Saturday, May 30, 2020

Your suggestions for poll questions, please...

So just a quick update on the crowdfunder to run a new poll on independence.  At the moment (just after 11pm on Saturday night) the running total stands at £5112, so hopefully we stand a good chance of reaching the target figure of £6000, or at least getting very close.  Thanks to everyone who has donated so far, or spread the word on social media.  Thanks also to The National and to Paul Kavanagh of Wee Ginger Dug for giving the crowdfunder a plug.

All things being equal, I'll hopefully begin my attempts to commission a poll on Monday, so if you have any brilliant suggestions for questions, now is the time to put them forward.  My tentative plan is to ask the standard independence question, plus the Westminster voting intention question, and then four (or possibly five) supplementary questions.  I know it may seem odd to ask for Westminster voting intentions when it's the Holyrood election we have on the horizon, but remember that Holyrood polls take up two questions (constituency ballot and list ballot), so would leave less space for supplementary questions.  The main thing is that we'll get a sense of the direction of travel (if any) from a Westminster question.

Last time around, it was just after the election and the supplementary questions practically chose themselves.  This time I've got lots of ideas, but it's trickier to know which are the most important topics to be asking about at this precise moment.  So even if you don't have any specific suggestions for questions, feel free to give your thoughts on which general topics would be best, and why.

Click here if you'd like to donate to the crowdfunder.

Leading SAGE members make clear that the UK government have ceased to "follow the science", and are making a political choice to accept a large number of avoidable deaths

Yesterday was a depressing day, albeit one of much-needed clarity: two leading members of SAGE finally laid to rest any pretence that the UK government are "following the science".  Professor John Edmunds and Jeremy Farrar explained that the estimated 8000 new cases of the virus in the UK every day is extremely high compared to other countries, and too high to safely lift the lockdown.  Edmunds made clear that the fact that the English lockdown was being lifted anyway meant that the government had made a political decision to tolerate a high level of ongoing infection, and perhaps dozens of deaths per day on an indefinite basis.  That is a prospect that virtually no other country faces.  It hopefully goes without saying that Nicola Sturgeon's government must use the partial powers they have to prevent a Tory-authored English tragedy from becoming a UK-wide tragedy.

We sometimes talk as if there's a binary choice between letting the virus rip, and suppressing it.  But the prospect Edmunds was raising was of the R number persistently hovering at around 1 due to the halfway house measures the UK government have in mind.  An R of 1 isn't a disaster in itself as long as you start with a low absolute number of cases - for instance, with 10 cases a day and a steady infection rate, you'd have fewer than 4000 more cases at the end of a year.  But with the current estimate of 8000 cases a day, you'd end up with another 3 million infections after a year - that's getting on for 5% of the population.  If the objective is to prioritise the economy, it's completely counter-productive, because people aren't going to engage in normal economic activities until they feel relatively safe.  There won't be any feeling of safety for as long as there's a degree of contagion out there that ensures everyone will know people who are getting sick and dying.

Someone emailed me about a week ago to express deep concerns about an article that was prominently featured on the BBC news website, effectively encouraging people to go out and accept a calculated risk of catching the virus.  It tried to downplay the risks on two counts - firstly by suggesting that you're unlikely to become infected, and secondly by suggesting that it won't be such a big deal even if you are infected.  The latter claim is absolutely jaw-dropping - it's as if time has stood still since February and that the BBC are still, even now, trying to gaslight us into believing that this is a "mild" infection.  Several dubious comparisons were made with other 'acceptable' risks that we face in our lives on a daily basis.  Unsurprisingly, the article was written by Nick Triggle, who for whatever reason has been given licence by the BBC to pursue a none-too-subtle agenda throughout this crisis.  He's been eagerly trying to convince us (inaccurately, as it happens) that the victims of the virus "would have died anyway".  The reality is that the average 60 year old with an underlying health condition can expect to have a decent lifespan ahead of them as long as they can avoid catching a deadly virus.

The person who contacted me made a couple of points - 

"1. 'Only one person in 400 is infectious.' Yes, infectious on one day. But over the course of a year, how many are infectious? 100 out of 400? Which makes it almost certain that we will come across one of them.

