone. Holyrood has 129 members, so any party with at least 65 seats will have a majority. If the SNP achieve the 70 constituency seats, suggested above, then on the basis of those alone they would become again the majority governing party.

But what about the Regional Lists? As before, we turned to ‘What Scotland Thinks’ the polls on how people might use their Regional List vote (http://whatscotlandthinks.org/questions/how-would-you-be-likely-to-use-your-regional-vote-in-a-scottish-parliament-elec#table). Using a base of 100,000 (the aggregate number of votes doesn’t matter – what matters is how they are distributed among the parties. If we doubled or halved the aggregate number of votes we still get the same answer) the number of Regional List votes for each party using an average of the four September 2015 polls on What Scotland Thinks gives the following number of votes for each party

Conservative

14200 

Labour

21700 

Liberal Democrat

5500 

SNP

46500 

Green 

7200 

UKIP 

2950 

Others 

1950 

 

100000 

 

This might initially look like good news for the SNP, but in fact it’s not because of the method used to allocate Regional Seats. This uses a method which initially divides the number of constituency seats in a Region by the number of Constituency seats won +1. Thus, if we assume a Region with the modal number of Regional seats – 7 – then the SNP vote of 46,500 would be divided in the first instance by 8 (7 + 1), assuming they won every constituency seat.

Thus in the first round of allocating Regional List seats, the votes taken into account would be

Conservative

14200 

Labour

21700 

Liberal Democrat

5500 

SNP

5812.5 

Green 

7200 

UKIP 

2950 

Others 

1950 

 

The SNP vote has been divided by 8, giving 5812.5, and the largest number of votes remaining for each party is the 21700 for the Labour Party, who would be allocated the first Regional seat. The Labour vote would then be halved for the next round (i.e. divided by 1+1)

Conservative

14200 

Labour

10850 

Liberal Democrat

5500 

SNP

5812.5 

Green 

7200 

UKIP 

2950 

Others 

1950 

 

Therefore the second seat would be allocated to the Conservatives, as their 14200 votes would be the largest number of remaining votes, the Labour Party having had their original number of votes halved. The process would continue till all seven seats are
allocated, and as we can see below

 

Round three 

Round four 

Round five 

Round six 

Round seven 

Conservative

7100 

7100 

7100 

7100 

4733.333 

Labour

10850 

7233.3333 

5425 

5425 

5425 

Liberal Democrat

5500 

5500 

5500 

5500 

5500 

SNP

5812.5 

5812.5 

5812.5 

5812.5 

5812.5

Green 

7200 

7200 

7200 

3600 

3600 

UKIP 

2950 

2950 

2950 

2950 

2950 

Others 

1950 

1950 

1950 

1950 

1950 

As we can see, in round three Labour have the greatest number of adjusted votes, and also in round four. In round five, the Green vote is highest, the Conservative vote in round six and the SNP vote not until round seven.

Thus the allocation of Regional seats in this illustrative region is three Labour, two Conservative and one each for the Greens and the SNP. If we gross this up to national level – 8 regions with 7 Regional seats each – then it would yield

Labour  

24

Conservative

16

SNP

8

Green

8

 

Or proportionately

Labour  

43%

Conservative

28%

SNP

14%

Green

14%

 

I am not going to suggest that this is in any sense a forecast. It is not. There will always be local circumstances, local loyalties to a long-serving member to be taken into account. More importantly there will be change of some sort between now and next May. Will the Liberal Democrats really disappear for instance? All we have done is to explore the arithmetic of how Regional seats would be allocated on the basis of what four estimates in September the year before suggest. All we have shown is that if the SNP were to win the sort of number of constituency seats that has been forecast, then the Unionist parties (Labour and Conservative) would be advantaged on the Regional Lists.

But isn’t this what the Holyrood voting system was supposed to adjust for – that when parties have their support spread thinly over the country, they can still achieve representation from their Regional vote? The difficulty is that this situation has been created by one party – the SNP – winning far more constituency seats than was imagined possible when the voting system was devised. Twenty years ago was it considered unlikely that even Labour would have won 95% of Scotland’s Westminster seats? We are, right now, in an unforeseen contingency, whereby the party that has largest number of Regional List votes (more than Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat combined) gets the smallest number of Regional List seats. Moreover, if we put this in the context of for or against independence – i.e. independence or Unionist – the beneficiaries are the Unionist parties. Is this a situation that independence supporters want to see come about?

Put short, given the relatively small number of Regional list MSPs likely to be won by the SNP, is a Regional List vote for the SNP a wasted vote? This proposition has been made by among others, Kevin Williamson in a tweet on 25th August, arguing that “if you want SNP Govt give them 1st vote. If you want strong pro-Indy opposition 2nd vote better elsewhere“.

