What we might learn in Germany.

Uli Hesse has published today a really interesting article on the changes in German Football since their “failure” in the European Championships in 2000 – “Football: How Germany’s awful Euro 2000 forced a mass restructure – and why it wouldn’t work for England” (https://uk.sports.yahoo.com/news/germanys-awful-euro-2000-forced-091758906.html?utm_content=buffer58776&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer).

As the title says, this “wouldn’t work in England“, but it’s also clear that it would be difficult to make it work in Scotland. However, perhaps we might tease out what needs to be done to make it work in Scotland. What will become clear, I hope, as we work through Hesse’s thoughts, is that as a first step, there needs to be a greater involvement of the community as well as fan ownership of their clubs.

The first “innovation” in Germany, Hesse discusses was the Extended Talent Promotion Programme, based on “52 centres of excellence to school the most promising talents, but also 366 regional coaching bases where 1,300 professional, full-time coaches teach youngsters the basics of the modern game“.

There are two particularly interesting points in relation to Scotland there. First of all, we don’t need anything like that number of centres – Germany has sixteen times our population – an obvious point. BUT Scotland has 42 clubs in the SPFL. Germany – with 16 times the population – has thirty-six teams in their two national leagues, Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2. Should all our clubs have a Centre of Excellence? Should we expect them to? Could they afford it? Is there a need to train so many apprentice players when there won’t be jobs for anything like all of them after their apprenticeship? I think the answer to that is no, and that however much offence it might cause, we need to focus our attention and resources on a smaller number of clubs. If we made it proportionate – and perhaps it should not be – but just to make the point – there would be one sixteenth of fifty-two “centres of excellence”, which comes to three or four (if you round upwardly). However, in Germany these subject the clubs running centres of excellence to defined responsibilities, with known and effective sanctions in the event of back-sliding – “put simply, the clubs were told what to do, on pain of demotion to the amateur game“. I’ll come back to this.

On the same proportionate basis, there would be twenty-three regional coaching bases, with professional coaches. Given the agreements that the SFA has with most local authorities, we will have a few more than that, but not many more. What do they do in Germany? The article tells us there are “full-time coaches [who] teach youngsters the basics of the modern game“. The point I take from that is that these professional, full time coaches are not there to teach the next Scottish superstar – if only we could find him – but to teach kids who want to play, how to play. We can get obsessed with developing talent, and forget that the identification of talent is easier and more effective if there is a larger pool of players. If the pool is smaller and/ or shrinking then the future talented youngster may never play, or give up due to lack of interest.

In fairness my experience of the SFA’s development programmes is that they are aware of this, and that a good deal of effort goes into encouraging just playing the game, irrespective of talent. However, could there be a role for local clubs – even local junior clubs, where no SPFL club operates, or both together? – to become involved and make such centres more attractive to youngsters, to help football compete more effectively with other sports and activities? In other words, if the infrastructure is in place, perhaps we need to innovate to sell the product. Perhaps the involvement – albeit informal – of local clubs and players from these clubs, might make the programmes in place more appealing to youngsters?

Two points come from this

  1. There is a need to maximise the overall pool of players. Perhaps we need to transform football from a game we watch to a game we play.
  2. However, there is a parallel need for the development of the most talented, the next generation of professional players to be focused on a smaller number of centres. On a proportionate basis, Scotland might only have 3 or 4 centres for such development compared to Germany. Even if we had twice as many, that would still be less than we have now. Do we need to train so many young players? The German experience suggests that we would do better by focusing on a smaller number, though perhaps with bridges into the system for the late developer? After all, as the article says, Miroslav Klose was still playing level 5 amateur football at 21.

One aspect where German clubs are like their Scottish counterparts is in their regard for the national team. Hesse argues, “Because for all the lip service they may pay, clubs are the same wherever you go: they couldn’t care less about the national team. They don’t even care very much about nurturing homegrown talent. What they care about is winning the next league game – and if it takes 11 players signed from foreign clubs to do this, then so be it. Of course clubs pride themselves on their youth academies. They know that it’s good PR if you bring up a few local lads through the ranks. They also know that it can save them a lot of transfer money to school their own talents. However, another thing they know is that nobody can guarantee you that star players will come off this assembly line and that even in the best case you need to have the one thing nobody has these days: patience.” That sounds familiar, does it not? So how did the Germans square that circle?

Hesse argues there were three factors – history, money and force.

The first factor, he argues is the closeness of the Football Association (DFB) and their football league (DFL), and in particular “a general understanding in Germany that what is good for the DFB is probably also good for the clubs in the long run, and this includes the fortunes of the national team.”

Does this exist in Scotland? I would have to say, at least in terms of potency, it seems to me that it does not. I am not saying there is no cooperation, but it is limited. Moreover, too often too many clubs base their decisions on what is best for them as an individual club, and not even what is best for the League, never mind the game in Scotland or the national team. In doing so they ignore the fact that football is not an individual product of clubs acting autonomously, but a collective product of them acting together. It is of course inevitable that clubs are primarily concerned about their own future and development, but this is not something to be taken forward independently, but collectively. If the game in general is in trouble, then individual clubs will be in trouble. That part of Scottish football culture has to change, but culture change is often a long term project, though it can be accelerated by a crisis. Perhaps there are unmistakable signs of crisis? Not only the failure to reach the final stages of an international competition for nearly 20 years, but the dearth of players in the national team who are playing in the Premiership?

For instance, nearly half the players who played for France in their Euro 2016 semi-final against Germany, played in the Premiership last season. Only six of the forty-three players (14%) named in the Scotland squad on the BBC website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/teams/scotland) are likely to be playing in the Premiership this coming season. More than half the twenty-three-man Welsh squad on the BBC website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/teams/wales), will be playing in the Premiership next season (or in Bale’s case, the “second prize” of playing for Real Madrid).

The second reason for the transformation in Germany was the lack of money – their pay-to-view broadcaster went out of business. As Hesse says this was “the rough equivalent of BSkyB going bust, without BT being there to pick up the slack.” As a result, German clubs – with the exception of Bayern Munich – could no longer compete their English, Italian and Spanish competitors. They had to rely on young talent. Hesse cites Borussia Dortmund as a particular case in point, as they had paid such little attention to youth development beforehand that they “came close to being thrown out of the Bundesliga”. Dortmund had not only to pay closer attention to development of their own players, but actually to play them.

This is a particularly worrying aspect for Scottish football, since, we have experienced our pay-to-view broadcaster going bust – Setanta. But also, for the last four years one of the two biggest clubs in Scotland has been a sort of internal exile in the leagues below our Premier League, which, we are told has devalued the TV contract. How many young Scottish players have emerged during these difficult years? Or is it not true to say that clubs have tended, as Hesse puts it to “spend money on proven players who have been schooled elsewhere, no matter which national team they are eligible for“? Perhaps not such good players, but at their level, “proven” and perceived as the means to winning? Less risky than bringing through youngsters (which attitude in passing makes having so many apprentices even more a folly).

Lastly – there is “force”, by which Hesse means the rules of the DFL. Hesse points out that “Under the German league rules, clubs are granted a licence for professional football only if they meet certain regulations, most of them having to do with finances. This is the famous annual licencing process, often cited as a major reason for the German clubs’ economic stability”. But added to that was a commitment “to build or maintain a centre of excellence and .. to nurture talent”. This went as far as specifying “how many players eligible for a German national youth team had to be in the squads, how many coaches and physios the club had to employ, in which way the clubs had to interact with local schools and so on and on“. If clubs did not fulfil these requirements on an annual basis (i.e. not one off, but every year) then they would lose their licence and, as we quoted before, suffer “demotion to the amateur game”.

Of course the question here is whether the DFL would really do this? If Bayern Munich were in breach of the rules, would they really be thrust down to the Regional League in Bavaria? It could be strongly argued that some “accommodation” would be put in place. But, let’s turn that round. Would Bayern Munich want to take that chance? Demotion to the Regional League would at the very least be extremely serious, and perhaps even fatal.

But perhaps the most important point is that German clubs regard fulfilling the terms of their licence as a duty, and so such disciplinary action is not needed. It is no more than a backstop, for the clubs regard the terms of their licence as setting out how they should behave. And that is the lesson for Scottish football.

It is hard to imagine the SPFL – or the SFA – disciplining a club in this way. Indeed, it is hard to imagine the clubs agreeing to a licencing regime which they would find overly onerous or contradictory to their essentially individualistic aims.

Part of the difficulty, Hesse argues, comparing Germany to England, is “that it’s difficult to tell someone like Roman Abramovich how to run the company he bought from Ken Bates, or to explain to the Abu Dhabi United Group why they should produce players for the English national team“. For which read Dermot Desmond for Roman Abramovich, or Dave King for the Abu Dhabi United Group.

The lesson we need to draw from this is that many of the problems of Scottish football might be structural, but fundamentally it is a matter of culture. Hesse argues that the difference between England (and I would argue Scotland too) and Germany is that in Germany “clubs are not privately owned and have a long history of being community-oriented and operating for the common good, the situation is very different” Indeed, it is.

In Scotland community ownership is usually the initially favoured option when a club goes into crisis. But more often than not, the fans, having put their hands in their pockets to keep their club going during the difficult times, lose out when another business group comes along. There are of course noble exceptions such as Motherwell, where Les Hutchison is supporting the Well Society to buy the club, as well as Hearts where Anne Budge is in partnership with the Foundation of Hearts. However, even in both these cases, fan ownership is only mooted when a club is in crisis. For a club in private ownership, that has been stable in recent years, fan ownership is not really an issue. Moreover, how can we judge fan ownership as an alternative model when it has been employed only in clubs that have been in crisis?

In conclusion, if fan ownership were the normal model of club ownership, then would Scottish football be better able to introduce at least some of the innovations implemented by the Germans with such success (at least till they lost to France in Euro 2016 – though how pleased would we be to get to the semi-final even if we lost?)?

  1. Would there be a better understanding between the clubs, the SPFL and the SFA? One of the main divisions just now, I would suggest is the essentially individualist orientation of too many clubs. Would this change with fan ownership? There could be no guarantees, but at least change would create the possibility?
  2. Would the lack of money cause clubs to play talented Scottish young players, rather than proven, if limited, professional players from abroad? Again, we could not say. But perhaps a change in ownership might bring with it a change in culture? Fan ownership might engender the community involvement that German clubs seek to foster, and where developing and bringing through talented local youngsters is simply part of that community involvement? At the same time, we need to consider how many young players are given apprenticeships when there is a strictly limited number of jobs for them to move into.
  3. Would fan owned clubs be willing to back the introduction of a strong licencing system, which would create the sort of financial stability that the German clubs typically enjoy, as well as requiring appropriate obligations in regard to the development of young players? Hesse makes clear that much of the reason for German clubs not only introducing, but mostly relatively enthusiastically accepting these innovations, was that their clubs are fan owned, with a high degree of community involvement. If this was paralleled in Scotland then the German experience is that such innovations would at least become more possible – strong licencing, commitments to developing young players, genuine partnership of the clubs, SPFL and SFA for the benefit of the game as a whole.

This time next week

It is interesting that the scenario of the UK voting to leave the EU, while Scotland votes to remain, is now being taken seriously – very seriously – by the UK commentariat. However, there is a frequent flaw in the analysis in that it is unlikely events will do more than partially unfold on 24th June. That day – other than the declaration of the result – is mainly notable for being the Friday before the first of the last 16 matches in the European Football Championships, and the Friday before the start of Wimbledon – so there is the promise of plenty opium for the masses there.