2. Notice that the article formulates risk entirely in terms of risk of death. What about risk of long-term health problems after surviving covid, or risk of awful death of someone close to you with little opportunity to say goodbye, etc."

To which I'd add the ludicrousness of the article suggesting that there are certain age groups who can 'safely' accept the risk of infection.  There is no such thing as a safe infection unless you can literally keep the generations totally segregated - and you can't.

*  *  *

Thursday, May 28, 2020

CROWDFUNDER: Help Scot Goes Pop commission a post-Cummings poll on independence

As I mentioned in the previous post, a number of readers have suggested to me over the last couple of days that now would be a good time to crowdfund a second Scot Goes Pop poll on independence. The Cummings scandal has already led to really remarkable slumps in Boris Johnson's approval ratings and in the Conservative lead in GB-wide polls. It's conceivable - and I only say conceivable - that there might have been a similar effect on the independence question, and some people are keen to find out. To be honest, I was unsure if it was such a great idea to attempt to crowdfund in the middle of a pandemic when many people are struggling, so I asked for your views, and the reaction to the proposal was largely positive - albeit not unanimously so.

We'll give it a whirl and see how it goes. Last time around I contacted five different polling companies, and they each quoted different prices, so even if we fall a bit short of the target figure, it may still be possible to run a poll if I shop around a bit and limit the number of questions.

Click here to go straight to the fundraising page.

Hi, my name's James Kelly, and I run the pro-independence blog Scot Goes Pop, which has a particular emphasis on opinion poll analysis. You might remember that back in January, I decided to step into the breach due to a mysterious lack of polls on independence since the general election. With your help, I commissioned a poll from Panelbase which confirmed, as we all suspected, that there had been a significant swing to Yes as a result of Brexit becoming an inevitability.

In recent days, there has been another landmark event with the potential to cause a major shift in public opinion. The revelations about the Prime Minister's chief adviser, and his subsequent refusal to resign, has led to hurt and anger among millions of people who have made considerable personal sacrifices to obey the lockdown rules since March. We already know that the Conservative lead in Britain-wide polls has fallen sharply as a result, and it's reasonable to wonder if it may have caused some No voters in Scotland to think again about independence.

A number of people have asked me to put that to the test by commissioning a second Scot Goes Pop poll on independence. If this crowdfunder is successful, that's what will happen. The new poll will ask the standard independence question 'Should Scotland be an independent country?', and will also ask for party political voting intentions to see if those have been altered by the events of recent days. There will be room for a few supplementary questions of interest to the Yes movement - I have some ideas, but I'll ask for suggestions before making a final decision.

Before you donate, bear in mind that there's no guarantee whatsoever that the poll will show a swing to Yes. Just because we may feel that's intuitively likely doesn't mean that we're right. The purpose of the exercise is to find out one way or the other - although if by any chance there is a boost for Yes, the poll could provide some useful momentum for the independence campaign as lockdown restrictions are gradually eased.

Bear in mind also that there's always a chance that an independence poll could suddenly appear in a newspaper at any time. Even if that happens, I'll take the Mastermind approach of "I've started so I'll finish". There would still be considerable value in a 'second opinion' from a further poll, and the supplementary questions would still be well worth asking.

Click here if you'd like to donate.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Stunning telephone poll finds almost TWO-THIRDS of the Scottish public want a second independence referendum

There's been a fair bit of polling news in the last 24 hours. Ben Page of Ipsos-Mori tweeted another finding from the telephone poll conducted in the middle of this month - it shows that 63% of the Scottish public want a second independence referendum to take place at some point, and only 34% don't. That's essentially a two-to-one margin after Don't Knows are excluded. 53% want an indyref within the next five years, and 34% want it within the next two years. I think that's highly significant - by mid-May we were very deep into the worst international crisis since the Second World War, and yet clearly that hadn't deterred people from the thought of making a choice about a big constitutional change. Indeed, I'm sure for some people that change may now seem even more urgent.

(Incidentally, Ben Page subsequently deleted his tweet, so I'm not sure if he accidentally broke his own firm's embargo.)