The polls tend to suggest that there will indeed be an SNP government on the strength just of the constituency vote. But Williamson is going further than this, arguing that we need to think about how we use our Regional votes, which is supported by the outcome set out above – if 46.5% of the electorate vote SNP for the Regional List then the party will profit only to a limited degree. Our hypothetical arithmetic suggests that they will get 1 seat, while Labour and Conservative – whose combined vote would be less than the SNP– get five of the seven seats. Is that an outcome that supporters of independence want?

So let’s look at what happens to the numbers if we assume that Williamson’s advice is followed, that at least a portion of the SNP support votes SNP for their constituencies, but switches “elsewhere” for the Regional List. Given the presentation of opinion poll data “elsewhere” is likely to be to the Greens.

If we assume that 30% of the SNP Regional List vote switches to Green, then the reallocation of votes from above looks like this.

   

Round one 

Round two 

Round three 

Round four 

Round five 

Round six 

Round seven 

Conservative

14200 

14200 

14200 

14200 

7100 

7100 

7100 

7100 

Labour

21700 

21700 

21700 

10850 

10850 

10850 

7233.333 

7233.333 

Liberal Democrat

5500 

5500 

5500 

5500 

5500 

5500 

5500 

5500 

SNP

30000 

3750 

3750 

3750 

3750 

3750 

3750 

3750 

Green 

23700 

23700 

11850 

11850 

11850 

7900 

7900

5925 

UKIP 

2950 

2950 

2950 

2950 

2950 

2950 

2950 

2950 

Others 

1950 

1950 

1950 

1950 

1950 

1950 

1950 

1950 

The outcome, with a 30% move from SNP to Green for the Regional vote would thus change as below

 

No change 

30% change 

Labour  

3

Conservative

2

SNP

1

Green

1

Thus, the change is relatively minor from the point of view of the wider independence movement (though good for the Greens). Indeed exactly this was pointed out by Stewart Campbell (Wings Over Scotland) in his analysis of this issue (see http://wingsoverscotland.com/ams-for-lazy-people/)

On the other hand, what change there is, is positive for the independence movement, as the following shows more clearly

 

No change 

30% change

Total List seats (no change) 

Total List seats(30% change) 

Percentage of list seats (no change) 

Percentage of list seats (30% change) 

Labour  

3

24 

24 

43% 

43% 

Conservative

2

16 

28% 

14% 

SNP

1

14% 

Green

1

24 

14% 

43% 

Thus representation of the wider independence movement has increased, albeit we might have hoped for more. On the other hand, Stewart Campbell is very critical of the idea that the Green vote could be increased by that sort of margin. He describes that level of switching vote to the Greens as “”basically a completely farcical notion“. Put another way, instead of 71% of Opposition MPs being Unionist, a 30% switch to the Greens would allow them only 57%.

We will return to Campbell’s argument directly, but for now let’s be totally farcical – as he would see it – and look at what happens if 50% of the SNP vote was persuaded to vote otherwise (Green in this instance) on the Regional List. The outcome would look like this:

 

Adjusted Votes

Round one 

Round two 

Round three 

Round four

Round five 

Round six 

Round seven 

Conservative 

14200 

14200 

14200 

14200 

14200 

7100 

7100 

7100 

Labour 

21700 

21700 

21700 

10850 

10850 

10850 

7233.333 

7233.333 

Liberal Democrat 

5500 

5500 

5500 

5500 

5500 

5500 

5500 

5500 

SNP 

23200 

2900 

2900 

2900 

2900 

2900 

2900 

2900 

Green 

30500 

30500 

15250 

15250 

10166.667 

10166.6667 

10166.67 

7625 

UKIP 

2950 

2950 

2950 

2950 

2950 

2950 

2950 

2950 

Others 

1950 

1950 

1950 

1950 

1950 

1950 

1950 

1950 

 

The full implication of this is more apparent if we compare the outcome to “no change”.

 

No change 

50% change 

Total List seats (no change) 

Total List seats (50% change) 

Percentage of list seats (no change) 

Percentage of list seats (50% change) 

Labour  

3

24 

16 

43% 

29% 

Conservative

2

16 

28% 

14% 

SNP

1

14% 

Green

1

32

14% 

57% 

With no change – with the SNP constituency vote following through to its Regional List vote – the opposition would have a majority of MSPs from Unionist parties. If 50% switch then the majority Party in the opposition would be the independence-minded Greens. The Opposition would have only 43% representation from Unionist-minded parties. The opposition might still disagree with an SNP government, but there would be agreement on the need for independence.Therefore, it seems to us that the SNP has a choice to make.

The fact is that with the voting system used at Holyrood elections, if the SNP win even almost all of the constituency seats, they will be at a significant disadvantage when Regional list seats come to be allocated. Remember, in a 7 constituency region, the SNP Regional List vote would be divided by 8 from round 1. The vote of the Unionist parties would each need to be something less than 5% of the vote each before the SNP would have much future on the Regional List.

