Well, actually there are usually several annual Eurovision posts - this is the first year since starting the blog in 2008 that I haven't posted predictions for the two semi-finals. But don't worry, I wasn't boycotting Israel or anything like that, so there's no need for Fiona Robertson to launch a bigotry inquiry. I just ran out of time.
I know some of you get mildly homicidal when I start writing about Eurovision, so to sweeten the pill this year I thought I might make a little departure from my usual prediction post, and instead offer you some betting tips. Even if you're not interested in Eurovision itself, you might be interested in making some money out of it. Obviously what you do with this advice is entirely at your own risk - it's just some general speculation about where the value might possibly lie.
The Netherlands, oddly enough, are the red-hot favourites to win this year, and if they do, it'll be their first triumph since the quintessentially dreadful Ding-A-Dong way back in 1975 (a song that Edwyn Collins memorably turned into a Bond theme two decades later). Over the last few years, strong favourites have tended to win at a canter, but if you go further back, the contest is littered with highly-fancied entries that crashed and burned. The most recent example was 2011, when France were expected to win but finished a poor fifteenth, which allowed Azerbaijan to emerge from the pack. In this case I'm fairly confident the Netherlands will finish close to the top of the leaderboard, because the song is likely to be the favourite of the juries. But whether it wins outright will also depend on the public vote, and that's where one or two doubts creep in. It's actually possible to bet on the outcome of the public vote alone, and I'd suggest that the eye-catching Australian entry and Russia are both quite generously priced on that front. Russia are particularly tempting, partly because they're the kings of political voting, and partly because their singer won the televote (but not the jury vote) three years ago. And at the risk of fuelling David Leask's suspicions, it's not a bad song at all.
When I first heard the UK's song in February, I thought it was "our" best entry for years and years and years, and I still think that, but it clearly hasn't caught the imagination of the fans, and you can get odds of close to 500/1 against a UK win. In spite of uninspiring staging, I believe the song is significantly underpriced, probably due to fatalism brought about by years of poor UK results. Probably the most sensible bet would be the 25/1 on offer for the UK to merely finish in the top ten, which seems insanely generous. (For the avoidance of doubt, I don't think the UK will make the top ten, but I do think there's a greater than 4% chance of that happening. 4% is the percentage chance implied by the odds.)
The catchy-but-appalling San Marino song is also a rank outsider to make the top ten, and that's a semi-tempting one because you can guarantee the public will be voting for it as a laugh. But you'd assume it'll be hammered by the juries. (There again, the juries ranked the Israeli novelty song as high as third last year, so anything is possible.)
There are a few other entries that are odds-against to make the top ten, but which might be a value bet - the Czech Republic song is very infectious, Serbia have followed the dramatic Balkan ballad template that proved so successful for them a few years back, and Cyprus have a song that is fairly similar to their runner-up from last year.
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And for those of you who aren't interested either in Eurovision or in Eurovision betting, here is YouGov's latest Scottish subsample for the European elections. It's an unusually large subsample of more than 600 respondents, which makes it almost as good as a full-scale poll, because YouGov (unlike other firms) appear to weight their Scottish results correctly.
SNP 39%, Brexit Party 20%, Liberal Democrats 13%, Conservatives 7%, Labour 6%, UKIP 2%, Change UK 1% Seats projection: SNP 3, Brexit Party 2, Liberal Democrats 1
So I received my official Ruth Davidson's Conservatives Election Communication through the door this morning, and a few points leap out at me...
* They seem to have entirely given up on voters with a primarily Scottish national identity. Note the prominent usage of the Union Jack and the total absence of the saltire. They've travelled a long way since the likes of Michael Forsyth co-opted the saltire as part of the unionist brand in 1990s. Now, doubtless their strategists would point out that Ruth Davidson has had greater electoral success than Michael Forsyth, but it does mean they're limiting themselves to a niche market - British identity is much weaker in Scotland than Scottish national identity. It would be reasonable to suggest that this approach was far more compatible with Davidson's aim in 2016 of becoming the largest opposition party than it is with her current stated objective of becoming First Minister.
* They seem to have entirely given up on Remain voters. How on earth do you win a majority in Scotland if you only want people who are BOTH self-identifying Brits AND Leave supporters (38% of the population in 2016 and now a touch lower)? It's even harder now that the Brexit Party seems to have become overnight the natural home for passionate Leavers, which means that the Tories are effectively left chasing after the voters who do want Brexit but don't particularly prioritise it.