There's also a GB-wide YouGov poll showing a collapse in the Tory lead from fifteen points to six. Given that Keir Starmer's personal ratings suggest the public are warming to the new Labour leader in spite of his lack of charisma, I suspect the Labour resurgence south of the border could be here to stay, and may have further to run. So the big question for the SNP is whether they can hold their commanding lead in Scotland in a new environment where Labour look like credible long-term challengers for power. So far, they're managing to do so, if the Scottish subsample from the poll is to be believed -

SNP 54%, Conservatives 20%, Labour 16%, Greens 4%, Liberal Democrats 3%, Brexit Party 1%

Scottish Labour will doubtless be banking on a turnaround once the crisis subsides and Nicola Sturgeon no longer has the advantage of being a 'war leader'. But they shouldn't make any assumptions - there have been spells since the autumn of 2014 when Labour looked like serious contenders under both Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn, but the SNP have maintained some sort of lead throughout.

*  *  *

A few people (maybe four or five) have suggested that I should commission another opinion poll on independence soon.  I was initially surprised by the idea, because of course there was a Panelbase poll on independence commissioned by Wings extremely recently.  However, that was pre-Cummings, and the theory is that there may have been a boost for Yes as a result of that lovely day out in Barnard Castle.  To be honest, I'm not at all sure whether it's a good idea to be attempting a crowdfunder in the middle of a pandemic when people are struggling so much, but if anyone has any strong views on the subject, feel free to leave a comment below, and I'll assess whether there's enough appetite for it.  Bear in mind that there's never any way of knowing when an independence poll might suddenly pop up in a newspaper anyway.

There might well be a more optimal moment later in the year, but I've got an open mind, so let me know what you think.

*  *  *

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Carlaw left with nowhere to go, as new Scottish poll reveals a severe lack of confidence in London's handling of the crisis, and almost total backing for the Scottish Government's approach

The BBC have a policy of never commissioning voting intention polls - and they don't really report on other outlets' voting intention polls either.  (The latter is a relatively recent development - I remember when I was growing up there used to be a polling round-up every night on the news during general election campaigns, but at some point it was decided that was too much of a distraction from the issues.)  It's become increasingly rare for them to commission polls on any point of political controversy at all, so when they make an exception it's not unreasonable for people to ask: why now?  Or even: what are they up to?  I've heard some suggestions that the new BBC Scotland poll on the handling of the current crisis by the Scottish Government and the UK Government was commissioned with the hope of getting bad numbers for the Scottish Government, or at least to produce the headline that "the two governments are as bad as each other".  That may well be too cynical - it may have been commissioned with a totally open mind.  However, BBC Scotland do have a track record in recent years of crusading campaigns against the Scottish Government (most notably on the NHS), and no equivalent campaigns against the UK Government - in spite of the fact that we're always being reminded that "Scotland has two governments".  So perhaps a touch of cynicism can be forgiven.

Whatever the motivation, though, the poll turned out to be dreamland stuff for Nicola Sturgeon, and nothing short of catastrophic for Boris Johnson and the Tory government in London.  55% of respondents in Scotland think Johnson has handled the crisis badly, and only 30% think he has handled it well.  The numbers for the UK government are broadly similar - 51% badly, 34% well.  Those are extraordinary findings at a time when governing parties all over the world are enjoying a polling boost due to the 'rally around the flag' effect.  What makes it even worse is that the fieldwork for the poll preceded the Cummings controversy, so in all likelihood the numbers in a poll conducted now would be far more dire for Johnson.

By contrast, the Scottish Government's handling of the crisis enjoys backing that is as close to total as you'll ever see in any poll.  82% of respondents feel that Nicola Sturgeon has handled it well, and only 8% think she has handled it badly.  For the Scottish Government as a whole, the figures are 78% well, 11% badly.

The Scottish Tories have been trying to chip away at the Scottish Government by criticising any divergence from London, on the grounds that it causes "confusion" - but the poll leaves no room for doubt that such a line of attack is completely misconceived.  An overwhelming 81% think Scotland should come out of lockdown at a different time from the rest of the UK if deemed necessary.  And on specific measures where there is already a divergence between London and Edinburgh, public opinion strongly favours the more cautious Scottish approach - there's clear opposition to the reopening of non-essential shops, and to the reopening of schools before summer.  