The question then becomes, what kind of opposition would they rather face? There are differences between the SNP and Green, or RISE, just as there are differences between the SNP and Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems. But the distinction of the former (Green and RISE) is that they too are committed to achieving independence for Scotland. It might also be that their opposition would be more constructive than the opposition we have become used to from the Unionist parties at Holyrood which has often been, simply to point to shortcomings, with no consideration of putting forward an alternative proposition.

In any event, is it clear that, unless the Unionist parties go into a final, terminal meltdown in the next few months, the choice isn’t

  • an SNP government with a majority and a primarily Unionist opposition OR
  • an SNP government with a majority and lots of its own Regional List MSPs,

The latter is not going to happen, it’s not a practical possibility. In fact we might describe the latter as “farcical”. If the practical alternatives are

  • an SNP government facing an opposition with a majority of independence-minded parties, or
  • an opposition dominated by Unionists,

is the former not a more attractive option?

What’s wrong with Scotland

If you are reading this expecting some blinding insights into why, yet again, Scotland have failed to qualify for the final stages of a competition, then sorry to let you down, but you will have to look elsewhere for answers. This is just a few thoughts on where we might start to look for questions, for unless we start asking the right questions – and in more detail than “why have we failed again to qualify?” – we will never come up with the right answers.

However, this is a particularly apt time to start to look for the “right” questions, as surely now the SFA must be shamed into a genuine root and branch change and reform to the game. If they cannot be shamed by being the only “home” country in the UK to qualify then they must not only have a brass neck but be utterly without shame. As well as England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland might go with them, if they can negotiate a play-off.

The most likely focus, particularly after taking six off Gibralter (slightly more than their average of 5.4 goals per game) on where we are going wrong is likely to be initially at least on Thursday’s game with Poland, which with seconds to go, and winning 2-1, we managed to blow it again, ending up drawing 2-2 (though we have form in this respect, as in 1965 with five minutes to go and one goal up, we managed to lose 2-1 to Poland at Hampden). Complaints will no doubt be made about the selection, the formation, etc, but the fact is that in this campaign we have arguably done OK in playing the “big countries”. We have a better head to head with the Republic, having drawn in Dublin after winning in Glasgow. If the ref hadn’t played four minutes (where did he get four minutes from by the way?) we would have had a better head to head against the Poles, since we drew with them in Poland. Whilst it can be said with justice that we gave a good account of ourselves against Germany – who are, after all, only the World Champions – we lost both games. This is in contrast to the Poles and the Republic who both beat them at home.

But the real damage was done against one of the two “minnows”, Georgia, who only won three games – both their games against Gibraltar, and their home game with us. In fact if we had won that game, it would have put us level on points with the Republic and looking at a play-off spot as our head to head to them was in our favour.

Ifs and buts though are Scotland’s stock-in-trade. What is more important is that in every attempt to qualify since 2002 we haven’t even got out of the qualifying group (in 2000 we did get out the qualifying group, but lost in a play-off to England). That is eight attempts. We might not be lucky, but THAT unlucky?

Another argument is that we have been unlucky in the countries whose groups we get drawn into. It does have to be said that Germany, Poland and the Republic, with no more than three to qualify is never going to be easy. Look at Wales. OK they drew Belgium, but also Israel, Cyprus, Bosnia and Andorra. Northern Ireland had to cope with the majesty of Romania, Hungary, Faroe Islands, Finland and Greece (whose national team seems to have about as many misfortunes as their government). Why don’t we get it that easy?

Well one reason is that if you don’t qualify, with seeded groups, you drop down the seedings and you have to be lucky to get a notionally better team that is on the slide. So the two – our inability to qualify and drawing good teams – tend to go together. And can we really say we have been unlucky eight times on the bounce?

In the 1970s – 1990s it didn’t matter, as we qualified more often than we didn’t, at least for the World Cup. That also rather undermines the “generational argument” – that, particularly as a small nation, we will often not have strength in depth in the way a larger country will have. England can draw on something like 50 million people while we have about 10% of that. But 40 years ago, that didn’t matter – we kept qualifying (though we were always home before the postcards!, but at least we got there).

If we look at the team that started last night, there are six playing in the English Premiership, though none for any of the really top teams playing in the Champions League. Of the 25 players used in qualifying, 10 of them play in the Premiership, but that is no worse than the regular Welsh squad as half of them don’t play in the Premiership either, though one of their squad does play for Real Madrid. The rest are playing in the Championship or even the SPL. Meantime in Northern Ireland, some 18 of the 27 players they have used in qualifying, don’t play in the Premiership – indeed seven of them play in Scotland. We might not have the superstars of the English Premiership that England can call upon (Hart, Rooney etc), but our players are playing at a level similar to most of the Welsh and Northern Ireland teams, which both qualified.