The issue in fact is what happens after the 24th? Will Cameron remain as PM? Highly unlikely, though he may continue till the negotiations with the EU on exit are concluded on the basis that he got us into this mess so he can get us back out. However, Osborne may find himself gone in short order – after all what greater love has a man (in this case, Dave) than to lay down the life of his friend (George) for his own? Then again, the Tory Party is notably intolerant of failure, and it may be decided that Cameron too should go at once, or perhaps, having decided he will be gone by 2020 anyway, he decides it’s not worth it any more – having to negotiate an outcome he campaigned against, with the Brexiteers hot breath on his neck – and resigns.

Who would replace him? Received wisdom says BoJo – the man who has played the King over the Water these last few years – and you can bet your house that he wants the job no matter what he says and will pull out all the stops to get it. However, we have to remember that while Brexit is the favoured option of just over half Tory MPs, it’s not favoured by the other half. A compromise candidate then? Don’t you think Theresa May has been quiet recently? She could be the compromise the Party needs, perhaps with Johnson as “Minister for European Negotiation” – after all she would have a country to run – and Gove as Chancellor, perhaps with Hammond – another one who has been spectacularly quiet given that he is Foreign Secretary – staying on in the Foreign Office?

But however it works out you can bet your life (as well as your house) that the new government will be even more right wing than the present bunch (hard to imagine I know), and it is as this unfolds that indyref 2 becomes a serious option.

The other day, the Independent (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/eu-referendum-vote-leave-leaders-reveal-post-brexit-roadmap-7083816.html) ran a story claiming to reveal the post-Brexit ‘roadmap’, which included the following Bills they would put to the House of Commons

  1. Removing the UK from the authority of the European Court of Justice, so no UK case would ever go beyond the Supreme Court;
  2. A new Immigration Bill, removing the automatic right of EU citizens to come to the UK;
  3. A Finance Bill to remove the 5% VAT on fuel, and according to Grayling, tampons as well;
  4. A Bill to exempt the UK from all UK laws and trade agreements;
  5. Repeal of the European Communities Act, which would mean EU treaties no longer form part of UK law.

I am not going to suggest that the other three are of no relevance, but it is from the last two from which the main consequences would stem. For a start we can kiss goodbye to the backstop of the Social Chapter, so that employment rights can be watered down without end, all in the name of a “flexible labour market” (aka fewer rights for workers). Likewise, many health and safety protections, and even equalities legislation – presumably justified by “less red tape”?

As this bonfire of protections proceeds it seems reasonable to suggest that disenchantment with Westminster will only increase from the disenchantment put in place when England voted to take the UK out of the EU no matter what Scotland thought. In short, it is not Brexit which will provoke indyref 2, it is its consequences, what happens next, that will provoke indyref2.

In his latest opinion piece for the Herald (17/06/2016), Magnus Gardham considers how a vote to leave by the UK, but to remain by Scotland, might lead to indyref 2 (http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14563560.How_Brexit_could_provoke_a_crisis_for_the_UK__even_without_a_second_independence_referendum/) Gardham makes much of the fact that the polls do not seem to support this –

“A poll by TNS last week asked how people would vote in a referendum called on the back of a decision to leave the EU opposed by a majority of Scots.

Discounting the don’t knows, it found 44 per cent for Yes and 56 per cent for No, well short of the sustained 50 per cent to 60 per cent support for independence Ms Sturgeon wants to see before she risks putting the questions to the people again”

Now leaving aside that this is not inconsistent with the argument sketched out above (ie its not the fact of Brexit but its consequences that matter), and that the poll in question suggests much the same support for independence as in 2014, Gardham does make some important observations.

Firstly, how prepared is the SNP for another independence referendum? How far have they got in addressing the perceived weaknesses of the last prospectus, and in particular currency? The fact that they are not doing this in plain sight is hardly determining, but one might expect some level of debate. Perhaps provoking such debate is the aim of the “summer offensive”? Who knows. But it is clear that there needs to be some level of preparedness to ensure the result is not the same as last time. A clearer prospectus that is more certain where certainty is possible, but lays out the possibilities where there is a high level of uncertainty, can only be a positive development. But we are still to see much sign of this.

However, the First Minister has been clear that to move on indyref 2 she would be looking for opinion poll support suggesting a 55-60% Yes vote as a minimum, over a sustained period of time. Starting from wherever support for independence is now – certainly somewhere a little higher than 45% – who is to say that the mere fact of Scotland being voted out of the EU against its will by other parts of the UK, won’t give independence a 10% boost?

This would only be further increased should the Tory Party act precipitately – removing Cameron, and in an ideal world (from the point of view of independence only) replacing him with Johnson, who appoints his friends to the cabinet, so IDS, Gove and Grayling all in top jobs. Alex Thomson tweeted yesterday that a “friend” of Farage claimed to him that the Johnson camp had been in touch about giving Farage a peerage and a cabinet post – could just be tittle tattle, but two years ago that would have been laughed at, and not touched by a serious journalist like Thomson, but not now. Add to this, clarity about their even more right wing intentions – no doubt covered by honeyed words – and Salmond’s proposition that within the 2 years that the UK negotiates its exit from the EU, Scotland would hold another independence referendum successfully, and then negotiate to remain in the EU (in effect retaining the UK’s membership), does begin to appear less unrealistic and even fanciful. And as Gardham points out, if the UK seems to be getting a rough deal in their negotiation to leave the EU, then this may make independence seem even more attractive.

Magnus being Gardham however, he cannot resist pointing to the downside of Scotland in the EU, with rUK outside. He suggests, “By staying in the EU, Scotland might end up in a different trading regime from its main export partner. A “hard” EU border may also have to be established between Scotland and England.” To be fair, he has suggested uncertainty with the use of “might”, but the first seems highly improbable. The entire prospectus of the Leave campaign is that the UK would continue to trade with the EU as now – we are the EU’s biggest customer, they say. If so, why would Scotland, as an EU member, be any different from, say, France, which, like Scotland, would also continue to be an EU member?

Likewise, why would there be a “hard border” between Scotland and England? There is not one between Switzerland and the many EU member states with which they share a border. There is not one between Sweden and Norway. Most importantly, before either was a member of the EU (or EEC) there was not a “hard border” between Northern Ireland (or the remainder of the UK) and the Republic. What ‘hardened’ that border, for a time, was “the troubles” and the need for security, not economic matters. Moreover, for years before joining the EEC, the UK and Ireland operated, and still operate, the Common Travel Area. Why, if we were independent, would travel between Scotland and England, not be similarly administered? Still I suppose once Project Fear, aye Project Fear.

So, in conclusion, despite the many attempts to make the 24th June, the key date or not for Scottish independence, it is much more likely that it could be no more than the start of a process. It is unlikely to be a vote for Brexit on its own that will provoke the crisis. Rather it will be the consequences of that vote in a summative manner which could lead to our independence. The fact of Scotland voting to remain but being taken out because of the vote to leave in England is likely to add to support for independence. The manner in which the Tory Party responds may then hasten events – for instance putting Johnson into Downing Street. However, even if they acted less precipitately – for instance Theresa May rather than Johnson – the consequences of leaving will in due course become manifest, as the Social Chapter and the other aspects of the EU’s social legislation are junked.

However, just to clarify this point, post 24th June will not be by any means a mechanical process, but more an “unfolding of events” in the sense used by Symbolic Interactionists. This is clarified by McCall and Becker in “Symbolic Interaction and Cultural Studies” when they write

“At every step of every unfolding event, something else might happen. To be sure, the balance of constraints and opportunities available to the actors, individual and collective, in a situation will lead many, perhaps most of them, to do the same thing. Contingency does not mean people behave randomly, but it does recognize that they can behave in surprising and unconventional ways”.

As a counterbalance to the tendency of too many political commentators, they go on “The interactionist emphasis on process stands … as a corrective to any view that culture or social structure determines what people do” (page 6). Much comment – for instance the piece by Gardham referred to above, and also McWhirter’s most recent contribution to the Herald – follows a mechanical, rationalist approach, most notable for what they miss out than for their conclusions. Very often the horror of an even more right wing government following a vote for Brexit is never considered, with an unyielding focus on the consequences of the Brexit vote and whether this will provoke Indyref 2. As Gardham points out, though, the polls offer little support for this. But that rules out consideration of the consequences of that Brexit vote, what they might be and however quickly they may come about.

Perhaps then, the most significant issue is not whether a vote for the UK to leave the EU will lead to Scottish independence, but through what sequence of events and how quickly?

 

What happened at the election?

Many explanations of the recent election result, where the SNP actually increased their share of the constituency vote, often focus on the age-old practice of “well, we told you so”.

James Kelly couldn’t even wait till the next morning to publish his (http://scotgoespop.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/i-hate-to-say-i-told-you-so-but.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+ScotGoesPop+%28SCOT+goes+POP!%29) – the first comment was at 3.39 AM on the 6th. Wings took a bit longer, but is considerably more considered – first comment at 1.52 pm (http://wingsoverscotland.com/dont-say-we-didnt-tell-you/). In the course of this, the Rev Campbell confirms again that he has “been warning readers for nine solid months that the AMS electoral system couldn’t be “gamed” and that the meaningless pursuit of a “pro-independence” majority could lead to disaster”.

However, as Wee Ginger Dug points out (https://weegingerdug.wordpress.com/2016/05/06/the-curates-egg/) the SNP “didn’t only ensure that they were returned to office, they also increased the number of votes that they received. That’s pretty amazing. The SNP continues to defy political gravity and the independence movement has not been sidetracked or set back. But they were buggered by the voting system. This time the SNP didn’t break it.”. In other words, what just happened was designed in the electoral system to happen. The outcome of the 2016 Scottish election is largely how the Scottish Parliament’s electoral system works it was what was intended. There are though one or two other issues that I will work through in the course of this, but in the main what I am going to argue here is that what just happened was substantially what I have warned about in several posts in this blog.

Essentially what I have argued is that the SNP, according to the polls, were on course to win most constituency seats. The reality was that they won fewer than I would have expected, and I will come back to this. However, if we look at the table below, which sets out for each Region, how many constituency seats were won by the SNP and how many List seats they won in each region, the conclusion is clear – that unless the SNP won “only” six seats or less, they would win no List seats. As you must be able to remember, the number of constituencies won are included in the calculation to allocate List seats, and the division seems to come at or about six. So, in at least five of the eight electoral Regions, a vote for the SNP Regional List elected no one at all. Arguably the vote was wasted, or at least might have been used more effectively, in that it might have elected someone from another independence supporting party without doing any damage to the SNP. What damage could possibly be done, if the SNP would have no one elected on the List?

