Political predictions: first update

Eighteen months ago I pretended, preposterously, to be some kind of all-seeing political oracle

Eighteen months ago I idiotically created a whole series of hostages to fortune

Eighteen months ago I used this blog to make a number of political predictions. The first of those predictions related to the European elections just gone.

To be honest, I probably could have pretended I had never done anything so foolish – ignored the whole thing, maybe even quietly “disappeared” the original post – since I would estimate the number of people besides me who remember what I blogged here that long ago to be approximately zero. But I ended that post by saying that I would report back on how my predictions panned out, and – in my blogging life, as in my real life – I try to be a man of my word. So this is what, back in November 2012, I had to say about the European elections of May 2014:

Summer 2014 European election in the UK – Labour win.

Rationale: from 1989 onwards, the party in opposition at Westminster has always won in European elections. This isn’t just true when a party has been perceived as doing well domestically – it has held true even when the party concerned has been disliked in general elections, as with Labour winning the Euro elections in 89 but losing the General in 1992, or the Conservatives winning the Euros in 1999 and 2004 but losing the Generals in 2001 and 2005.

What might make me wrong: UKIP will very likely finish in 2nd place (since a lot of Conservative right-wingers vote UKIP in Euro elections). If Labour do a very bad job getting their supporters out – so other parties take seats that ‘ought’ to go Labour – then it’s maybe just about possible that UKIP might sneak into first. But I doubt it.

[…]

I’ll refer back to this post as the events I’ve made predictions about come to pass, and then we’ll find out whether I’m a complete idiot, or if I’m a complete idiot who somehow managed to predict a couple of things right.

In the light of the results of this election, I am happy to confirm that I am a complete idiot.

Post-mortem

I guess I can claim that at least I recognised UKIP might win. It’s evidence that I had woken up to the fact that UKIP were no longer a fringe protest group (at least in relation to Euro elections) rather earlier than most mainstream commentators, who in some cases were still talking about UKIP that way until very recently – probably in the hope that saying it would make it true.

And I can also, I think, argue that I have partly turned out to be wrong in the way I thought that I might. Labour’s inability to take as many votes as they “ought” to have done has assisted UKIP to their victory. If Labour’s share of the vote had been just about 2% higher – and there was ample scope for them to achieve that, since the Conservatives only saw their share fall back by a relatively modest amount – they would have scraped into first place.

But I also must acknowledge that I was wrong in a way I had not envisaged. I had completely failed to anticipate that UKIP’s vote would surge by 11% from their result in the last Euro elections. I was thinking UKIP would do well, if they did, by default: that a Labour failure would “allow” UKIP to win with an unchanged, or marginally increased, share of the vote. In fact UKIP have done well in their own right, and on their own terms. They have taken their victory for themselves, not been handed it by others.

And – taking off my analytical hat, and speaking in terms of my own opinions – how would I comment on the fact that UKIP have done well? I think the word “bollocks” would cover it reasonably succinctly. At least it’s only the Euro elections, and their victory hasn’t given them any actual power.

In other news, I was glad to see the BNP share of the vote fall back by more than 5%, and them thus lose all their MEPs. And I was also glad to see the Green party manage to defend their share of the vote – they fell back by 0.75% – and to return one more MEP to the parliament than they managed in 2009. The Greens are an obvious home for left-leaning former Liberal Democrat voters, so we might have hoped they could add votes. But in the context of an election in which all the “energy” was tending to the Eurosceptic right, simply managing to hold on to their share of the vote was an achievement, and increasing their representation impressive.

The next political prediction I made back in November 2012 was that the Scottish referendum would go against independence. I suggested that the thing that might make me wrong would be Scottish Labour voters being so disgusted/ worried by their party’s efforts to curry favour with swing voters in England that they voted for independence (there is some evidence this may be starting to happen). I’ll post another update after the result, when I hope – as a supporter of Scottish independence, I really hope – I will have been proved wrong again, and the result will have gone resoundingly yes.

Re-reading that prediction, I’m already prepared to go on the record and declare myself utterly wrong in the way I overstated the SNP’s active pursuit of a gradualist approach to achieving independence. In retrospect I can see that I had not properly taken account of the extent to which the SNP’s landslide victory in 2011 had changed things – politics is the art of the possible, and for a time the SNP were pursuing a de facto gradualist approach because that was the best that was possible. Their ability to outright win an election in Scotland demonstrated that independence secured by means of a yes/no referendum is possible, and that’s what the SNP are pursuing.

They are, I think, smart enough political strategists to keep the possibility of an incremental, multi-stage movement towards independence alive as a fall-back position. In the event that the referendum were lost, the SNP would be certain to use the level of support for yes to argue for more powers for the Scottish parliament, but that doesn’t mean that’s the approach they are pursuing. This is, of course, because the only way to be sure the Scottish parliament acquires more powers is to vote yes.

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