So if it’s not poor players (as measured by how many of your squad play in the English Premiership), or how often we have to use the “that’s a hard group” excuse, then what is the problem?

As mentioned, surely the SFA will be so utterly shamed by the fact that every single Home Nation has qualified for these European Championships except us that they will treat this as a crisis. You can bet your life the press pack will be making noises of that type over the next few days and weeks (though the wagons seem to be circling for Gordon Strachan from players and managers/ former managers). In that respect, it seems to me that we are in a simlar position as Germany were in 2000 and 2004, when they had – in their terms –disastrous European Championships, failing at the second group stage both times. In 2004, as Raphael Honigstein puts it in Das Reboot, “To call Hitzfeld’s decision [not to take the job offered to him to become Germany’s coach, following Rudi Voller’s resignation after the defeat by the Czechs] a surprise didn’t begin to get close to the cataclysmic effect it had on a footballing nation that lay curled up on the floor after the second traumatic group stage fiasco in as many European Championships” (Raphael Honigstein “Das Reboot”, pp. 13-14).

Honigstein relates the appointment of Jurgen Klinsmann as coach of the German national team in 2004, and the changes he put in place during his time in charge, and then the subsequent progression of these ideas by Jogi Low, who had initially been his assistant but took over when Klinsmann resigned two years later, culminating in 2014 by Germany being the first non-South American team to win the World Cup in South America.

From the perspective of Business Theory – and in particular Strategic Management – none of Klinsmann’s ideas were dazzlingly original. Writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, prior to his appointment, Klinsmann was scathing not only of the players (Germany didn’t have players who could play at the highest tempo, Philip Lamm apart, lacking players who could go past opponents with the ball); that other countries were playing attacking football while Germany played sideways. More pertinently why were they chasing all manner of high profile coaches without defining the specifications, the skill needs of the job, which is something fairly standard in business practice; that there was a lack of vision – where did they want the national team to be in six to eight years? Again that is not an uncommon business practice. Klinsman called for a ‘revolution’ – the whole training regime needed reform; specialists needed to be brought in, including sport psychologists. There needed to be a ten-year plan with everything “x-rayed down to the youth team“. He concluded “the whole shop needs to be taken apart“.

However the notion of review, setting aims and putting in place plans to achieve those aims is common in business, but when suggested for football it met with opposition. On Klinsmann’s appointment, the Schalke coach, Rudi Assauer, said “Klinsmann has never coached. Bierhoff [who became the team manager, while Klinsmann was coach] has never coached or managed. Low (Jogi Low, who became assistant coach) has experience for sure, but he’s only the assistant. These three are supposed to take German football forward. I find that hard to believe” (quoted in Honigstein, pg 48).

Klinsmann’s ideas were also seen by some as a thinly veiled attack on their own practices. For instance Michael Meier, General Manager at Borussia Dortmund said he would support Klinsmann, “But he has to stop questioning everything” (Honigstein, pg. 48). Thomas Hitzelberger, who played for Aston Villa for a time, writes of being given training programmes by Klinsmann and Low to follow when they returned to their clubs, “Our coaches tried to talk to the club managers; some agreed, some didn’t because they felt it wasn’t the German FA’s business” (Honigstein, pg 99).

An attack on the dominant paradigm – or culture in the Deal & Kennedy “this is the way we do things around here” way – will usually call forth a strong response. In Social Science the paradigm shift to Keynesianism from the 1930s was acrimonious .According to John Kenneth Galbraith, Say’s Law had dominated economic thought prior to Keynes for over a century. Economists who contradicted Say’s Law, which implied that underemployment and underinvestment (coupled with oversaving) were virtually impossible as the price level would adjust to compensate, risked losing their careers. That kind of response to a challenge to the dominant paradigm is something that should be considered normal.

What Klinsmann argued for, and what Scottish football might profit from, at least from the attitude if not the specifics, is his observation that “We have to question all rituals and habits, not just in football. That’s nothing to be afraid of. Reform is not a process that happens in episodes. Reform has to become a permanent state” (Honigstein, pg.57).

What were the outcomes of this footballing-version of permanent revolution? There were several that we should contemplate

  1. The appreciation that football is increasingly not just a physical game, but a mind game. Players have to be able to change formation and system four or five times during a game at almost any level, whether its first team or development squad. This increases, exponentially the mental demands on players as they have to be able to play in several different positions, understand what these differences entail, and have the patience to have their mistakes explained to them in many routine sessions using video analysis. In other words, that football is about more than learning physical skills – kicking, heading, controlling or passing a ball. In an important sense football takes place in the head just as much as on the ground. As Volker Kersting (Mainz 05 Youth Director ) puts it “I always say that the brain is the most important thing a footballer possesses. What doesn’t happen upstairs can’t happen down below at the feet either. You can be technically perfect on the ball but that in itself won’t do at the highest level. You’ll have to go and play Futsal indoors or free style football instead” (Kersting quoted in Honigstein, pg 139).