Region

Constituency seats won by SNP

Regional List seats won by SNP

Glasgow

9 of 9

0

Central Scotland

9 of 9

0

North East Scotland

9 of 10

0

Mid Scotland & Fife

8 of 9

0

West Scotland

8 of 10

0

Lothian

6 of 9

0

Highlands & Islands

6 of 8

1

South Scotland

4 of 9

3

 

Let’s take a specific example – the Glasgow Region where, all nine seats were won by the SNP. The table below sets out the List votes for each party, and then how they were counted in each region. As a reminder, the List vote for any party will be divided by its number of elected members (constituency and/or List). Therefore, the SNP List vote, which at 111101 was more than the vote for the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems and Greens combined, in round 1 was divided by ten (9 constituency members +1), and as I have argued before, this was simply too big a disadvantage for the SNP to overcome. Indeed, you will notice that instead of stopping at 7 (there are only 7 list members in each region) I have gone on to 10, since it is only then that the SNP would have gained their first List seat in Glasgow. In fact, in round 7 the 7th and last List seat was won by the Conservatives with a modified vote (having already taken one list seat, so divided by two) with 14766.5. To have challenged for that final seat, the SNP List vote would have had to be ten times that – 147665, which is 36564 more than they actually got – a required increase of 32%. Just where were those votes going to come from? The SNP constituency in Glasgow was 17,342 more than the List vote, so even if everyone who voted SNP in their constituency had voted the same way on the List, they would still come up less than half way to the number needed to secure even the last (7th) List seat. Where were these votes coming from?

Party

List vote

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

SNP

111101

11110.1

11110.1

11110.1

11110.1

11110.1

11110.1

11110.1

11110.1

11110.1

11110.1

Labour

59151

59151

29575.5

19717

19717

19717

14787.75

11830.2

11830.2

11830.2

9858.5

Con

29533

29533

29533

29533

14766.5

14766.5

14766.5

14766.5

9844.333

9844.333

9844.333

Green

23998

23998

23998

23998

23998

11999

11999

11999

11999

7999.333

7999.333

LD

5850

5850

5850

5850

5850

5850

5850

5850

5850

5850

5850

 

The alternative argument to #bothVotesSNP was, “first vote SNP, second vote someone else”. Had that “someone else” been Green, and even just 25% of the SNP transferred to Green for their second vote, then instead of four Labour, two Conservatives and one Green, there would have been three Labour (one less), one Conservative (one less) and three Green. For sure the SNP would have had no direct advantage from that arrangement – they would have won no additional List seats, but ‘as is’ they have no List seats either. BUT the opposition would have had fewer Unionists (Pauline McNeill and Annie Wells), and two more Green Party members who at least share the aim of independence.

More importantly than anything though, the SNP, having won all nine seats had a vanishingly small chance of picking up list seats in Glasgow, and indeed in the first five regions in the first table.

But let’s look now at the polar opposite – South Scotland’s Regional List vote, which worked out as follows

Party

List vote

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

SNP

120217

24043.4

24043.4

20036.17

17173.86

17173.86

17173.86

15027.13

Labour

56072

28036

18690.67

18690.67

18690.67

18690.67

14018

14018

Con

100753

20150.6

20150.6

20150.6

20150.6

16792.17

16792.17

16792.17

Green

14773

14773

14773

14773

14773

14773

14773

14773

LD

11775

11775

11775

11775

11775

11775

11775

11775

 

Thus three SNP and two each for Labour and Conservative. In this case it’s hard to see what might have been done to increase the number of independence party representation. Certainly it is true that #BothVotesSNP was a policy that delivered in this region. For instance, had the SNP vote been split with the Greens then there would be no discernible difference. If we assume that 25% of the SNP vote was induced to vote Green on the List, the distribution of seats would change such that Labour and Conservative would still have had two List MSPs each, but the Greens would have had two and the SNP only one. But from the SNP point of view, #BothVotesSNP was the correct option to put to the electorate in South Scotland.

However, if we look at things across Scotland, then while #BothVotesSNP produced positive outcomes in one region (South Scotland), it certainly did not in four regions – Glasgow, Central Scotland, North East Scotland and in Mid-Scotland and Fife. Even in West Scotland, it is arguable that because of the number of seats won by the SNP, that #BothVotesSNP did not succeed in winning more seats.,

In Lothian and Highlands and Islands, where the SNP won all but 3 or 2 seats (respectively) the situation is more complex and there is scope for genuine disagreement about whether #BothVotesSNP was the right advice. That can only be said with confidence in South Scotland where the SNP won fewer than half the seats. But certainly in four regions, and arguably five, #BothVotesSNP was inappropriate advice.

What do we mean by “inappropriate”? Well I would say that a strategy advising both votes to a party that won every seat is “inappropriate” if on the List – as happened in Glasgow – it produces an outcome of four Labour, two Tories and one Green, when if SNP voters (even 25% of them) had switched to Green, then there would have been three Labour (one less), one Tory (one less) and three Greens (two more). That kind of shift across these five regions would have done nothing directly for the SNP, but would have reduced the Unionist presence in this Parliament, and by implication had more support for independence.

In “Five cold, hard facts about the election” (http://wingsoverscotland.com/five-hard-facts-about-the-election/) Wings Over Scotland is scathing about the Green Party, and in particular its commitment to independence. He bases this on the Greens demanding that there should be a petition signed by one million Scots, and a statement by Patrick Harvie that there should not be an early re-run. However, the SNP manifesto says “Holyrood should have the right to hold another referendum if there is “clear and sustained evidence” of majority support for independence, or if there is a “significant and material” change in circumstances, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against its will.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2016-scotland-36181591). These two statements by the Greens and by the SNP seem to me to be saying something fairly similar, even if in slightly different ways – a petition and “clear and sustained evidence”, for instance.

But the key point that is missed by Wings is that, even if the support for independence by the Greens is uncertain, at least it is only uncertain. If the SNP could win only a small number of List seats, then the alternatives are uncertain support from the Greens and certain opposition from the Unionist parties. The uncertainty of the former, even if true, seems to me preferable to the certainty of the latter.

The focus of complaint of course was the recommendation that SNP voters should consider giving their List vote to a party other than the SNP. The argument was particularly strongly put by James Kelly on Scot Goes Pop. In a post-hoc piece he wrote “as a result [of advice not to vote SNP on the List) the SNP list vote drops, and the party doesn’t have enough votes for a list seat in six out of eight regions (compared to just one out of eight in the 2011 election).” (http://scotgoespop.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/the-tactical-voting-lobby-were-proved.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+ScotGoesPop+%28SCOT+goes+POP!%29)

First of all, it’s hard to disagree with the proposition that if the advice to vote other than SNP on the List is followed the SNP vote will decline. What is contentious is the second part – that “as a result the party (SNP) doesn’t have enough votes for a list seat in six out of the eight regions”. Is that a fact? Let’s go back to look at Glasgow in a bit more detail.

The total constituency vote for all parties was 246,957, but the list vote was ‘only’ 229633. In other words, 17324 people voted for their constituency representative but for whatever reason did not use their List vote. Were they SNP voters? Well we will never know, but one thing we do know is that the SNP vote in Glasgow constituencies was 128,443, but their List vote was 111,101, so it’s clear from this that 17,342 (or 13.5%) of their vote did not follow #BothVotesSNP. But how much did this matter?

To try to say anything about this means making several assumptions. First of all, we will assume that the 17,342 all voted Green, despite the fact that we have no evidence for this – some might have been former Labour voters who had given their constituency vote to the SNP, but as some sort of contrition voted Labour on the List. But, for our purposes – since the advice was to vote for another indy party – we will assume it all went to the Greens. This would have reduced their List vote to 6,656 (it is worth noting there that the Greens took 6916 votes in the Kelvin constituency alone). In turn this also points to another defect in this assumption – that the SNP constituency vote might have included Green voters who had no candidate in their constituency. But sticking with the assumption, and repeating the Glasgow figures, the following comes out

Party

Amended List Vote

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

SNP

128443

12844.3

12844.3

12844.3

12844.3

12844.3

12844.3

12844.3

Labour

59151

59151

29575.5

19717

19717

14787.75

11830.2

11830.2

Conservative

29533

29533

29533

29533

14766.5

14766.5

14766.5

9844.333

Green

6656

6656

6656

6656

6656

6656

6656

6656

Lib Dem

5850

5850

5850

5850

5850

5850

5850

5850

 

In other words, what happens is that Labour still win four List seats, the Tories still win two, but instead of the Greens winning one the SNP take the last seat. But to reach that conclusion we have to make the somewhat heroic assumptions set out above – not least that it was SNP votes leaking off to the Greens (or other fringe indy parties) that was the cause of the SNP’s failure to win a List seat in Glasgow. And what have we achieved? We have replaced one indy supporting MSP with another indy supporting MSP. Yet, as I point out above, had more SNP voters ignored the #BothVotesSNP recommendation, instead of four Labour, two Conservatives and one Green, there would have been three Labour (one less), one Conservative (one less) and three Green – the balance for independence would have been more pronounced.

Ah but, I can hear Mr Kelly pronounce, if every SNP voter had voted twice for the party, then there would be one more SNP List MSP – 64 MSPs rather than just 63. Indeed, if this had been repeated in all five Regions where the SNP won at least 80% of the seats but no List seats, then instead of 63 SNP MSPs there would be 68 and an absolute majority. Job done.

However, following our assumptions about where the votes would come from, there would be only one Green MSP. There are currently six, so if we assume, as might have happened in Glasgow, that instead of the Greens winning a List seat, the SNP would take the list seat instead in five of the eight regions. The balance of independence and Unionist parties would be as it is now 69 indy MSPs and 60 Unionists.

It might then be argued that that is just too bad for the Greens – that politics is a dirty business other than for winners. But that omits what we might have achieved had there been even a 25% transfer of SNP voters to the Greens (or an agreed List alternative). In Glasgow, remember there would have been two fewer Unionists (one each Labour and Conservative) and two more Greens. If that had been repeated across all five of the regions where the SNP won at least 80% of the constituencies, that would have meant 10 fewer Unionists (50) and 10 more MSPs from independence parties (79).

Not realistic? Perhaps so, particular as the assumptions are unprovable. We don’t know exactly how those who voted SNP in their constituency used their List vote, if not for the SNP. Did they vote Green (or RISE)? Did they perhaps vote Labour or Lib Dem, or even Conservative? Or did they just not vote? We don’t know.

But what this analysis does show is that in terms of support for independence – as opposed specifically for the SNP – the recommendation #BothVotesSNP actually diminished the number of members possible in this current Parliament who support independence. Is a Parliament where 69 support independence and facing 60 Unionists, better or worse than one where up to 79 support independence with 50 Unionists. Even if it means the SNP had no majority in the latter, I would prefer that, particularly as that is where we are with only 69 supporting independence. An opportunity has been lost.

However, Mr Kelly makes a further point – that those who argue as I do, suggested that “That the SNP were definitely going to win all nine constituency seats.” I would have to say that I don’t think I ever said – or saw anyone who argued – this. But I did expect them to win more than they did. For instance, just over 12 months ago, the SNP won 56 of 59 Westminster seats. If we gross that up to the 73 constituency seats at Holyrood that would be 69 seats. We might well ask what happened there?

It is fair to say that the Holyrood constituencies do not always map neatly on to those for Westminster. But if we take the West Dunbartonshire Westminster seat which Martyn Docherty took with a majority of over 14,000, the bulk of that are the Clydebank and Dumbarton Holyrood constituencies. But while the SNP increased their majority tenfold in Clydebank, in Dumbarton, while the SNP share of the vote increased, they could not overturn a majority for Labour that had been only 1639 in 2011. Contrast that with Rutherglen constituency where James (“no I will not sit down”) Kelly’s 2011 majority of 1779 became an SNP majority of 3743 this time.

