Sunday, 30 March 2014

There is no room for complacency!

Last Wednesday Liverpool played Sunderland in the Premier League. Liverpool are a much better team than Sunderland and by early in the second half were 2-0 up. Then, with twenty minutes to go, Sunderland scored a goal completely against the run of play. Despite being still the much superior team, Liverpool panicked. For the next quarter of an  hour they looked as if they might throw the game away. Because while Sunderland had little to lose, Liverpool were challenging for the title and for the moment their nerves got the better of them.

As it turned out, by the final stages, both sides were just playing out time before settling for the home win outcome most had predicted before kick off.

I found myself thinking about this in the context of this weekend's bizarre wobble by the Better Together Campaign. 

Obviously we were taken aback on Friday by the most spectacular of own goals by the unnamed Government Minister's comments in Saturday's Guardian but, to be honest, on reflection, the very proposal of "Trident for a Currency Union" betrayed someone who might think themselves to be a key player but who clearly doesn't understand Scottish politics at all. Indeed once the dust has settled it will be noticed that it was Nicola Sturgeon herself who immediately ruled out such an arrangement. So the Currency Union idea is as dead as it always was.

That doesn't mean that the culprit should not be found and made an example of. The assumption, it appears, by the Prime Minister that this will all blow over if it is ignored, is a fundamentally mistaken one. A percentage point or two could undoubtedly be lost if the Nationalists can maintain there is any uncertainty on whether we retain Sterling.

But my target tonight are others who are genuine allies. I have no idea why the Lib Dems decided to launch an outright attack on Better Together at their Conference. I know they might be scarred by their continued electoral rejection but we and the Tories are not. I'll come back to that. From Tavish Scott's suggestion that a man who barely retained a single mainland Scottish Parliament seat was best placed to advise the rest of us on electoral tactics; through Charlie Kennedy's spontaneous appeal for more big hitters when we've been trying for months to get him to do some more hitting himself; to the culmination in Alistair Carmichael's "doomed, doomed" finale, I am simply at a loss as to what they thought they were up to here. Might I suggest that they would have been better employed in persuading their own Party's former functionaries not to be assisting the enemy by defecting to the Yes Campaign?

And as for the Daily Mail! I know they have to sell Newspapers. Even I was alarmed to read, in the edition which I confess to having bought, that you might catch TB from your cat (and I don't have a cat). Nonetheless, the suggestion Better Together is in internal disarray is nonsense. It is not the No campaign which has had to dispense with most of its original personnel. There is good reason for that.

Now, on twitter, I amuse myself by the occasional observation that "There is no room for complacency!" But tonight I thought I should perhaps point out that actually there is quite a lot of room for that sentiment.

Firstly, we have the polls. Here they are.  Look at the orange line (that's us) and then look at the blue line (that's them). What do you notice? The orange  line is comfortably above the blue line in every case but one and even that one is a poll now accepted on both sides to be flawed in it's methodology. And what else do you notice? That this hasn't changed in a year.

Then we have real elections. The SNP won a local government by-election, retaining a safe seat, in Kilmarnock on Thursday. Congratulations to them. Particularly since it was the first by-election of any sort that they had won in the last eleven. And even then their vote dropped 9%. While the unwritten story of Scottish politics continued. That there was a major swing to the Tories. Now, it might be the case, as the SNP  losing candidate in Cowdenbeath maintained with a, just about, straight face, that voters are embracing Nationalism while simultaneously abandoning the Nationalist Party. Somehow, however, I doubt it.

Then we have the school polls. School polls are interesting since they don't rely on adjustment by pollsters. There were another slew on Friday and again Nationalism was rejected by a margin of between to and three to one. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, no secondary school of any proper size in the whole of Scotland has yet to vote Yes in such an exercise. Now, it might just be the case that the views of teenagers depart dramatically from the views of their parents and grandparents on this matter. Somehow, again however, I doubt it.

Then we have the "feel" of the ground troops. Those who are doing the telephone and street canvassing. Obviously I speak to more of ours than theirs. But I do speak to theirs. Ours admit to genuine bewilderment as to where this supposed, even significant minority, Yes vote is. At  best, theirs insist they have "still got a chance" even while bemoaning the various factors (apathy, fear, the BBC) conspiring against them. It may be that they are completely deluded but I meet many in my Party concerned about what the Tory revival might mean for Edinburgh South or Dumfries & Galloway in 2015. I've yet to  speak to anyone worried about losing a single Westminster seat to the SNP. And before anybody thinks these are just partisan mad bastards, many of these conversations concede that 2016 will be a much harder challenge than the UK General Election. 

Then we have the argument, not on the policy but on its prospects, of our opponents. Chief among these is Mr Stephen Noon, who informs his observations with hints of secret polling known only to an elect of which he is one. I have no idea why this guy is taken seriously. Here is what he wrote on 27th April 2012, a week out from the local government elections in 2012. Either his "inside information" was seriously flawed or more likely he was just making it up. For we know the actual results of these elections. 

"But let's remember 2011"! The Nationalists protest. "Look how we turned things round then"! As indeed they did. Credit where it is due. But in 2011 Scottish Labour ran the most incompetent election campaign of my lifetime. Possibly one of the single most inept election campaigns ever run by any Party, in any Country, at any time. I'll say no more than that. AND EVEN THEN, on a differential low turnout, with many of our voters staying at home in despair and many more Tories largely disinterested in Scottish Parliament elections,  the SNP and their minor Party allies still did not secure a majority of the electorate for even having a referendum on independence, let alone on the proposition of independence itself.