    Linked to this, the typical German footballer changed. At one time there would maybe be 15% of their youth teams doing their Abitur, which is both a school graduation certificate taken after the full 12 or 13 years of education, and a university entrance exam. In contrast for the wider population 50% would take their Abitur. However, more recently in the German National Youth Teams, the proportion taking their Abitur has reached 70%, and at some Bundeliga Club Academies that number has been as high as 85%. As Honigstein notes “German football has, it seems, become thoroughly middle class” (Honigstein pg. 139).

    The link between these two changes is, I hope, clear, since if the mental demands have increased, then players with the capacity to live with, and profit from, those demands becomes necessary.

  2. The German view of football management up until this time had been that “a theorist … was the opposite of a practitioner” (Ralf Rangnick, quoted in Honigstein, pg 180). Klinsmann, Honigstein argues, “was the most prominent member of the new wave of “Konzpttrainer” ….. who believed in methodology – “the systematic, theoretical analysis of the methods applied to a field of study. It comprises the theoretical analysis of the body of methods and principles associated with a branch of knowledge” (Wikipedia
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methodology), in this case football. Of course, as above there was opposition to this, often on the basis of what was “obvious”, or “accepted practice”. For instance, Rangnick tells of wanting to appoint a Sports Psychologist during his time at Schalke – “they had told me there was no need because they had never had one before. End of conversation” (Ralf Rangnick, quoted in Honigstein, pg 193), pg 193). The most celebrated example of
    Konzpttrainer has been Jurgen Klopp, who in 2012 had achieved the German double of League and Cup, taking his team to the final of the Champions League in 2013, where the lost 1-2 to Bayern Munich. Jan Doehling, a producer at the Mainz-based state television channel ZDF, suggests Klopp’s success, having been an unexceptional player in an often unexceptional Mainz 05 team, and later viewed as the “Harry Potter of German football for his metal rimmed glasses and floppy hair, “opened up people’s eyes to the fact that football management was a vocation that could be learned, that it wasn’t a God-given skill possessed exclusively by former greats on the pitch” (Honigstein, pg 198).

    Klopp, for instance, introduced what he called “Gegenpressing” – winning the ball high up the pitch, so they would not only press the ball to stop opposition attacks, but also continue pressing after their own attack had broken down. This is an application of Rangnick’s observation that

    Football has become a completely different sport over the last ten years. The change has been brutal. The two basic elements – having the ball, not having the ball – are the same but transitions between those two states are nothing like they used to be. The highest probability of scoring a goal is within ten seconds of taking possession. The highest probability of winning the ball back is within eight seconds of losing possession. Think about those two numbers and what they mean. Everything else just follows” (Rangnick quoted in Honigstein, pg 199)

So what does this mean for Scottish football? There are for me a number of fairly obvious conclusions

  1. That football management is a vocation that can be learned, and that football managers don’t always need to be former players, though they do need the necessary preparation, experience and learning, but in particular a critical attitude to the techniques, processes and thinking they apply in their work.
  2. That Scottish football needs to become more cerebral. As we have seen the proportion of youth players in Germany doing their University entrance exam is higher than for the population as a whole. This is not to suggest that IQ has become more important than skill, but if cognitive skills are becoming more important than before then Scottish football needs to do what it can to ensure that boys with the necessary physical and skill attributes, but also the necessary cognitive abilities are not lost to the game. But perhaps the most important lesson from German football, is that “Football is always changing and we have to make sure we change with it” (Kersting, quoted in Honigstein, pg 150). Will Scottish football do this? Well the signs haven’t been good. A report about Henry McLeish and the fate of his 2010 review of Scottish football , as well as his views on more recent developments, begins “Evolution happens at a glacial pace in Scottish football” (http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/13209209.Henry_McLeish_on_football__fans_and_the_future___I_love_the_game_with_a_passion_but_we_need_to_do_more_/)

    None of this, though, should be seen as specific criticism of Gordon Strachan, who has to work with the players and the context of Scottish football as he finds it. Moreover while we need to do what we can to address our recent history of failure, at the same time we need to accept the limitations of the players we have today, while doing everything possible to ensure that those who come after have transcended as many of these restrictions as possible.

    The recent history of German football is not encouraging in that introducing the necessary practices was the subject of opposition from within the game. It is heartening though in that changes have been implemented there, and the success achieved by the Germans is a very strong encouragement to a similar attitude being introduced to Scottish football.

    While we might not win the World Cup, it would be taking our game forward for its leading coaches and managers to have a critical methodology so that their methods are considered provisional and always subject to revision and replacement.

     

A rejoinder to Gerry Hassan

Michelle Thomson’s business dealings have been THE source of public comment and debate this week. Unionist newspapers, commentators and politicians have denied themselves nothing in their statements on the issue of her guilt. But there have also been wider issues of what the business dealings of a single politician can tell us about an entire political party, even the largest political party in Scotland. Is Thomson the first indication of a big fall?