Dumbarton, though includes Helensburgh which is part of the Argyll & Bute constituency, and is the closest town to Faslane where the UK Trident fleet is based. One might therefore expect a significant vote there, hostile to the SNP’s policy of not renewing Trident. Helensburgh is also relatively affluent in comparison to the rest of the constituency. Nonetheless, given the swing to the SNP since 2011, one might have expected this seat to fall to the SNP this time.

Nor does tactical voting by Unionists offer much in the way of explanation in this seat, since one might have expected the Tories to switch to Jackie Baillie to keep out the SNP. However, the Tory vote did not decline but actually increased on 2011 (both absolutely and in terms of share), albeit modestly. Indeed, the Conservative vote was the highest it has been since the first Scottish Parliament elections in 1999. Moreover, there were attempts by Unionists to promote this sort of strategy at the Westminster election last year, and that didn’t end well for them at all.

But perhaps the biggest problem with Kelly’s thesis here is that no one who argued against #BothVotesSNP suggested anything other than to vote for the SNP in their constituency. The moot was always what was best for the List vote?

In an entry on his Facebook page on 6th May, SNP stalwart, Iain Lawson observes

“Just take a look at the seat Tory Ruth Davidson has just won in Edinburgh.

The Yes vote was split by the Greens standing and that was enough to give Unionist Ruth Davidson a victory.

Of course the Greens had the right to put up a candidate BUT was this the result they wanted?

I have heard nothing else than a Green vote was a safe vote, it would increase the YES majority.

So GREEN PARTY WHAT HAPPENED?

Of course Iain is right, but only right as far as he takes it. Once we step outside of the constituency section, and we find the SNP putting up a slate of Regional List candidates, where very often, because of the number of constituency seats won by the SNP mean their List candidates have a vanishingly small chance of election, the Green Party might well ask the same question. As I have pointed out above, if even ‘only’ 25% of the SNP List vote in Glasgow had transferred to Green there would have been two fewer Unionist MSPs in our Parliament.

Taken together, James Kelly’s blog and Iain Lawson’s Facebook entry, crystallise the issue about this election. In an election we expect parties – no matter how close their views might be (and it should be recognised that the views of the SNP and the Green Party are not always particularly close – for instance on income tax) – to compete with each other for out votes. At the same time, a larger prize is at stake – independence.

Robin McAlpine observed in a Common Space article that during the election “the SNP without the context of its wider movement [Yes Scotland] looks awfully like a political party. It made it much harder to talk to the people who are tired with ‘normal politics’.” (https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/3972/robin-mcalpine-there-s-nothing-for-yessers-to-fear-from-sp16-unless-we-don-t-listen), which offers us a second explanation for ‘what happened’.

The first explanation is that the electoral system for Holyrood ‘worked’ – the dominance of the SNP in the constituency section came back to disadvantage them so much on the Regional List that they won few List seats. Of course, it can be shown that if everyone who voted SNP in their constituency had voted in the same way on the List then they might have won an additional five seats, but that argument requires some pretty heroic assumptions, as we have seen (e.g. to assume that, for instance, no one who voted SNP in their constituency was not a supporter of a fringe party – Greens for instance – and only ‘lending’ their constituency vote as they had no one else to vote for).

An easier, and potentially more fruitful approach, could have been to encourage more SNP voters to switch to Green on the List, as with a 25% switch two fewer Unionist MSPs would have been elected on the Regional List, being replaced by two Greens.

Of course it has been argued that the commitment to independence by the Greens is uncertain, but is uncertainty about that commitment (if true, as their views on the next indyref seem very similar to those of the SNP) not better than the certainty of Unionist opposition?

But what good would this do the SNP? The short answer is “not much”. Indeed, if #bothVotesSNP had stuck 100% then they might just have won the additional Regional List seats they needed for a majority, though it would have been, to use a quote associated with Sir Alex Ferguson, “squeaky bum time” – maybe 66-68 seats. But by encouraging switching we could have been looking at a Parliament of 63 SNP MSPs and 10 or 11 Green MSPs, so 74 of 129 MSPs supporting independence. With more switching on the List that figure could have been even greater, which brings me back to the Robin McAlpine quote.

How best can we take independence forward? On a party political basis or as a movement? Of course Iain Lawson is right about the Greens standing in constituencies and costing the SNP seats (eg letting Ruth Davidson in), but it is also demonstrably true that #bothVotesSNP cost the Greens List seats.

My own view is that more clearly than anything, the election just past shows the need to revive independence as a movement, in which the SNP might be the biggest part, but by no means the only one. We will turn to that in a subsequent blog.

Voting tomorrow

In today’s Herald, Magnus Gardham has a piece with the headline SNP ‘fears Nicola Sturgeon may not secure majority’ in Holyrood elections, insiders claim” (http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14468532.SNP__fears_Nicola_Sturgeon_may_not_secure_majority__in_Holyrood_elections/?action=success#comment_16127289).

This story is very like one in this week’s Lennox, that the election was too close to call. Jackie Baillie is defending a majority of just over 1600 from 2011, during which time the SNP vote has increased nationally by 20% and half her constituency includes one of only three local authority areas to vote Yes. Of course it is said that the greater part of that came in Clydebank, and that SNP support in the Dumbarton and the Vale is at a lower level, and as for Helensburgh ………..

But just to add to Jackie’s woes, given the split in Labour in the UK on Trident, this has made it difficult for her to use the “defending jobs” argument as much as she did last time. That is not to say it has never passed her lips – at hustings she continues to make the point that she will “fight for local jobs”.

I have no access to any polling data for the constituency, but just one impression of my own. The other day, I was driving down the High Street, past the SNP election hub – full of folk doing leaflets etc. We had a couple come down our street from the SNP delivering leaflets (this one was re the Vale, another JB hobby horse). Anything from Labour has come via the Post Office.

A bit further on – Castle Street – is Jackie’s constituency office. It was shuttered and locked, just as the same office was the Saturday before Gemma Doyle got voted out (for those who don’t know, they shared). I see little sign of Labour in the constituency, other than letters to the local paper. I doubt they have given up, but if the level of campaigning is any kind of indication of their vote, it doesn’t look good for JB. Indeed, it seems in Ayrshire Labour have been busing London activists up to supplement local resources. This of course happened this time last year, and look what happened then.

So, why the article in the Lennox? Why this article? Is it to convince Labour Party – and maybe Tory Party – stalwarts to get out and vote, the cause is not yet lost? Or is to cause consternation in SNP ranks? Both of these? Indeed, we might ask “why this article?” Was Jackie Baillie holding Marc McLean’s hand as he wrote?

Or is there a real point?

Many seat prediction sites suggest that the Tories might take 3 or 4 seats (mainly in South Scotland region, holding on to Ayr, Ettrick and West Dumfries, where young Mundell is standing). Suppose the Lib Dems hang on to both the Northern Isles seats. Even if the SNP take all the rest, that leaves them with 67 or 68 constituency seats Bearing mind that this would be 92 or 93% of all the constituency seats, it is hardly a bad result (especially if they secure north of 50% of the vote). But, should, for instance Labour hang on to 3 or 4 constituency seats it would mean no SNP majority.

That of course is the basis of the #bothvotesSNP argument. Yet if the SNP were to end up with 62 or 63 constituency seats (which would still mean them winning 9 more than they had last time) we are still in the territory where they might win no List seats as John Curtice pointed out in his paper (http://electoral-reform.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/publication/The-2016-Scottish-Election-Briefing.pdf). For instance, that number of constituencies (62-363 suggests an average of 8 constituencies per region. Last time in Lothian they won 8 of the 9 constituencies, with a List vote of just under 40% (not a lot less than the polls suggest today) but never won a single seat.

Just for illustration – not a prediction – just some numbers, the polls suggest right now that the SNP will take upwards of 40% of the List vote, Labour 21%, the Tories 19%, Greens about 12% and Lib Dems about 8%. Let’s work those numbers through a representative region.

 

Party

List vote

1st round

2nd round

3rd round

4th round

5th round

6th round

7th round

Seats won

SNP

40

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

0

Labour

21

21

10.5

10.5

10.5

7

7

7

3

Con

19

19

19

9.5

9.5

9.5

6.3333

6.3333

2

Green

12

12

12

12

6

6

6

6

1

LibDem

8

8

8

8

8

8

8

4

1

 

In a Region with 9 seats if the SNP took them all, then working through those numbers using the modified d’Hondt system (divide List vote by elected members +1), would give Labour 3, the Tories 2 and the Lib Dems and Greens 1 each.

To simulate the #bothvotessnp policy I assumed that no one voted Green and their entire vote went SNP (very unlikely, but more likely than Unionist party voters voting SNP). This actually – from an indy supporting point of view came out worst of all – Labour and Tory get three seats each and the Lib Dems one – the SNP still get no regional list seats.

Party

List Vote

1st round

2nd round

3rd round

4th round

5th round

6th round

7th round

Seats won

SNP

52

5.2

5.2

5.2

5.2

5.2

5.2

5.2

0

Labour

21

21

10.5

10.5

7

7

7

5.25

3

Con

19

19

19

9.5

9.5

6.333333

6.333333

6.33333

3

Green

0

               

LibDem

8

8

8

8

8

8

4

4

1

 

The alternative to this would be for at least some of the SNP vote to go to another party that is not Unionist – for instance (again for illustration) the Greens. I assumed 12% of the SNP’s 40% would not switch, so giving the Greens a List vote of 40% (their own 12% + 28% of the SNP vote that switches to them).

Party

List Vote

1st round

2nd round

3rd round

4th round

5th round

6th round

7th round

Seats won

SNP

12

1.2

1.2

1.2

1.2

1.2

1.2

1.2

0

Labour

21

21

21

10.5

10.5

10.5

10.5

7

2

Con

19

19

19

19

19

9.5

9.5

9.5

1

Green

40

40

20

20

13.33333

13.33333

10

10

4

LibDem

8

8

8

8

8

8

8

8

0

 

The outcome of this is that the Greens win 4 seats, Labour 2 and the Tories 1 – Lib Dems get none. It might be pointed out here that the SNP have nothing to gain from this – they win no List seats. But then again, they win no List seats on any of the scenarios. Yet – to the extent that this might have been replicated across Scotland – do they not gain from having a party who would be the official opposition that is at least positive about independence?

However, that last scenario – or indeed the second one – is not going to happen tomorrow. We seem likely to be caught in the soggy middle ground where there are not enough votes for indy supporting parties on the List, and not enough for the SNP to win a decent number of list seats. But let me be clear there – that would be an awful lot more List votes than they could hope to win just now – as I pointed out even if the entire Green vote shifted to the SNP List, the SNP would still win no seats. Where are those votes going to come from? Labour, Tory or Lib Dem? The point is that with their vote as it stands, and the manner in which the deHondt system allocates regional list seats, the SNP, even if they increase their vote, are going to struggle on the List. Any transfer of votes to another indy supporting party than the SNP has stalled, something that the SNP themselves have encouraged with #bothvotesSNP.

Just to make the point as bluntly as possible, all other things equal (which to be fair they wouldn’t be), to win even the final regional seat, if they have won all the constituency seats, the SNP would need a List vote of more than 70% on the basis of the first scenario, or, in the second scenario 64%.

My own view is that the SNP really do need to look to win a majority in the constituencies, hope that the Unionist constituencies are concentrated in just a couple of regions (which is possible – HIghlands and Islands (Orkney and Shetland would be two), South Scotland (Ettrick, Ayr, West Dumfries) – so that they might pick up two or three list places there. Otherwise Gardham might well be right, even if only for a change.