* They're testing the credulity of voters with a bizarre juxtaposition between the "no more divisive referendums!" message and their insistence that "the result of the divisive referendum we held ourselves only three years ago MUST be respected!!!!"
* I wouldn't actually rule out the possibility that lazily rerunning the 2017 anti-indyref message could gain some traction - but if it does, that could conceivably split the Brexit Party vote and help the SNP. I'm not even joking. If yesterday's YouGov subsample is right about the Scottish Tories only being on 6% of the vote for the Euro elections (a perfectly plausible figure given that the Tory vote across Britain is just 10%), they're well below the de facto threshold for winning a seat, and an extra 1% or 2% of votes for them will be wasted votes.
Every day seems to bring word of a poll showing even more progress for the Brexit Party, and the latest from YouGov is no exception.
Britain-wide voting intentions for Westminster (YouGov): Conservatives 24% (-5) Labour 24% (-5) Brexit Party 18% (+3) Liberal Democrats 16% (+3) Greens 7% (+2) SNP / Plaid Cymru 5% (+1) Change UK 2% (-1) UKIP 2% (n/c) Scottish subsample: SNP 41%, Labour 15%, Conservatives 14%, Brexit Party 12%, Liberal Democrats 10%, Greens 5%, UKIP 1%, Change UK 1% Britain-wide voting intentions for European Parliament (YouGov): Brexit Party 34% (+4) Labour 16% (-5) Liberal Democrats 15% (+5) Greens 11% (+2) Conservatives 10% (-3) SNP 3% (n/a) Change UK 5% (-4) UKIP 3% (-1) Plaid Cymru 1% (n/a) Scottish subsample: SNP 38%, Brexit Party 21%, Liberal Democrats 11%, Labour 10%, Greens 9%, Conservatives 6%, Change UK 2% To say that public opinion is fast-moving at the moment would be the understatement of the century. It seems like no time at all ago that we thought the hardline Brexit vote would be split down the middle between the Brexit Party and UKIP, and that the hardline Remain/anti-independence vote would be split between the Lib Dems and Change UK, perhaps meaning that all four parties might miss out on a European Parliament seat in Scotland. But the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems seem to have decisively won the side-battles against their ideological cousins, which turns our expectations for the Euro seat allocation upside down. If by any chance the YouGov subsample is completely accurate, the six Scottish seats would be distributed as follows: SNP 3, Brexit Party 2, Liberal Democrats 1. There would be no Labour or Tory representation at all - the first time in history that Scottish Labour would have been wiped out in the European Parliament.
Although the Tories slumping to a scarcely believable fifth place across Britain is the most eye-catching aspect of the poll, the Scottish Tories' 6% share in the Euro subsample is also worthy of note. Will the myth of Ruth ever recover?
As far as the Westminster figures are concerned, this wouldn't be the first time in recent decades that we've seen weird numbers that amounted to nothing when an election came around - remember the SDP surge, or the Cleggasm, or the temporary lead for William Hague during the fuel crisis of 2000. But I do wonder if this time could be different, particularly if Britain hasn't yet left the European Union by the day of the election and if Brexit passions are still running high. Almost anything could happen. I talked the other day about the nightmare scenario of Nigel Farage ending up as Prime Minister, but we shouldn't overlook the lesser-but-somehow-equal nightmare possibility of Jo Swinson walking through the doors of Number 10. The Lib Dems' 16% share, which looks thoroughly unimpressive compared to the achievements of Charles Kennedy, is nevertheless enough to put them just eight points off the outright lead.
It's not very often that Nicola Sturgeon tweets about a Britain-wide opinion poll, and I was initially slightly puzzled as to why she singled out ("it's time for independence, Scotland") today's new poll from Opinium. It shows Labour with a six point lead over the Tories, with Nigel Farage's new Brexit Party one point further back in third place. On the face of it, that's better for Labour and less good for the Brexit Party than other recent Euro election polls. But then I took a closer look and realised it's not a Euro election poll. It's a Westminster poll.
Labour 28% (-5) Conservatives 22% (-5) Brexit Party 21% (+4) Liberal Democrats 11% (+5) Greens 6% (+2) UKIP 4% (n/c)
(Note: For reasons that only our London-centric media can explain, the SNP are always edited out of these results summaries, but the chances are they're somewhere between 3% and 5%.)
