14 December 2009

Just a Bit of Fun!

It would be remiss of me not to flag up th new look Scotland Votes site, newly beefed up to include details of the upcoming Westminster election, links to candidates' Twitter feeds, seat profiles, and everyone's favourite, the predictor, of which I include a screenshot:

Now, I love the predictor, as do most election geeks, as it enables us to live out our secret desire to be Peter Snow (or, for those of a more mature vintage, Robert McKenzie - I am quite sure that no one of any vintage at all has a burning desire to be Jeremy Vine), but there's a minor issue that I want to flag up - a small quibble, really, the equivalent of Craig Revel-Horwood berating Ricky Whittle and Natalie Lowe for coming down the stairs at the wrong time during their Argentine Tango on Saturday. All the same, look closely at the predictor:

Why that order of the parties? Why Labour, SNP, LibDem, Tory?

I ask simply because that order of the parties hasn't formed the basis of an actual Scotland-wide election result since 2001, and there have been five elections since then, all of which have yielded a result that wasn't this.

As such, I'd be fascinated to know what the mindset of the designer was, when they used an alignment of the parties which has only ever taken place once in a real election as the basis for their layout. Is it based on an expectation of the result? That would be an unwise approach. Is it based on the designers' suppositions of Scotland's political landscape? If so, they should have checked their facts first. Is it an institutional approach? The Weber Shandwick predictor for Holyrood - on the same site - puts the four parties in the same order. Again, this wasn't a reflection of the 2003 Election, on which the initial predictions were based (the 2007 poll not having taken place at the time), or the 2007 Election, whose outcome it was initially designed to project. It reflected an analysis that wasn't borne out by the electoral facts and that same analysis is being used again despite it being unclear what, if anything, it is based on.

And of course, if you attach any kind of significance or symbolism to that ordering, then three of the four main political parties have cause to feel aggrieved: the SNP can complain that the results of the last two Scotland-wide elections have been overlooked. The Tories can complain that the general trend of their third place has been overlooked: in the ten elections since 1994, the Tories have come behind the LibDems only twice - 2001 and 2005. And the LibDems would probably have the strongest cause for complaint of all three: on the best basis for comparison - the 2005 Election - they were the ones who came second behind Labour. That too has been overlooked.

Of course, the three parties would all envisage different orderings, so finding one based on past results would be difficult. A fairer approach would be to order the parties alphabetically: this allows an element of common sense and transparency as it's easy to see why the parties are laid out as they are. It also has the benefit of offering no symbolism whatever given the utter implausibility of the result turning out that way - the Tories haven't come first in Scotland since the 1979 European Election and haven't even reached second since 1992, while the SNP haven't been as low as fourth place in a real poll since 1987. It would seem more sensible to me.

But, frankly, the actual order doesn't matter too much, save as a possible barometer of Weber Shandwick's view of the political landscape. In truth, the predictor is, like all those that have gone before it, a decent enough tool in trying to project poll results to actual electoral outcomes (though, obviously, success can never be guaranteed), and a good way of passing a few spare minutes if you're of a persuasion that is as geekish as my own. As Peter Snow (or was it just Rory Bremner pretending to be Peter Snow?) used to say, it's just a bit of fun.


ASwaS said...

Even I think you might have crossed the geek threshold on this one. You know ST:TOS 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' episode? That.

Ted Harvey said...

But do such models reflect the increasingly most critical aspect of UK politics - the increasing numbers of voters who just don't vote, and the increasing numbers who don't bother to even register?

I found myself today agreeing elsewhere that there is an unholy macro-policy confluence now between the major parties; and even between them and the popularly detested bankers, despite all that has recently happened.

Once again I opinioned that the general population 'out there' is just getting more and more alienated from what is seen as an arrogant and self-serving political/business/media elite.

The consequence, going by history, is increasingly likely to be that 'A Strong Man' from the (extreme) Right will some day emerge 'to sort out the corruption'. Maybe in their heart of hearts that is why the mainstream parties get so utterly worked up about the merest hint of BNP advances?

Meantime, Will, you touched the nostalgia again. You mentioned Robert McKenzie (but steady on with the 'those of a more mature vintage'!) One of the highlights of my undergraduate life was sitting next to Bob at an awfully serious lecture by an awfully important foreign person when a bunch of streakers ran across the stage behind the unaware speaker. Bob showed great Canadian sang froid merely whispering to me something to the effect that "there's not behind them".

Will said...

Meh. They hadn't quite settled on what Kirk's middle initial would be when they made that episode so I tend to scoff at it, but in any case, I'm not sure my ESP abilities are strong enough to lead to any Mitchell-esque mutations. :)

Ted, I'm not too worried about the idea of a Strong Man of the Right - Griffin doesn't come close and you could almost say that Tommy Sheridan was a Strong Man of the Left but he's been undone by a combination of his vanity, his colleagues' jealousy, and the press sensing a story, though I'll avoid any direct reference to any legal proceedings, for obvious reasons!

Besides, the very people who are so hacked off that they don't bother to vote are cynical towards all promises of change because they realise that they've "heard it all before" and nothing actually does make things better. For that reason, I don't think they'll be convinced by any Griffin-esque figure for very long. There do need to be major policy shifts on many different areas - especially finance - and more attempts to engage with more people, but I don't yet see the status quo leading to the situation you're too worried about.

PS Sorry about the 'mature' crack - the sad thing is, I was attempting to be delicate!

Stephen Glenn said...

The answer to the ordering is simple.

It's to reflect the positions of Scotland's eleventh most popular blogger for the past two (according to Total Politics) last outing in a General Election. :)

Anonymous said...

What i don't get is if the Lib-dems crumble to say 0% of the vote in Scotland the swingometer predicts they will still win 2 or 3 seats. Good to know that the mysterious legacy of the 1886 crofting act mean that even if no-one votes lib-dem Charlie Kennedy will still keep his seat....

Will said...

Hi Anon, I would imagine that the reason for that quirk of the predictor is that it uses Uniform National Swing to work out the seats, so rather than reducing the vote share to zero across the board, it subtracts 22.6% (that being the LibDem result in Scotland in 2005) from the LibDem vote share in every constituency.

What this means is that in constituencies where the LibDems polled less than that share, the predictor will have them down as getting negative votes. Conversely, for the seats which still have them winning, it would depend on the figures you put in for the other parties. What will have happened is that the vote share of the other parties plus the increase you entered is still less than the LibDem share minus 22.6%. So the LibDems will still be first.

Hope that helps explain it a little...