The Hillsborough Inquest

First of all, I have to say that I share in the joy of the families of the 96 that at last – 27 years later – those they have lost have been vindicated, and it has been made completely clear that they were not to blame in any way for the events at the Leppings Lane end at Hillsborough in 1989.

But if not them, then who?

First of all they made clear that the Police played a central role in the tragedy. In particular, retired Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield bears a considerable responsibility for these terrible events, as it was he who authorised the exit gates at the Leppings Lane end to be opened so as to relieve crushing outside the ground. This led to a surge of fans on to the terracing at Leppings Lane and the crushing, almost entirely in the middle two sections.

The Police were held by the Inquest Jury to have failed on a number of counts

  1. With respect to planning before the event, they did not produce specific instructions for managing crowds outside the stadium, on how the “pens” (sections) were to be filled and monitored, or who would be responsible for monitoring the pens.
  2. There were no contingency plans for the late arrival of a large number of fans, and the response to this was uncoordinated and too slow.
  3. With regard to their management of events within the tunnel, prior to opening the exit gate, the Police should have blocked off the central tunnel as the middle pens were already full, which the match commander (Duckenfield) failed to recognise. Officers inside the stadium were not warned when the exit gate was opened, and the match commander failed to consider where fans entering via the exit gate would go.

Thus, in the view of the Jury, Duckenfield failed to plan for events both outwith and inside the stadium, opened the exit gate leading to an uncontrolled entry of fans through the exit gate and onwards to the central tunnel which should have been closed off.

However, set against that, there are two issues which perhaps might also have been taken into account – issues which take us directly into the role played by South Yorkshire Police itself.

First of all, Duckenfield, while an experienced Chief Superintendent, had only been in his present position in the force for three weeks beforehand. Moreover, he had little operational experience of crowd control, and no experience at all of managing policing at Hillsborough. We might ask why, with a such a high profile match, he was allowed (or required) to take command without support from a more experienced officer. We know that the previous match day commander – Chief Superintendent Mole – had occupied that position for a number of years. Given the size of the expected crowd perhaps management at a higher level might have considered that additional, more experienced support would be wise. This takes us into the role of the South Yorkshire force, a topic we will return to.

Also held to bear a responsibility were Sheffield Wednesday, who play at Hillsborough. Their safety certificate had not been re-issued since 1986, but more importantly their previous Secretary, Richard Chester (1984-1986) was aware that due to a lack of up-to-date drawn plans the certificate was not valid and that the club was open to criminal sanctions. Moreover, Chester was aware that the capacity of the Leppings Lane end had been reduced by the building of radial fencing to create the individual pens or sections in the standing area, but the certificate and plans were never updated to reflect this. In any event the turnstiles counting system could not track which part of the ground fans entered after coming through the turnstiles numbered 7 to 23, and therefore could not count how many were in the standing areas. In addition, the club’s consulting engineers never updated the safety certificate after 1986, and to calculate the ground’s capacity and re-calculate this after changes were introduced. Thus reverting to Duckenfield, this means that he handled incompetently a situation in a ground which not only was unsafe, but was known to be unsafe by its management.

In terms of what led up the disaster that is all. The Jury were given specific questions to answer about the role of the police on the day, and about Sheffield Wednesday and their consulting engineers. Other than two more questions about the response of the Police and the Ambulance Service after the event, that is about it. There are though others whose conduct should have been investigated, but the focus on Duckenfield, and the club, screens off a wider view. While the present Chief Constable of South Yorkshire has been suspended on account of public anger at the questioning by the force’s lawyers at the Inquest, which not only seemed to go back on the apology issued by South Yorkshire police to the families, by posing questions about the conduct of the fans and their role in the disaster, another sacrifice (of an office due to retire in November anyway) does nothing to widen our focus. The questions put to the jury never let them consider wider issues. The questions were never asked so they could hardly be answered.

What questions?

First of all, the conduct of the South Yorkshire force as a whole, not only in terms of what they were doing leaving a newly appointed Chief Superintendent to manage a high profile event where they would be a large assembly of people, when he had little or no experience of control of such crowds, but also in terms of their conduct afterwards. It might be argued that claims of officers being required to amend their statements, and/ or details in their pocket books are not matters for an Inquest, but if they are not, I hope very much that the part played by the force as a whole – whose culture was described today by Andy Burnham in the Commons as “rotten to the core” – in the subsequent cover-up is investigated at some point in the near future, as Burnham called for in the Commons, and done so thoroughly that those who were guilty at that stage can be identified and if still serving their position reviewed. I won’t, though, hold my breath, particularly as Alex Thomson has revealed on Channel 4 News that the chairman of the IPCC has said that he doubts whether anyone will be prosecuted as a result of this Inquest.

There are additionally two other organizations whose role in all of this has been, it seems to me, carefully organized away from any consideration.

The first of these is the FA. It has been axiomatic in health and safety law that the fundamental responsibility for the safety of premises lies with the owner, so the criticism of Sheffield Wednesday is well made. However, this does not utterly absolve the person who has rented the premises – the occupier. If for instance the occupier becomes aware of a safety issue in the premises he is occupying he would be expected to act, even if only to bring this to the owner’s attention so that remedial action can be taken. We therefore can ask whether the FA really knew nothing, nothing at all about the safety problems at Hillsborough? This is particularly so when we take into account that the new Chief Executive at the FA (appointed only the previous February) was Graham Kelly who had left his job as Secretary of the Football League to take up his new position. But the question was never posed. Indeed, Kelly never appeared at the Inquest, providing instead written evidence. For sure, given their control of the stadium, primary responsibility has to lie with club, but given that the game was the FA’s (an FA Cup semi-final) do the FA not bear some responsibility for their apparent policy of just not looking or asking appropriate questions?

Secondly there is the policy of HMG, as another axiom of health and safety law is safe access and egress. However, at the time of the disaster the focus of the government in respect of football was control of fan behaviour, following Heysel and the Luton Town riot (ironically an all seater stadium), as well as problems away from stadia by “firms” following particular teams and with “football casuals”. The solution to this was tighter policing outside of football stadia, with, for instance, fans sometimes being ‘escorted’ (or marched) from their arrival at the local train station to the ground they were visiting. Inside grounds, fencing was the order of the day, so that fan disorder would not encroach on to the pitch, but less thought was given to fan safety. For instance, one of the problems at Hillsborough, reported by Bruce Grobbelaar (Liverpool goalkeeper) was that when he asked a police officer to open the single gate into a pen, he was told the “steward has the key” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-36138162). In any event the gate in question only allowed the access or egress of one person at a time, so, in the event of large scale crushing its usefulness was minimal.

In other words, it is arguable that government policy was unbalanced toward control of fan behaviour, paying too little attention to safety and the possibility that something could go wrong. With little or no consideration given to how to act in such circumstances. Yet again that question was never asked of the jury who were carefully guided toward immediate causes and responsibilities without consideration of the wider issues of the role of the game’s governing body and of the government itself.

Below is a picture of the fans crushed against the fencing at the Leppings Lane end. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/hillsborough-inquest-the-14-questions-jury-will-answer-to-decide-whether-96-were-unlawfully-killed-a7001101.html)

To me it looks as the person in red, just right of centre is probably already unconscious (at best). The person in grey to his left (our right) may be as well. We might reasonably ask if they were among those who died of compression asphyxia, as a great many of the 96 did? But more importantly for the purposes of the Inquest, and in particular because of Richard Chester’s statement to the Inquest, that a Safety Certificate for a football ground “is to ensure that the paying public are catered for and are hosted in a ground safe in the knowledge that the ground is safe for them.”, we really must get answers as to why the government of the day put such a small price on the safety of football fans in a football stadium. It is more than abundantly clear that that Safety Certificate, and its ‘monitoring’ in this case did not achieve its end. Why did the government of the day put such emphasis on controlling fan behaviour that their safety ceased to be even secondary? Does that alone – indeed does the above picture – not make that government culpable?

We can wonder why the FA, and the government were not included in the questions to be answered by the Inquest jury, and would very likely be told that its purpose was to examine the direct causes of the disaster, which in itself is just another way of saying that other matters have been excluded. Then again we might contemplate explanations such as avoiding criticism of the British elite and establishment. For instance, the FA is an organization whose origins owed much to English public schools coming together to agree a code which owed more to dribbling skills rather than the strength required in a scrum. Moreover, since 1955, when the Duke of Edinburgh became its President, successive Presidents have been members of the Royal Family, or connected to them (Earl of Harwood, Duke of Kent) with Prince William currently occupying the role. Criticism of the government of the time might implicate the inheritance of Margaret Thatcher, who reportedly had particularly strong views on controlling football fans. The day after the disaster, Thatcher herself came to Hillsborough where her press secretary, Bernard Ingham, relied upon what he was told about the disaster by the police blaming “tanked-up yobs” for the deaths. “Liverpool,” he later said, “should shut up about Hillsborough.” These two facts alone make more understandable the limitations on the questions the Inquest Jury were allowed to answer.

Bachrach and Baratz seminal article “Two Faces of Power” (The American Political Science Review, Volume 56, Issue 4 (Dec., 1962),947-952) first introduced the concept of nondecision-making by asking how issues are suppressed and the scope of decision-making restricted. The structure of the questions put to the Jury in this Inquest are an instance of power being used in this way.

The outcome of the Inquest that the fans were unlawfully killed is of course to be welcomed, but, as well as the above questions, the Inquest simply concealed other matters. For instance, while the Police have publicly accepted their responsibility, Duckenfield’s barrister and lawyers representing the force, during the hearing continued to press home the issue of fan behaviour, including not only previous instances such as Heysel but also repeating allegations of drunkenness and hostility to Police instructions in Leppings Lane, outside Hillsborough, (contributing to Duckenfield’s decision to disastrously open the exit gate). Moreover, they have still not admitted to their conspiracy to lie in the aftermath in order to smear the Liverpool fans, including those who died. Where the South Yorkshire force is concerned serious issues remain which extend far beyond David Duckenfield, and even the present Chief Constable (now suspended).

In short this Inquest has given closure to the families in that their loved ones are no longer officially held to have been responsible in any way. Responsibility instead has been pinned on the club and on a retired Police Officer. However guilty they were – and they were very, very guilty in very many ways – there are other people who may be guilty who have avoided being identified in the course of this Inquest, which, in terms of the questions put to the Jury, did not intend to identify them. The inquest was a move forward, but this matter has much further to travel, and however welcome and positive yesterday’s decisions were, there are many questions still to be answered which were not even allowed to be asked at the Inquest.

The Rev revs again

Stuart Campbell has once again posted on Wings, arguing that people who argue as I have done, that a vote for the SNP on the Regional List (the List) could be better used by being put to another independence-minded party, “apparently STILL don’t understand either the Holyrood electoral system or basic arithmetic”. As I hope to demonstrate, this most recent post by the Rev suggests that it’s not such as me who fails to understand basic arithmetic, and certainly not us who don’t understand how the system works.

Essentially what Campbell has done is to start from the 2011 election, compared the SNP vote share on the List to their forecast vote share today on the List, and multiplied their 2011 vote by that multiplier. So the SNP in 2011 got 45% of the list vote. Just now the polls suggest they will get 46% of the list vote, so a multiplier of 1 (actually 1.013 he points out). Thus he multiplies the 2011 votes by 1. In the same way, Labour get 0.72, the Tories 1.2 and the Lib Dems 0.76, while the Greens get 1.8.