Yes, folks, Opinium really are saying that if there was a general election tomorrow, the current governing party would be essentially tied with a hard-right populist party that was only formed a few weeks ago. That almost certainly wouldn't translate into parity in terms of seats, because the first-past-the-post electoral system would punish the Brexit Party for support that is too evenly spread. But the flip-side of the coin is that once a party becomes popular enough, it suddenly gets rewarded for evenly spread support - that's how the SNP ended up winning almost every seat in Scotland in 2015. Nigel Farage is potentially only a few percentage points away from becoming Prime Minister in a snap election.
Is it credible to believe that this nightmare scenario could actually unfold in real life? As an election approaches, voters often revert to old habits - for example, the Liberal Democrats still ended up in third place in 2010 in spite of the "Cleggasm" that temporarily propelled them into a lead in the polls. But there could be a tipping point if Tory MPs start defecting to the Brexit Party. It's certainly conceivable that if Britain hasn't left the European Union by the time the election is held, Nigel Farage could end up leading a sizeable group of Brexit Party MPs in the House of Commons.
Meanwhile, it must be some kind of record for any party to be leading a Westminster poll on just 28% of the vote. It's perfectly conceivable to win a majority on that sort of vote if you have a big enough lead over the second placed party. Would there come a point when even the Labour and Tory dinosaurs might start to conclude that the perversities of first-past-the-post are getting beyond a joke?
So this is more like it, after the slight disappointment of the by-election in Dundee last week. Haddington and Lammermuir isn't particularly SNP territory - the party finished third in the ward (albeit a strong third) last time around, at a time when there was a clear SNP lead nationally. In yesterday's by-election, they moved into a clear second place as the Labour vote collapsed. Haddington and Lammermuir by-election result (9th May 2019): Conservatives 35.0% (+6.0) SNP 29.5% (+3.5) Labour 21.5% (-12.2) Liberal Democrats 12.2% (+4.9) UKIP 1.7% (n/a)
That's the result on first preferences, but the SNP were even closer to victory than those figures suggest. Of the hundreds of Labour voters who transferred on the decisive count, 56.2% went to the SNP and only 43.8% to the Tories - once again giving the lie to the notion that the Labour support can be regarded as part of some sort of monolithic unionist bloc. If the Tory vote drops significantly in some of the crucial north-east marginals at the next general election, Ruth Davidson shouldn't expect unionist tactical votes to save her. Labour supporters in those seats may even be rather more tempted to cast a tactical anti-Brexit vote for the SNP.
That said, Haddington and Lammermuir is obviously a solid result for the Tories as well, and defies recent opinion polls by showing no sign of any loss of support to pro-Brexit parties. (There was no Brexit Party candidate, but UKIP were there.) I suspect it's a case of horses for courses, though, and that voters will behave very differently at the Euro elections.
There were two obvious possibilities for the SNP's pitch in the European elections - they could either make it all about independence and seek a 'quadruple lock mandate' for an independence referendum, or they could urge Remain voters to use the SNP as a vehicle to stop Brexit. It's clear from the campaign launch that they've plumped full-bloodedly for the latter option. There's a paradox here, because that may well prove to be a strategically sound decision from the SNP's own party interests - it does seem intuitively likely that the SNP's strength in recent opinion polls can be partly attributed to the clarity of the 'stop Brexit' message, and after all the Remain constituency in Scotland is somewhat bigger than the Yes constituency. But ultimately the SNP exist to bring about independence, and any strategy that maximises the party's support while squandering an opportunity to win an independence-specific mandate may be counterproductive in the long-run.
It's important to stress, however, that this doesn't mean that the SNP have entirely failed to learn the lesson of the 2017 general election. One reason why refusing to campaign hard on independence in 2017 was such a mistake was because there was no alternative message that was going to inspire people to go to the polling stations - all we had was the vague "Stronger for Scotland", which couldn't even begin to compete with the directness of the Tories' "No to Indyref 2" as a get-out-the-vote device. This time, the alternative to a straightforward independence pitch does have every chance of capturing people's imaginations. And because it's only a couple of weeks since Nicola Sturgeon restated her intention to hold a pre-2021 independence referendum, a good result for the SNP is bound to be seen as some kind of endorsement of an indyref, regardless of the exact campaign message. So although I would have preferred this election to be used for an in-your-face push towards independence, it's fair to say I can live with the decision that's been made.