It would be naïve not to expect such as Euan McColm, Tom Gordon or Magnus Gardham to take advantage just now. It’s what they do. However, on Sunday I was shocked and dismayed to find an article in the Sunday Mail (http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/politics/gerry-hassan-maybe-just-maybe-6567646), as well as on his own website (http://www.gerryhassan.com/blog/nationalism-alone-is-not-enough-as-the-snp-finally-shows-it-is-mortal/#more-3766) written by Gerry Hassan, someone whose work I have admired, who I have had the pleasure of meeting once, and has now not only joined my old trade as an academic but at my former institution, the University of the West of Scotland, as a Research Fellow (http://www.uws.ac.uk/staff-profiles/cci/gerry-hassan/). Given the last of these, I would have expected Dr Hassan to have understood the importance of having evidence to underpin your argument, rather than just making assertions or casting innuendo. Even if the purpose is character assassination, a weapon is still required. In the respects that follow, to my considerable regret (if you are reading this Gerry, more in sorrow than anything else), he fails this fairly basic test for an academic.

  1. First of all, Hassan repeats the charge that Culture Secretary Fiona Hsylop, not only gave £150,000 to the company running ‘T in the Park’, but to a company which, shock horror, made £4.5 million of profit in recent years. Can Dr Hassan tell us what the problem is here? He might want to begin by telling us how much money is paid by government to private companies who are making a loss? Would he personally recommend spending government money on a company which might well close? Frankly I don’t know how much money is spent like that (though I hope it’s not much), but one estimate of what is paid annually in the UK, by government at all levels, to private enterprises – sometimes known as “corporate welfare” – is that it’s worth no less than £93 billion per year (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/07/corporate-welfare-a-93bn-handshake). As the Guardian points out, that is £3500 per household in the UK per year.

    There is, of course, a whole wider debate about corporate welfare that we need to have – probably on a global level – but the payment to ‘T in the Park’ is a small drop in a very large ocean (a “storm in a teacup” perhaps?). Yet Hassan can condemn the Scottish Government with “The money was given despite the promoters, DF Concerts, consistently making more than £4.5million in pre-tax profits in recent years“, when the fact is that they did nothing that government in the UK does not do most hours of most days. It’s what happens, it is what is normal, Gerry! You might want to argue that it should not. I have some sympathy with that view. But why, I wonder, pick on that particular payment?

    Let’s be clear too that for ‘T in the Park’, moving their usual site of many years at Balado was not voluntary. It was caused by health and safety fears about an oil pipeline running underneath the site. The switch to Strathallan meant an environmental impact study, aa well as a full planning application to Perth & Kinross Council (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-29155918) – these obligations becoming necessary only after tickets for the following year’s festival had gone on sale, and each would create a substantial cost not caused by any decision of the company.

    I won’t pretend to know what Gerry Hassan’s reaction might have been had the company responsible decided to say “sod it” and taken a very successful event and major contributor to Scottish tourism, off to say, somewhere in the north of England. I can though quite easily imagine the humbug expressed by such as Kezia Dugdale and Jackie Baillie, that such a thing had been allowed to happen, and for what? A “mere” £150,000? Barely even one peanut in relation to government corporate welfare spending as a whole. Cue “SNP bad”.

    Hassan further suggests in relation to this matter that “Many nationalists show a blind side to these allegations. They are only allegations of wrongdoing, they say, and it is all part of a unionist and media conspiracy“. But that really misses the point. What wrongdoing has there been? Payments by government to private enterprise – even profitable ones – is not wrongdoing, but, as above the norm. The allegations about payment are baseless, and indeed simply reflect normal practice.

    However here, Gerry seems to assume that we know all about Jennifer Dempsie – the former SNP SPAD – who was claimed to have facilitated the payment of the £150,000. But as Derek Bateman points out in his blog (http://derekbateman.co.uk/2015/10/01/holy-jackies-prayer/)

    yet here too the Holy Willie prosecution continues through sly implication. First it is cronyism which allows a former adviser ‘special access’ to ministers – no evidence. Then it’s the arrangement of a meeting – which she didn’t attend. Next she secures a grant – negotiated by the company boss in her absence. Lastly, the award was unjustified as the company made a profit – a new criterion for the award of public funds. The Reality – a dirty wee game to smear people by implication

    That last point, of course takes us right back to the claims made by Hassan in his Sunday Mail article, and it is saddening to see him involving himself in “a dirty wee game to smear people by implication”. An argument which, as Bateman shows, has little or no supporting evidence beyond some “wink, wink, know what I mean” contentions concerning Dempsie’s connections, having worked as a SPAD. But evidence that anyone had contravened even a Ministerial Code of Practice (for there would have been a referral to the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards if there had been – we can be totally sure of that), far less criminal law, was there none. We might have hoped for better from Gerry Hassan