Using this methodology he adjusts the 2011 votes, and assumes that the SNP will win every seat other than Orkney & Shetland (which will go Lib Dem) and two in the south of Scotland (which will go Tory). Then working through every region on this basis – adjusted 2011 votes and with the SNP usually winning all the constituencies, he demonstrates that the outcome would be as follows

Labour 24 (+2 i.e. two more than 2011)
Conservative 17 (+5)
Green 9 (+7)
SNP 5 (-11)
Lib Dem 1 (-2)
Ind 0 (-1)

Thus horror of horrors, the SNP have lost11 regional list seats, or as Rev Campbell puts it

“And what we find is that a very significant swing towards the Greens in the list vote actually results in FIVE FEWER pro-independence MSPs on the list. The Greens gain seven seats overall, but every one was already a pro-independence seat.

(One in Lothian vacated by the sadly-deceased Margo McDonald, and the other six at the expense of the SNP, who also lose a further five to Labour and the Tories.)

It’s then left to the SNP to do the heavy lifting of ensuring there’s still a majority at Holyrood for independence by winning nearly all the constituency seats.”

Trying to put this as delicately and kindly as I possibly can – this is total bollocks! Indeed, it is actually quite hard to know where to start on the various parts of its nonsense.

The major problem is that Campbell has “projected” from the current polls that the SNP will win 69 constituency seats – that they will win every seat in every region bar two – Highlands & Islands, and South of Scotland. In 2011, they won “only” 53. The two years – 2011 and 2016 – are not directly comparable without much more.

As John Curtice reminds us in the Electoral Reform Society paper that, however unintentionally, was the touch paper to light this dispute within the Yes movement, (http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/publication/The-2016-Scottish-Election-Briefing.pdf), there are two parts to the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament. One is the regular first past the post system in 73 constituencies. The second part, attempting to introduced some sort of proportionality to the system, as Curtis puts it, “In this part voters are invited to cast a vote for a list of candidates nominated by a political party (or for an individual Independent candidate should there be one on the ballot paper). Voters can vote either for the same party as the one they backed on the constituency ballot, or for a different party. Either way, the total number of these ‘list’ votes that are cast for each of the parties is tallied up in each of eight regions of Scotland into which Scotland is divided for this purpose. Once those totals are known seven ‘additional’ list seats are allocated in each region (making 56 across Scotland as a whole) such that the total number of constituency and list seats won by each party is as proportional as possible to the share of the list vote won by each party in that region”

Therefore, the more constituency seats a party wins, in order to restore proportionality, the number of list votes for each party is divided by the number of seats it has won + 1. Thus if the SNP, as Curtice goes on to consider, won all nine seats in Lothian, their list vote on the first round to select the first list member, would have been divided by 10 (9+1).

Thus one of the reasons for the SNP’s loss of list seats, which Campbell choses to just ignore, is because he projects that they will win 69 constituencies, compared to 53 constituencies in 2011. For instance, in Table 1 of his report, Curtice works through the allocation of regional list seats in Fife & Mid-Scotland in 2011. At that election the SNP “only” won 8 of 9 seats in that region, but manage to take the final (7th) seat quite narrowly from Labour. However, if they had won every seat in that region they would have won no list seats at all, since with their list vote divided by 9 in 2011 they only just manage to take the 7 list seat, but had their list vote been divided by 10 (i.e. 9 constituencies +1) this would have been too much of a disadvantage and the 7th seat would have gone to the Labour Party.

Secondly, it is therefore, an utter nonsense to somehow blame any swing to the Greens for the SNP’s loss of list seats. They have lost list seats because they have won more constituency seats. It’s how the system is supposed to work. It is quite unbelievable that someone with the depth of knowledge of Stuart Campbell seems to misunderstand this fundamental aspect of the Scottish electoral system. Let’s be quite clear about this, as the SNP vote grew post referendum, and particularly post Westminster General Election last year, this situation has become increasingly obvious. But no attempt has been made to address the problem of how SNP voters might most constructively use their second vote. For instance, as Curtice has indicated they might consider voting for another independence – “That would appear to imply that under this scenario many a list vote for the SNP would be ‘wasted’, that is it would fail to contribute towards the election of an MSP. Indeed, under our scenario that proves to be the case for any regional list vote cast for the SNP anywhere other than in the Highlands & Islands region, the only region where the party is projected to win any list seats.”

Instead, the only advice to SNP voters is #bothvotesSNP and from a coterie of commentators including James Kelly (http://scotgoespop.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/it-doesnt-matter-whether-youre-optimist.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+ScotGoesPop+%28SCOT+goes+POP!%29), G A Ponsonby (http://indyref2.scot/rise-deluded-doomed-and-divisive) and Peter Bell (http://indyref2.scot/no-dilemma). One might want to ask why, but while there are a number of hypotheses, there are no certain explanations. However, Liam Stevenson (a RISE list candidate for Central Scotland) offers some interesting thoughts.

“The reality is that the SNP are not the only party that are pro-indy. Now, there are others – all of whom offer their own vision as to what an independent Scotland should look like. If we have a parliament that is top heavy with Yes advocating parties of varying colours, at the cost of unionist MSPs, it is not only stronger for democracy – in that it creates a broader parliamentary force which represents a cross-section of the Scottish electorate, as opposed to everyone hedging their bets on the SNP, but it is also stronger for the independence movement for this exact same reason.”

While Stevenson has his own agenda (being in RISE) to argue for other indy supporting parties, he is right when he says that voting tactically could reduce the number of Unionist MSPs in the next Parliament, IF it is done to the degree necessary. We have already explored this in a couple of earlier blogs. However, he is also right when he argues that

“if the UK government see that we have returned a parliament with cross party support for independence, then it is another kick in the teeth for them…”

Right now the Unionist parties can attack independence by attacking the SNP – any weakness or failure on their part can be used to chip at confidence in independence. But if there is support in Holyrood for independence from parties other than the SNP then the attack on independence has to become a wider one on the entire country. Once the equation of independence = only SNP has been broken, then the attack has to become much more amorphous. For instance, to the extent the leadership of an independence campaign extends beyond the SNP, then the sort of attack that was regularly made on Salmond would no longer suffice. Such attacks would become much more difficult and would have to be much wider. Given the possibility of

And just as important is his observation that

“We witnessed throughout the referendum campaign that the Yes movement was so much more than the SNP”. Yes might have been disproportionately SNP, but one of its key strength was that people of different political view, or members of different political parties (or none) came together in a way that demonstrated how the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. While the SNP may have been far and away the largest part, others from other parties and none played their own part. The fact is that the SNP were not the entire independence movement, and to vote for anyone other than the SNP is not a vote against independence, but a vote to further the independence debate at Holyrood from one of “if independence” to one about “how independence”. In that respect the mutterings of the above commentators is both partial and unhelpful.

 

 

Now the Rev is at it too

Posted this morning on Wings is another #bothvotesSNP piece by the Rev Stuart Campbell, “Five hard facts about the election”. Unfortunately, they are not all facts.

  1. RISE are not going to win any seats. This might well be true, and indeed I suspect that on present form, it probably will be. But this is an argument based on a forecast by Stuart which is based on their apparently limited supported, measured by the pollsters, which, given the uncertainties of polling we are being warned about, seems to me at least a wee bit of a contradiction.
  2. More seriously that a “pro-independence opposition is impossible” because the scenario that Stuart sketches out to support this suggests that “If every single Tory, Lib Dem, socialist and UKIP list vote from 2011 had gone to the Greens, they’d still have been short of Labour’s total.” But really that is as maybe, first of all because that all happened five years ago, and much has changed since then, most notably that the Labour vote is likely to have shrunk even more since 2011. Moreover it’s a pretty meaningless argument since if I was a Green Party member looking for votes, Conservatives and UKIP voters are fairly far down the list of places I would look. But in any event, the issue is how SNP supporters who have cast their vote for the SNP constituency candidate, will cast their vote on the Regional List. I can assure the Rev Campbell that if enough SNP voters made that switch then the Greens would be the opposition. Remember that with Labour being on course for something like 27 seats, the Greens do need a large increase in representation, but remember the Greens would be the opposition if they get one more seat than any party other than the one in government. Difficult? Yes, very. Likely? At this stage of the game, almost certainly not. Beneficial? As I have worked through elsewhere, with a modest (less than 1%) move of SNP voters in John Curtice’s paper, Andy Wightman would be elected rather than Sarah Boyack. So I would argue Yes. Possible? It offends no known law of nature – after all many laughed a year ago when it was suggested that the SNP might take 50 Westminster seats. They’re no laughing noo!
  3. “A pro-independence opposition is meaningless anyway”, is a proposition I can only disagree with. I would respectfully the Rev to Sillars’ argument for an “Independence Parliament” where the proposition that we should be independent is taken as a given and the main issues become how best to achieve that, and what kind of place an independent Scotland would be. That is a totally different dialogue than the one that we have had for the last five years, with the Unionists. It is not just about numbers, but about isolating Unionism and rendering it irrelevant.
  4. That the SNP will not win every constituency seat. Of course, they don’t have to – 65 is enough and anything above that would be a bonus. They survived five years with 69. John Curtice suggests that 70 is possible. But let us look at some of the claims. First Orkney and Shetland, where he points to the very sizeable swing needed on the 2011 vote, and that Carmichael hung on in 2015. Then again, we all know how he did it. I wonder if he will stand again, or if either of their candidates would speak on the same platform with him? I know Stuart’s antipathy toward seat forecasting sites, and even using them, the Lib Dems often hang on in one of them at least, and sometimes both. But the reason for that is the swing that would be needed compared to elsewhere. However, how subject is either seat to normal considerations after the Carmichael affair? Conjecture I know, but we can hardly put that event to one side and just forget about it.

    I could go on further on this forecast that the SNP wont win every constituency seat – for instance it is suggested that in Glasgow Anniesland that the Unionists could vote tactically to get Bill Kidd out, or that Patrick Harvie might win in Glasgow Kelvin – but since I agree with the proposition baldly stated, I won’t. I will though leave it by saying that there are two important things here. First that the SNP get their vote out and do not become complacent, and secondly that by doing so I confidently expect them to get enough constituency seats for a majority, even if they do not win them all. There are ‘battle grounds’ – there always are – but I really have no idea how Stuart estimates there are 14 of them. For instance is Glasgow Anniesland even one of them. The move in the vote since 2011 has been toward the SNP and away from Labour, and if Bill Kidd has been a decent constituency MSP (I have no idea) then how much of a battle will that be, even given his small majority.

  5. “The Greens commitment to a second indyref is lukewarm”. To this end Stuart presents some instances from his very extensive collection of press cuttings, but essentially this seems to come down to two propositions, that
    1. they will support another referendum if there is public support for it
    2. there should not be an early re-run

    I am trying very hard to think who else, not in the Greens, that those conditions remind me of? How about this “”Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option” of most Scots – or if there is a “material change in the circumstances” since 2014, such as Brexit against Scotland’s wishes.” – that is from the SNP manifesto.

    Oh and by the way, Harvie does not say that Brexit would not be a material change in circumstances. If you read your own screen grab you will see that he said in his opinion winning the next referendum would he harder if the UK were outside the EU. I have to say that I think he is wrong in that judgement, but it is just a fact that he didn’t say what you seem to be claiming here.