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Somebody posted the Euro ballot paper on Twitter, and what leapt out at me is that Nigel Farage appears to have missed a trick by registering his party name as "The Brexit Party" rather than "Brexit Party", which means he misses out on being top of the ballot on alphabetical order. (I had actually been assuming for months that one of the main reasons he chose the name was precisely because it started with a 'B'.) Instead, pride of place goes to Change UK, whose presence on the ballot as an independent force may spell trouble for the Liberal Democrats. I wouldn't by any means dismiss the Lib Dems' chances of nicking a seat in Scotland - although their success in the English local elections was wildly exaggerated, they'll still have gained momentum from the way in which it was reported. But they're fishing in the same pond as Change UK - both parties appeal to hardline Remain voters who oppose independence, and if that vote is split, it could make it much harder for the Lib Dems to reach the de facto threshold for a Scottish seat, which in turn could create an opening for other parties (including the SNP).
It's 7pm as I write this, so you now have only a few hours left to register to vote in the European elections (that is, if you aren't already registered as a result of responding to the household enquiry form a few months ago). I realise that the majority of people reading a politics blog will already be safely registered, but what's more likely is that you know someone who isn't - maybe a young person, someone who has recently moved house, or an EU citizen. If so, and particularly if they're pro-independence, cajole them, bribe them, do whatever it takes, but make sure they're registered by midnight. The link to the registration page is HERE.
Remember that EU citizens also have to fill in an additional form (I believe it's some sort of declaration that they won't be voting twice in the European election in two different countries).
You're probably aware by now that the ostensibly pro-indy journalist Neil Mackay has been at it again. Not content with his proposal a few days ago that would essentially make it impossible for Yes to win any future referendum by introducing a 1979-style "60% rule", he's now penned a dismal "exclusive" that continues his war against much of the Yes movement, and which prays in aid quotes by a number of senior SNP people who probably should have known better. I'm inclined to agree with this response from Thomas Widmann of Arc of Prosperity fame -
"I've often thought the SNP leadership actually would rather be without a movement. Of course they like the membership fees and having somebody who will deliver their leaflets, but they'd rather people didn't speak or act in public if they're not paid by the party to do so." Those who were quoted on-the-record by Mr Mackay were careful in how they chose their words (although I did roll my eyes to the heavens at Alyn Smith's conspiracy theory stuff about "false flag" Yes accounts, which if taken too far could easily lead us down a Leask-style rabbit hole where we'd all start accusing each other of being Russian agents). But there were a couple of rather more provocative comments which, unsurprisingly, no-one was brave enough to put their name to. For example:
"Much of this [Cybernat trolling] is about who can monetise the Yes movement. It’s about who is getting the most clicks, donations and subscriptions." I have a shrewd idea about which SNP parliamentarian may have said that, although I won't name any names in case I'm wide of the mark. But what I would say is that the individual in question almost certainly draws a salary well in excess of the income that anyone could realistically draw from a DIY fundraiser, so I'd suggest he or she ought to be rather more circumspect about accusing others of "monetising the Yes movement". Just like anyone else making a living (either in whole or in part) out of their support for independence, he or she can only really justify that in the long run by producing results.
I don't particularly feel my ears burning at the mention of monetisation, because although I'm one of the relatively small number of Yes people who have fundraised over the years, I don't think anyone could (credibly) accuse me of using abusive tactics to advertise this blog. But then again, if it's not someone like me, who are these mysterious people that are supposedly using abuse to generate an income? Presumably the dig is partly directed at Stuart Campbell, simply because he's a bit sweary sometimes, but who else is there? Let's be honest here: being a troll on social media is not a particularly effective money-making strategy. If you look at the genuine trolls and ask yourself how much they're making out of it, the answer is pretty obvious: absolutely nothing.
I suspect the parliamentarian who made the accusation knows full well that there is no link between "Cybernat abuse" and "monetisation". So why knowingly say something that isn't true? I would guess it goes back to Thomas' insight: this is an attempt to pathologise any 'non-authorised' Yes activity. It doesn't really matter whether you believe that 'unofficial' initiatives are motivated by money, or by support for Vladimir Putin. Just so long as you believe they're all thoroughly illegitimate, that'll do fine.