  2. Next Dr Hassan tells us “Now the SNP are the rising force in the land. Their dominance isn’t quite yet at the proportions of Labour’s inter-generational, incestuous politics, but it isn’t looking great after eight years in office.” You bet it lacks the proportions of “Labour’s inter-generational, incestuous politics”. Try having a look at Iain Dale’s list of the “Top 50 Labour Sleaze Scandals” (http://iaindale.blogspot.co.uk/2006/04/top-50-or-so-labour-sleaze-scandals.html) for between 1997 and April 2006 (when Blair demitted office) – some 30 of these involve either the Labour Party in Scotland directly, or Scottish politicians at Westminster at the time. “Whataboutery” isn’t an attractive counter-argument, but to draw the comparison that Hassan does in that quote – and the purpose I suspect is served by the “isn’t quite yet” beggars belief – is rather like comparing a pimple to a body covered in puss-filled boils. It would be utterly unacceptable for the SNP to get anywhere even remotely close to the levels of cronyism practiced in the Labour Party, but the implication of what Hassan writes is that it is certainly possible, and indeed they are on the slippery slope. On the basis of what? A relatively small grant for which there is no evidence of wrongdoing, and the business affairs, prior to being elected, of a single MP, for which there is no evidence of criminality at the time of writing (not that it has held back the school of thought which Gerry Hassan seems to have joined)?

    Hassan suggests that “Some of us don’t want to pass seamlessly from one version of one-party dominance to another“. I would respectfully disagree with that contention. I would say the vast majority of us don’t want to pass seamlessly … etc. But some hard evidence that this is happening is surely a prerequisite for that claim, and much more is needed beyond the involvement of a former SPAD in £150k to a music festival and unproven assertions about the business dealings of an MP before she was elected, or indeed even nominated.

  3. Then Hassan enjoins the SNP to realise “that there is a need for proper opposition and scrutiny.” Once again, I can only agree, but how much is it the fault of the SNP that they don’t face a “proper opposition”? Kezia Dugdale at First Minister Questions last week chose to focus on the issue of Michelle Thomson, who is of course a Westminster MP having nothing to do with business at Holyrood. Too often First Minister Questions are dominated by criticism which is wholly negative – “you’re not doing this well enough”, “you are not achieving this target you set yourself”, but reference to alternative courses of action, a critical perspective that would make things work better – of that, too often there is nothing at all. As Stewart Campbell presciently observed at Wings Over Scotland, referring to the argument of Katie Grant that “Scotland is a One Party State” (http://wingsoverscotland.com/counting-to-one/),

    Grant’s real complaint appears to be that the opposition in Holyrood is broken, inept and ineffectual, which is a true enough observation but one difficult to blame on the SNP. And it’s also, of course, equally true of Westminster, where other than the SNP David Cameron is faced by parties either stricken by catastrophic internal turmoil or reduced to a pitiful, embarrassing, irrelevant rump fit only for mockery

    Much the same could be said of Hassan’s argument. Indeed we would all welcome a “proper opposition” and “proper ….scrutiny” very much indeed. Maybe even the SNP themselves, for positive scrutiny aimed at enhancing policy and performance, will help them to function at a higher level? It would though have been helpful if Gerry could have advised us when this “proper opposition” can be expected? Is it a Scottish Labour Party which can’t bring itself to mention the word S******d for fear of encouraging “separatism”? Whose new leader in Scotland expressed her misgivings about the new UK leader when his odds on winning were 16/1, even though she recanted when he was 1/16? Who is an unreconstructed Blairite in a party that, in its leader at least, has moved to the left? Will the Tories demonstrate that there is life after electoral death? Will any more be heard from Willie Rennie? Yes, Gerry, we do need a proper opposition, but it’s hardly the SNP who are to blame?