    One last thing, I do wish the Rev Campbell would stop arguing that Wings “has never told readers how to vote in Scottish elections and never will”, and then go on to publish an article which pretty much tells readers how to vote (or in this case, how not to vote).

A reply to James Kelly (Scot goes Pop)

James Kelly continues his #bothvotesSNP contention in a blog entitled “It doesn’t matter whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist about the SNP’s chances : “tactical voting on the list” is a bad idea either way“. James is entitled to his point of view, but having excoriated (rightly) the Sunday Herald for misrepresenting the views of Professor Curtice, I think at times in this blog he arguably does the same thing, though in different ways.

First of all, he contends that Curtice has “made clear” that “there is a chance the election result may differ somewhat from current opinion polls.” And so Curtice would. Indeed, he is quite transparent how he has come up with the numbers in his paper (see page 9, http://electoral-reform.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/publication/The-2016-Scottish-Election-Briefing.pdf) where he sets out the variety of assumptions that have been made to develop his forecast. As with any forecast, if the assumptions are wrong then the likelihood is that the outcome will be wrong as well. Indeed, opinion polls are usually only accurate to within a margin of +/- 3% (e.g. a forecast of 50% is usually 95% likely to be somewhere between 47 and 53%). If the SNP were within 3% of their Unionist rivals – or even something like this – then the problem of error would be acute. But the fact is that poll after poll tends to put the forecast vote for the SNP at often more than Labour + Conservative and Lib Dem votes put together. There is such a quantum difference between the parties that such considerations are substantially niceties.

But more seriously, while Curtice would be, I am sure, among the first to acknowledge margin of error as an inevitable feature of opinion polls and political forecasting, he has hardly said that the numbers on which he based his paper were thought up one night after work in the pub with a few of the boys. In other words, while Curtice did acknowledge that the result may differ from current opinion polls, his use of the word “somewhat” would suggest a degree of caution in that caveat which I do not think Kelly follows.

Secondly he argues “Crucially, the direction in which the polls lead us astray doesn’t really matter – if the SNP are being overestimated by the current polls, they’ll need list votes and list seats simply to retain their majority, but if they’re being underestimated on the list vote, they stand to win a decent number of list seats even if they take a clean sweep of constituency seats.  Both of those possibilities are very real, but if you were a gambling man/woman, you’d probably be betting more on the latter, simply on the basis of past history.”

Well actually though, it does matter. If the SNP are overestimated, then the problem of winning no list seats that Curtice describes becomes less acute to the degree they have been overestimated (on the constituency vote). The specific problem that Curtice (the “Curtice problem”) refers to is based on an analysis of Lothian region where the SNP win every constituency, but no regional list seats because they begin with their regional list vote being divided by 9 (constituency seats) +1 – i.e. 10.

In fact, the reduction in constituency seats won would have to be substantial to significantly change the regional list situation the SNP face. For instance, Curtice works through the consequences of them winning every constituency in Lothian (which is what his forecast suggests), which means their regional list vote is divided by ten, reducing it from 41% to 4.1%. But suppose they win “only” seven of the nine, then their vote would be divided “only” by eight (7+1), which would reduce their regional list vote to 5.12%, which would win them no Regional List seats either. In fact, with a regional list vote of 41% they would have to win no more than four seats to win any Regional List seats (4+1, so meaning their regional list vote would be divided by 5, which would be 8.2%, so all other things equal on Curtice’s figures, they would win the 4th of the 7 seats, at the expense of the Labour Party. But more than four seats would mean they would win no Regional List seats with a vote of 41%. Of course cet.par. would not apply in reality as if the SNP only won 4 seats, other parties would between them win 5. However, set against that, interestingly in 2011 the SNP won 8 of the 9 constituency seats, and with 39% of the vote won absolutely no regional list seats at all in Lothian (though Margo did secure a regional list seat).

Of course then the argument might be that those SNP voters who have been seduced by the siren voices of the smaller parties would have been better to vote SNP on the regional list. Let’s assume then that the entire Green vote goes to the SNP (which is kind of unlikely, but let’s take the limit case). This would give the SNP a Regional List vote of 52.8% (41.2 + 11.6), but with 9 constituencies in the bag, they still would not win a single regional list seat. In fact, the independence movement might well be one seat down, for the Greens would not have a member elected at stage 3. Instead that would go to the Labour Party. The SNP might win a seat on the last, seventh round. The SNP (with Green ) vote would be reduced to 5.28%, but the Conservatives would be running them close with 5.2%, so it would depend on very few votes. In any event we are well in to margin of error, and the point to note is that maximising the SNP regional vote is not guaranteed to achieve very much at all. From the wider point of view of achieving independence, there may be better uses for it.

Underestimation of the SNP vote is easier to deal with – quite simply it makes the “Curtice problem” all the more acute. In his paper, there are at least two regions where the SNP do not win every seat and they win two regional list seats. The extra seats could be at the expense of these two regional list seats (not entirely a bad swap though!). Moreover, without a very substantial increase in their regional list vote, if the SNP won every constituency seat, they are unlikely to win “a decent number” of regional list seats as Kelly blithely tells us. Indeed if Curtice is right, they are unlikely to win any.

Moreover, what is meant by “past history”? Is it 2007 (when 26 of the 47 the seats they won were regional list), or, to much a lesser extent, 2011 (when only 16 of the 69 seats were won on the regional list)? Or is it May last year when the SNP won 56 of 59 Westminster seats, which proportionately to Holyrood’s 73 constituency seats, would see them win 69.3% – or more reasonably 69 or 70 (coincidentally the latter being what Curtice forecasts).

Thirdly, we are told there is “an implausibly wide gap between the SNP’s support” between constituency votes and regional list votes, as well as the forecasting error of the SNP Regional List vote in 2007 and 2011, leading Kelly to argue “So in trying to interpret what the polls are really telling us about the current state of play on the list, there are two basic options – either we can assume that the polls are broadly right about the constituency vote but are underestimating the SNP on the list, or that the polls may be somewhat wrong about both ballots”.

I think I have been clear about the latter contention, but with regard to the former, this is quite a different election from 2007 and 2011. The former saw the SNP squeak in to minority government by a single seat, and in 2011 left us all – and Labour in particular – quite gobsmacked by winning the “impossible” overall majority. The present election is coming a year after the SNP came within less than 5,000 votes of taking every one of the 59 Westminster seats in Scotland, and after a year of polls that vary really only in respect of how far they suggest the SNP are ahead, or, if you want to look at it another way, how far behind the others are.

In turn this has led an argument (exemplified by Curtice), which I know Kelly rejects, that SNP voters should think about how they use their regional list vote. If the SNP were to achieve the level of support in constituencies that has been forecast, then their chances of achieving much on the regional list are limited. Maybe, just maybe, a minority element of the SNP support has listened to that, and decided to vote for someone else with their regional list vote? I wonder why this was not considered on the list of explanations? Seems plausible to me.

Kelly then goes on to argue, “If we can’t entirely trust what the polls are saying on either ballot, then all of the incredibly precise “predictions” (ie. projections) of seat numbers that are being used to make the case for tactical voting are completely meaningless”. Well that is more than a bit of an exaggeration, is it not? It’s not that they would just have to be wrong (and in a very precise sense they probably will be – they are an indicator and little more), they would have to be totally and utterly wrong to make much difference to the SNP’s difficulties on the regional list. Curtice suggests that they would win every seat in Lothian, but as I pointed out already their constituency seats would have to be reduced not by one or two, but by about half before they would win a regional list seat on the basis of the regional list share of votes that Curtice works from. I would suggest that it is not so much a matter of tactical voting being meaningless, but that the polls would have to be meaningless before the loss of SNP votes would have substantial effect.

I am in any sense rather puzzled why someone like James Kelly, who has built a very successful and well-respected blog on the basis of interpreting opinion polls and trends in these, is casting such doubt on a forecast by a respected psephologist. Or is it just the question that he poses – “That this situation could arise in a number of regions, given the SNP’s current standing in the polls, has led to speculation that nationalist supporters might be wise on the second ballot to vote tactically for a different party, such as the Greens or the left-wing RISE grouping, both of which also support independence. That way their vote might contribute to the election of another independence supporting MSP rather than apparently being wasted.” Kelly rightly excoriated the Sunday Herald for reading much more into this than Curtice would have intended, but is Kelly himself not trying to undermine the point by challenging the data at its foundation? Just why would he do this?

It is fairly well-known that, in addition to having a system with some proportionately, one of the aims of the voting system we have for Holyrood, was to make it difficult – perhaps it was seen as impossible – for a single party to achieve a majority on its own – even Labour. However, the SNP have thoroughly disproved that. In short, the problem of how SNP voters should use their second vote is quite a deliberate outcome for the electoral system in Scotland. The aim always was that when a party did well in constituencies that they should be disadvantaged – or looked at the other way, the parties which had done less well, should be advantaged – in the allocation of regional list seats. This is not an accident, but something designed into the system.

The use of Curtice’s work by the Sunday Herald was wrong – and Kelly is to be congratulated for his earlier blog pointing that out – but the issue for SNP voters that Curtice points to is not a matter of chance, but a function of how the system works (deliberately? For another day). It is wrong that it has been ambushed by the Sunday Herald, and Cat Boyd’s piece in the National (http://www.thenational.scot/comment/cat-boyd-split-your-two-votes-to-revive-the-spirit-of-2014.16491) is no more than I would expect from a politician playing politics (however elegantly she might put it). But Nicola Sturgeon is doing basically the same thing when she says the election “is not ….. a game of chance with the electoral system – it is about choosing a government and a First Minister to lead the country forward for the next five years and into a new decade.” ((http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14438134.Sturgeon_warns_SNP_voters_not_to_play__quot_game_of_chance_quot__with_electoral_system/?action=success#comment_16048992).

Yet if we follow the #bothvotesSNP recommendation then, given the difficulties the SNP will have with winning regional list seats, then the advantage goes to the Unionist parties who polls suggest will have been almost wiped out at constituency level. That is how the system works. But, in the case of the Lothian region, if a small number of SNP voters (less than 1% in fact) transferred their regional list vote to the Greens this could see Andy Wightman rather than Sarah Boyack elected. I think that would be a good thing. Would you not agree?

Dogs bark, and political parties seek to maximise their vote, but do we not have to ask whether the aim of an electorate is only to support a political party or support a cause, in this case independence? Are we best served by maximising the vote for the SNP on both votes, even if it means allowing Unionist politicians (e.g. Sarah Boyack) rather than an independence supporting candidate (e.g. Andy Wightman) to be elected? Sure there are risks. As Benjamin Franklin wrote, “the only certainties in life are death and taxes” (and maybe not even the latter these days if you have enough money). But maybe, to maximise our impact, the independence supporting electorate will have “to live a little dangerously” as Sir Charles Gray put it, in the immediate aftermath of the 1992 General Election.

One thing is certain, if the polls are accurate – within margins of error – then if a portion of the SNP vote does not transfer to other parties for the regional list, then we will have missed a chance to minimise the Unionist involvement at Holyrood. Ideally there would be a single beneficiary, but that chance is long gone (something to talk about for next time?), but even if spread over three parties, it could be the difference between 8 Green MSPs – Curtice’s projection – and 16 (one more in 8 of 9 regions) which would mean more than 20% fewer Unionist MSPs. Is a Holyrood with 86 (70 SNP + 16 Greens) independence supporting MSP not better than 78? Is 66% of that loaf not better than 60% of it? None of this will happen without appropriate advice, and #bothvotesSNP, since it will allow more Unionists to be elected, is not appropriate advice in my opinion for the reasons set out here. Scotland goes Pop is both helpful and though provoking, but in this instance, I think James Kelly is wrong.