So here's a paradox within a paradox within a paradox. On Scottish local elections night two years ago, the SNP failed to win an overall majority in any council, and yet they've somehow pulled that feat off tonight on English local elections night. Winning a single by-election was enough for them regain outright control of Dundee City Council after two years of running a minority administration. The SNP gained the crucial seat from Labour, and yet it was a poor result for the SNP. Confused? Well, it's our old friend, the STV voting system, making everything a bit complicated again. The vacancy was caused by the death of a Labour councillor, but the popular vote in the ward was dominated by the SNP last time around. They haven't done as well tonight, and Labour have made a significant comeback.
Dundee North-East by-election result (2nd May 2019):
SNP 46.9% (-6.9) Labour 38.1% (+11.1) Conservatives 8.4% (-0.7) Anti-Cuts 2.8% (+1.5) Greens 2.4% (+0.8) Citizens First 1.4% (n/a)
It's difficult to make much sense of the direction of travel there - it's completely out of line with other recent Scottish local by-elections, with recent Scottish opinion polls, and even with the English local elections, in which so far Labour seem to be taking a pounding. Probably those on the ground in Dundee would know the explanation - perhaps the Labour candidate is particularly well known, or perhaps there was some local factor that was suppressing the SNP vote.
You've probably seen Neil Mackay's rather provocative list of "issues" that the Yes movement must supposedly address in order to win. Unsurprisingly it has sharply divided opinion, with some of the criticism spilling into unpleasant personal comments. But as was the case with Peter A Smith, the fact that the abuse must be deplored does not mean that parts of the criticism can't be justified. Mr Mackay's advice is a very mixed bag - some of it is eminently sensible, such as the fact that using insulting words like 'Yoon' does no-one any good. (I would make exceptions for ironic or satirical use, but the basic point is sound.) Some of it is misguided, such as the idea that we should all stop marching for independence, on the basis that shoving saltires in the faces of No voters does nothing to win them over. This entirely misses the point of the marches, which is not to convert No voters directly, but rather to raise the morale of Yes supporters, to boost the visibility of the campaign, and to generate a sense of momentum. And some of the advice is needlessly divisive, such as the suggestion that those in leadership positions should shun certain Yes supporters by unfollowing them on social media - which would simply alienate one part of the movement from another without actually winning a single extra vote. Paul Hutcheon may have based his entire "investigative journalism" career on the shock value of who doesn't ignore who on Twitter, but real people don't give a monkey's.
Mr Mackay's most controversial point of all is smuggled in at the end. He argues that the movement should decide that nothing less than 60% Yes support is required for change - he thinks this would be a "bold" and generous step that would impress the unpersuaded. Now, I've read this part of the article multiple times, and I still can't quite work out what Mr Mackay is getting at - is he suggesting that we should not call a referendum until Yes is at 60% in the polls, or is he actually suggesting that the rules of the next referendum should be rigged in favour of the No side to ensure that they only need 40.01% of the vote to "win"? I suspect the ambiguity may be intentional, because there is a near-consensus in the Yes movement that the 40% rule in 1979 was an outrage against democracy that must never be repeated in any form. It's unlikely there would have been as many people recommending Mr Mackay's article as a "must-read" if they had realised he was channeling George Cunningham.
And it would actually make a complete nonsense of all of the high-minded suggestions for building Yes support, because what happens if those ideas work? Suppose the banning of marches, the sending of people to Coventry on Twitter, and the introduction of a 60% rule somehow win over No voters by the bucket-load, and we score a highly impressive 59% of the vote in the next referendum? The returning officer will just turn around and say: "Sorry, under the Vote Adjustment Rules, 41 is a bigger number than 59, and you've actually lost. Try again in a generation." Supermajority requirements aren't "bold", they aren't daring, they aren't radical - they're ultra-conservative, anti-democratic, and make the status quo insanely difficult to reform.
Even if we're generous to Mr Mackay and assume he wasn't proposing a supermajority, but merely that we shouldn't hold a referendum until 60% has been reached in the polls, that would still to all intents and purposes be an argument against a referendum and against independence, because in the real world 60% is utterly unachievable before the referendum campaign actually starts. If even the initial shock of the Leave vote in June 2016 was only enough to get Yes into the low 50s, I'm struggling to see how we'd get much higher than than that without calling a referendum and inviting people to focus on the choice.