  4. Next we are presented with the truly amazing proposition that “When the former [the SNP] takes a hit it affects the prospect of the latter [independence]”. There is, I would readily accept, merit in this argument, but what hit is it that Hassan refers to? Is it the £150k to T in the Park, and/or Michelle Thomson’s business dealings? The former lacks evidence and in the case of the latter, Thomson has to date been charged with nothing. All that we had left in respect of the former is an insistence by opposition MPs on the Culture Committee that they need “satisfactory and detailed responses to the questions that remain outstanding” (http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/titp-letter-demands-fiona-hyslop-go-before-committee-1-3906408#ixzz3nd4KE8mR), despite the Culture Secretary having answered every question put to her till the Committee members had no more questions to ask. Rather like the referendum campaign, the tactic seems to be to go away and think of more questions after questions have already been answered. Though on this occasion the strategy was frustrated in that the Committee Chairman refused to order Ms Hyslp to appear again.
  5. What follows is some insight into Gerry’s view of independence, as we are told that all of this “doesn’t paint a very attractive, democratic picture of an independent Scotland – one with a dominant party doing what it likes to keep itself in power and reward its supporters“. It’s interesting that despite all the uncertainties about an independent Scotland that Gerry Hassan seems to have the politics of an independent Scotland so well sussed. Impressive, except for several things. First I have lost count of the number of members of the SNP – starting with an MSP and several Councillors as well as “foot soldiers” – who have expressed the view that in an independent Scotland the SNP, as we know it, would have broken up. A moment’s consideration of the fact that both Fergus Ewing and Jim Sillars are both current members of the SNP should suggest this. Secondly, did the Conservative Party not miss a trick, electing Ruth Davidson rather than Murdo Fraser who at least had the right idea of closing down the existing party and starting again as a genuinely Scottish right of centre party? Is it not blindingly obvious that the connection to London, even in a unitary state, is toxic for the Labour Party in Scotland as well? To suggest that politics in an independent Scotland won’t be different from the politics we have now simply ignores the fact that there will be a wholly different context against which these politics will be played out. But of course, Katy Grant-like, it’s easier to impugn independence by suggesting that the SNP will continue to be a dominant force, and by extension that our democracy will be fundamentally flawed for that. Moreover, as above, it’s hardly the fault of the SNP if they have no decent opposition, but to suggest that this will continue in the wholly new context of independence is both lacking in any evidence, and ignores the fundamentally changed context.
  6. Lastly, how will the Holyrood election play out? Gerry’s view is that having achieved an opinion poll support of 62% “there is only one way from such stratospheric ratings – down”. Well that’s not quite true, is it? I expect some people were saying that after the May election, when their poll support was “only” 50%. Or it might stick at 62% which would be still more of a tsunami than last May was. But I suppose you have to nail your colours to the mast, don’t you? What though is not acceptable is what follows, that “Eventually the difference between that 62 per cent and 35 per cent satisfaction at their government record will become a live issue

    The problem is where does the 35% approval rating that Gerry refers to come from? A TNS poll in August suggests a different view:

    It is clear that the those saying the performance of the Scottish Government has been good is a minority, but easily the largest number perceive them to be neither good nor bad, “suggesting a sober and critical analysis by voters” as Stewart Campbell suggests (http://wingsoverscotland.com/running-away-with-it/)

    Moreover, Campbell, having removed all those who say the performance of the Scottish Government has been good (most of whom, fairly obviously intend voting SNP), shows that among those remaining (the “neither good nor poor”s, as well as “the poor”s) the majority still intend to vote SNP, which rather flies in the face of Gerry’s view that voting intention will catch up with the views of voters of the Government’s performance. Even where the view is not fully positive (ie neither good nor poor) the dominant voting intention is SNP. In other words, Gerry there is evidence that people will still vote SNP even if they don’t think they are doing a “good” job. Often neither “good nor poor” will do. That is what the facts say.

    If we turn to “What Scotland Thinks” – John Curtice’s website – there are several questions on perceptions of the performance of the Scottish Government –

  7. “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister?” – 71% are satisfied, 23% dissatisfied (ipsos mori, August 2015). For comparison – also taken from “What Scotland Thinks”, the last Labour First Minister, Jack McConnell, had ratings of 30% and 49% respectively (in 2007 as he demitted office by yougov).
  8. “Do you think that Nicola Sturgeon is doing well or badly as First Minister” – Very well, 33%; fairly well 34%; fairly badly 14%’ very badly 14% (yougov, September 2015)
  9. “How satisfied are you with the Scottish Government’s handling of education?” – Very satisfied, 12%; Somewhat satisfied 34%; Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 25%; Somewhat dissatisfied 12%; Very dissatisfied 9%. (September 2015, Panelbase)
  10. “How satisfied are you with the Scottish Government’s handling of health” – Very satisfied, 14%; Somewhat satisfied 37%; Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 23%; Somewhat dissatisfied 13%; Very dissatisfied 9% (as above)
  11. How satisfied are you with the Scottish Government’s handling of policing?” – Very satisfied, 9%; Somewhat satisfied 23%; Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 36%; Somewhat dissatisfied 21%; Very dissatisfied 16% (as above).

    In short, these polls – taken in the last two months (with the exception of views about McConnell) – suggest a perception of the Scottish Government which might best be described as “critical approval”, which is consistent with findings of a vote next year possibly even higher than that achieved in May, 50%. Certainly, Hassan’s reference to a 35% approval rating is not consistent with any of the above evidence.

    Gerry Hassan, as I wrote at the outset, is someone whose work I have admired. His latest book, “Caledonian Dreaming” has been described by Elaine C Smith (so his website tells me) as “‘an intelligent, brave and much needed contribution to the debate“. Sadly, the article we have just considered is none of these things.