You need friends

Our last blog dealt with John Curtice’s article suggesting that some SNP voters might care to think about where to put their second regional list vote, since if the SNP do as well as forecasts suggest they might at constituency level, their party is unlikely to achieve much on the regional list precisely because they have done SO well at constituency level. In particular, they might consider voting for another, smaller, independence minded party such as the Greens, RISE or Solidarity.

We are though being enjoined by a large number of well-respected commentators to avoid a tactical voting strategy at all costs as this will play to the advantage of the Unionist parties.

James Kelly (Scotland Goes Pop) in a blog yesterday “Have the Sunday Herald just totally misrepresented John Curtice’s stance on so-called “tactical voting”?” sets out how Curtice has been misrepresented by the Sunday Herald story, but in a way which points directly to ‘let’s not take a chance on this’. For instance, Kelly, whose own blog relies substantially on psephology, ventures the opinion here that “2) Opinion polls are not necessarily even 100% accurate as snapshots, and averaging them cannot be assumed to eliminate any error.” Or that “4) Extrapolations of constituency seats are also problematical, not least because we don’t know in advance the extent of anti-SNP tactical voting in a handful of potentially close contests.” – well that worked well for the Unionists in May last year, did it not James?

None of Kelly’s critique – not one ounce – actually engages with the point that Curtice has made, that with the likely outcome being that the SNP will dominate constituency seats in a big way (in passing if last year’s General Election result is replicated proportionately then the SNP would win 69 seats at Holyrood – 56 SNP Westminster seats/59 Scottish Westminster seats x 73 constituency seats at Holyrood) then their chances of Regional List seats are seriously diminished. The outcome might not be as bad as Curtice suggests in this respect, for with 70 seats the Regional List would be nearly as difficult for the SNP as it possibly could be. But even if it’s not as bad an outcome on the Regional List as Curtice suggests it might be, he is till posing a very real question for SNP voters, unless the polls, for more than a year now, have not just got it wrong, but totally and utterly wrong. We are not after all talking about two or more parties within margin of error of each other, or even almost so. Rather the situation is one where one party is not just way ahead, but so far ahead that their support is more than the sum of their next three challengers put together. Arguably, it’s not about the numbers but about the quantum.

Nor can any of this be addressed by outrage about Sunday Herald’s misrepresentation (Kelly in a subsequent blog debunks several Sunday Herald claim by juxtaposing them with what Curtice actually did say – I think Kelly is right here – http://scotgoespop.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/in-quotes-what-john-curtice-actually.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+ScotGoesPop+%28SCOT+goes+POP!%29) or roping in Willie Sullivan of the Electoral Reform Society (under whose auspices, Curtice published) that politics “should contain lots of different voices” (http://wingsoverscotland.com/reforming-your-principles/) and objecting that this is “telling people which parties they should and shouldn’t vote for”. “Lots of voices” might well be a ‘good thing’, but I would agree with Stuart Campbell that it is not such a good thing that it allows us to tell people how to vote. But Curtice is not telling people how to vote. He is drawing to our attention a very real lacuna in the voting system for the Scottish Parliament.

Nor does Derek Bateman get to the core of the matter when he concludes in a blog today that “I welcome diversity and support a move to STV for future elections. I also promote all views in debates at Newsnet and have given more airtime to RISE-supporting voices than any other outlet. None of which gives anyone a claim on my vote. To repeat – if you’re RISE, vote RISE. If you’re a green Nat – vote SNP and Green (like Peter Arnott). And I’m voting for the party most likely to deliver the outcome I want. So stop trying to hijack my vote to your cause.” (http://derekbateman.scot/2016/04/18/its-a-conspiracy/) That as a matter of principle is of course, fine, but it does not address the problem that Curtice isolates – that with 41% of the Regional List vote in Lothian, more than the combined Regional List votes of the Conservatives + Labour + Lib Dems, the SNP get no Regional List members at all. This is no longer a matter of principle, but of practical politics and maximising the value that we can obtain from the independence vote.

One thing that really makes me laugh is when SNP minded commentators warn us that tactical voting could let the Unionists in, when on the basis of practically every poll, it is NOT voting tactically that is letting the Unionists in. In our earlier blog (John Curtice and Prediction) we saw that if 0.6% of the SNP Regional List vote in Lothian moved across to the Greens, Andy Wightman rather than Sarah Boyack would be elected. The Unionists are, in fact, already coming through the backdoor. The issue is how to stop them.

In truth, it probably is at this stage (18th April), just over two weeks before the vote, too late to do much about this beyond raising the point that Curtice rightly does, and hoping that enough SNP voters take cognisance so that even if the differences are limited (eg Andy Wightman rather than Sarah Boyack) there are some differences and that we don’t end up with the same sort of Parliament as the one just dissolved, with the SNP defending independence against the three Unionist parties, carping their negativity one the sidelines. Our aim though should be to reduce them to a rump.

Curtice will almost certainly be proven right when he concludes “Even though the party could conceivably win a higher share of the vote than it managed last May, the SNP will not sweep the parliamentary board”. But should we be concerned about this, in either of its two senses

  1. That to achieve independence we need to maximise the SNP vote. Certainly that might take us closer, but does independence need to be so tightly coupled to the prospects of a single party? In Catalonia the independence movement is a number of parties, going pretty much across the political spectrum from left to right. Catalonian independence is not a matter for just one party, but for several. It is extremely unlikely the Scottish independence movement will not be dominated by the SNP, but should we be concerned if other independence supporting parties develop? Should the SNP perhaps, even passively, encourage such developments to the extent that their development supports the movement toward independence?
  2. The alternative claim that Scotland has become a one party SNP state, as if Scotland was some sort of North Korea. This coming Thursday the Electoral Reform Society is holding a meeting under the title “‘One Party To Rule Them All: Does Scotland Have A Predominant-Party Problem?’ – i.e. predicated on the idea that single party rule is dysfunctional. In principle of course, it can be argued that a plurality of almost equal voices is best, but what the proposition forgets is that it depends on the views of the electorate. Iain McWhirter has, for instance argued recently that “The whole point of a proportional electoral system is to lever in diversity into parliament and prevent one party unfairly dominating the legislature, as so often happens in Westminster. Many Scots may be tempted to split their ticket, whether they support independence or not, because they believe the Holyrood system works better with minority governments” (https://iainmacwhirter.wordpress.com/2016/04/18/tactical-voting-on-the-list-its-not-just-about-the-snp/). But however true that is, the electorate has to be master of its own destiny. We cannot say to the electorate, you should – or even wors, must – vote in a diversified way because that achieves an outcome with more diversity of opinion.

This second point has been linked to the issue Curtice raises, certainly by the use that the Sunday Herald put his work to, but also by those – such as Kelly, Bateman and Wings – who sought to rebut the interpretation by the Sunday Herald. But even if we accept the rebuttal of the Sunday Herald’s view, Curtice’s question still remains. If the SNP are likely to clean up the constituency vote to the point where they cause themselves difficulties in securing Regional List seats, how should an SNP voter use their second vote?

John Curtice and prediction

Rather a lot of heat, rather than light, has been generated in the last couple of days by the Sunday Herald picking up on a paper by the statisticians’ psephologist, Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University published by the Electoral Reform Society. You can find the offending article here – http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/publication/The-2016-Scottish-Election-Briefing.pdf – though describing it as “offending” is a bit tough on the Prof, who has done little more than run the numbers and pose a few questions.

What seems to me to be the main issue comes from the data of Table 3 in Curtice’s article, which sets out how the allocation of seats from the regional list vote in Lothian would play out. To do this, he calculates the variation in support for parties since the last election in 2011 and applies this over the country as a whole. This allows him to predict results on a constituency by constituency basis and then, with a forecast of regional votes, as well as the allocation of constituency seats, how Regional List seats would be allocated. The outcome of this is a forecast that the SNP will win 70 out of 73 constituency seats, but only two Regional list seats, in the Highlands & Islands. The Lib Dems would win one constituency (probably Shetland) and the Conservatives would win two. Curtice does not divulge where these are, but it seems most likely to be in South Scotland. Thus in the other five regions – Central Scotland, Glasgow, Lothian, Mid Scotland & Fife, and West Scotland, it is likely that the SNP will have won all the constituency seats.

Curtice however focuses on one of the regions where the SNP has won all the constituencies – Lothian (where there are 9 constituency seats), but the same analysis could be done for the other four regions set out above.

The playing out of the allocation of Regional List seats in Lothian demonstrated by Curtice in this table, which shows that on the one hand, the SNP Regional List vote is 41.2%, which is more than the three Unionist parties’ Regional List votes put together. Yet the SNP win no seats, while the Unionist parties win six – three Labour, two Conservative and one Lib Dem. The Greens take the other Regional List seat.

The operation of d’Hondt works against the SNP, since their 9 constituency members means their Regional List vote is divided by ten from Round 1, meaning they go into the first round of allocating Regional List members with a vote of not 41%, but 4.1%. There would have to be ten rounds (and thus ten Regional list members) before the SNP would take a seat.

The section in Curtice’s paper on which there has been all the comment is this “That this situation could arise in a number of regions, given the SNP’s current standing in the polls, has led to speculation that nationalist supporters might be wise on the second ballot to vote tactically for a different party, such as the Greens or the left-wing RISE grouping, both of which also support independence. That way their vote might contribute to the election of another independence supporting MSP rather than apparently being wasted.”

On the basis of this analysis this seems to me to be a reasonable observation, though it most certainly does not justify the Sunday Herald’s headline that “Independence supporters should not cast second vote for SNP at Holyrood election, says study”. I think it is clear that Curtice is saying no such thing. He is pointing to an issue – that if the SNP dominate constituency outcomes as much as the polls (and Curtice’s own forecast) suggest, the operation of the Regional List allocation of seats makes it difficult for the SNP to do well there. Might SNP members do better to use their Regional List vote otherwise than voting for the SNP? What is an SNP voter to do, is basically what, I think, Curtice is enjoining us to think about?

One noticeable feature from the above table is that the party that just loses out on round 7 are the Greens, who on 5.8% are just a fraction behind Labour. To get in front of Labour they need a further divided vote of just 0.3% to have 6.1%. Taking that back to the opening vote (what Curtice calls Stage 1) this would be a vote of 12.2%, or 0.6% more than they are forecast to get. Thus if that proportion of the SNP Regional List vote were to vote Green instead, then instead of Sarah Boyack (3rd on the Labour list) being elected for Labour, Andy Wightman (2nd on the Greens list) would be elected. Seems a decent swap to me.

Thus, Curtice is posing a very a real question. If the SNP are so dominant on the constituency vote, the electoral system we use makes it very hard for them to win more than a handful of Regional List seats. Taking the Lothian example, it means that 41% of the Regional List vote elects precisely no one, and given its relative allocation among the other parties, allows the Labour Party to pick up 3 seats with just under 18% of the vote, but with a small addition to their vote the (independence supporting) Greens could have had 2 seats and the Labour Party would have been reduced to two seats .