So, here I turn my fire back on the Daily Mail. They might not like the politics of those at the heart of the Better Together Team because these politics are irredeemably Blairite. I'm no Blairite myself, albeit from a different direction. 

But say what you like about Blairites, they know how to win elections.

So I finish where I started. With a football analogy. Today Liverpool played Spurs. Spurs are a much better team than Sunderland. But the Anfield jitters were gone and the five time European Champions ran out 4-0 winners. Comprehensively the better team from start to finish. 

There is no room for complacency with regard September 18th. But only to the extent that we don't want the game remembered as Liverpool against Sunderland, even if we do end up playing out time for the last five minutes.  We want it remembered as Liverpool against Spurs. Or, better still, Real Madrid against Eintracht Frankfurt.


  1. I think you give BT a bit too much credit. Its apparent that it needs to change tactics to win. The polls have been shrinking and the NO lead is only 12% on average. Its important that we don't lose more points and keep a majority by June, as that is the home run period. How come rUK politicans don't come up to convince scots to vote no. People like Dennis Skinner and others would do very well. Just as Boris Johnson and the Prime Minister should not be afraid to come up.

  2. "Then we have the school polls. School polls are interesting since they don't rely on adjustment by pollsters. There were another slew on Friday and again Nationalism was rejected by a margin of between to and three to one."

    Ahhh, the school polls. I heard an interesting wee nugget of info about the school polls from someone who was actually speaking at one recently. The result was the usual 70%+ for No, which sounds like a rout. But what that figure doesn't tell you is that the debate started off with there being support for No in the region of 85%. Not only that, but the "end" poll was actually taken halfway through the debate - not at the end - so that they had the result ready to announce at the end of the debate. So that shift in support came after only half the arguments were heard.

    How many of these school polls are the same, I wonder? 75% actually representing a drop in support for No, and no information about what the true end result was. To use another football metaphor, it seems No is only winning these school polls because they're starting out with a big aggregate lead - they're losing the actual match itself. Well, that's not so bad if you're starting off with a 60% lead, but unfortunately for the No campaign, Scotland is not one big middle-class school.

    1. DD appears to be missing the point entirely about the school polls. So what if school students are swayed by emotional debate in the course of a meeting? Hardly any of them have votes in the referendum. The point is that their views likely reflect those of their parents, who can and will vote, and if their parents' are actually more like 85% NO, that's very bad news for the secessionists.

    2. I would have thought the real question is why are more people moving from No to Yes after hearing the debate? Think about it.

    3. No, gordypops, I think you're the one who needs to "think about it". However the debates go - and we only have the word of a friend of DD's who was at one of them - the evidence of how young people are voting is an indicator of how their parents and families will vote. And whether that's 75% or 85% is bad news for separatists.

    4. as an aside, I'm unsurprised that school children are swayed by the "yes" campaign. It promises them riches, a fairer society, and everything their heart desires. of course, none of it is deliverable, which is why, unless they are extremely gullible, their parents will still vote no.

  3. Entertaining description of the LibDems, but I couldn't help chuckle at a Labour supporter criticising them for not avoiding defections to Yes??? As to the football, people in Crystal Palaces should eb careful about chucking stanes...

  4. Here is another way of putting it , BT have just taken off their goalkeeper and centre half and put two trialists on in their place a left back, and a 4 11 inch keeper.

  5. Ian:

    'Then we have real elections. The SNP won a local government by-election, retaining a safe seat, in Kilmarnock on Thursday. '

    Yes, the actual elections (congrats to Ms Cowan) seem to be telling a different story to the polls.

    Just had a look at Scottish Elections -

    Party Candidate 1st Prefs 1st Prefs % Change

    SNP Elaine Cowan 1,334 44.2% -8.5% Elected
    Labour Scott Thomson 1,130 37.4% +1.7%
    Conservative Ian Grant 493 16.3% +4.7%
    Green Jen Broadhurst 61 2.0% +2.0%

  6. Hello, Ian,

    I was sent over by Henry Hill from Open Unionism for the purpose of asking you for an interview on a new project I'm spear-heading called "Union Jack Chat". The purpose of it is to show as broad a spectrum of Unionism, from different backgrounds and political parties across the UK. If you would be willing to take part in this, please email me here:

    God bless,
    Pearl of Tyburn

  7. Just to add to the anecdotal evidence from schools debates - I was at one in Johnstone the other day which went in the opposite direction, after hearing the dishonesty of the YesNP case one student was moved to insist that "it is not a positive campaign to come here and make stuff up" the Yes campaign were hugely disappointing and about half of those who came in supporting yes left planning to vote the other way.

  8. For some time the Nat position has been to pretend they are winning: basically put on a front, in the face of all the evidence that they don't have a chance.

    I think the way they are now 'interpreting' the polls represents a move forward from that. Essentially they are trying to build a sense of momentum; this has all the hallmarks of a well rehearsed strategy, but it's one born of desperation.

    I have learned from a source close to YesScotland that there is a document being used as a 'surprise prop' by Salmond and other cabinet ministers in meetings with senior business leaders and others. It's a simple one-pager of massaged poll figures showing a 'trend' to YES.

    The accompanying strategy is to 'normalise' the chance of a YES win despite what the polls really say. The purpose is that the story of the trend then self-maintains as senior business leaders 'prepare' for the outcomes of a YES vote and when asked confirm as such. The outcome then becomes if business can prepare then it is not really too scary - naturally business will not say it is not able to deal with a change in circumstances.

    We need to make sure it is widely recognised that this is little more than a confidence trick.