The vast majority (70%) think that lockdown didn't happen soon enough.  That can be seen as a criticism of both governments, although from the other numbers it's reasonable to infer that London is taking the lion's share of the blame.  (And rightly so, given the Scottish Government's limited legal powers until late March.)

The obvious lesson is that the Scottish Tories would have been far better advised to stick with a national-unity-at-Scottish-level approach.  They could have portrayed themselves as part of a cross-party 'Team Scotland' and demonstrated that they are not merely a branch office of a London party.  Instead they've let themselves become associated with a deeply unpopular London policy, while being seen to be opposed to a wildly popular Scottish policy.  From a strategic point of view, it really doesn't get much worse than that.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

48 hours that prove the unelected Dominic Cummings is running Britain like a Mafia boss

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Some unsolicited advice for the new pro-indy party: "get on or get out"

Last September, I said that I didn't think there was any need or space for a new pro-indy party to put up list candidates against the SNP and the Greens. But I added that if such a party were to be formed, it needed to meet two conditions -

"1) A party that exists for reasons other than perceived tactical advantage. If your Party Election Broadcast is an embarrassing three minute monologue about the d'Hondt formula, you're going wrong somewhere.

2) A party that is not organised on the Il Duce principle. Any party with aspirations to hold the balance of power in our national parliament must be controlled by its members, rather than being the personal possession of its founder - regardless of the magnetic hold that individual may have on his followers."

In fairness, I get the impression that the new ISP (which stands for Independence for Scotland Party, and not Internet Service Provider) will meet the second condition. It seems like a fairly collegiate outfit, and although I'm not entirely sure of the process by which Colette Walker was selected as leader, I would imagine that's merely an interim arrangement and that there'll be a democratic internal vote at some point. But the signs are not so good as far as the first condition is concerned. Ms Walker's article in The National contained the usual bogus claims about the Holyrood electoral system that are so familiar to us from a million RISE press releases in 2016. Even more troublingly, a strong sense of entitlement came through from the article, as if the SNP somehow owed smaller pro-indy parties a favour and should get out of the way by no longer actively seeking votes on the regional list ballot. We should be extremely thankful that the SNP didn't go down that road in 2011, because without the sixteen list seats they won in that election, there would have been no overall majority and quite possibly no independence referendum in 2014. Even the four list seats they currently hold are a crucial component of the pro-indy majority at Holyrood. If too many SNP voters were to drift off to fringe parties on the list next year, that could in the nightmare scenario lead to a unionist majority.

I was accused in 2016 of wildly underestimating the potential of RISE to win list seats. As it turned out, I hadn't underestimated them at all, and they didn't come within light-years of taking even a single seat. History is repeating itself now and I'm being accused of underestimating the ISP - and I fully expect to be proved right once again. But let's suppose for the sake of argument that I'm wrong and that the ISP do have some sort of chance of clearing the de facto threshold of 5% and thus winning list seats. If there's any possibility of that, it should start showing up in opinion polls over the coming months - and I must emphasise that I'm talking about credible opinion polls that give parity of esteem to all parties, rather than Mickey Mouse poll questions that ask "would you consider voting for this party?" If by the end of the year the ISP are polling at, say, 7% or 8% on the standard voting intention question, they'll be perfectly entitled to conclude they have a fighting chance of winning seats and could end up helping the cause of independence rather than harming it.

But the much more likely scenario is that they'll be polling somewhere between zero and 3%, and will be firmly on course to win no seats. Now, admittedly, even at that stage there'll be no absolute proof that the mission is doomed, and they might still nurse the hope that the official campaign period will turn things around - but that's pretty unlikely, given that they'll be excluded from the leaders' debates, along with all of the other disadvantages fringe parties face. With no pre-campaign breakthrough in the polls, the rational thing to do would be to abort the whole plan and not put up list candidates after all, because the balance of probability would be that any votes they take will be wasted and will thus harm rather than help the pro-indy side (ie. by making it harder for the SNP and Greens to win list seats). Or at least, that would be the rational call for anyone who regards independence as the absolute priority. If they push ahead in spite of knowing that they're likely to cause harm, we'll be entitled to conclude that their priorities actually lie elsewhere.

In a nutshell, my advice to the ISP would be what Jo Grimond famously said to the Liberal party in the 1950s: "get on or get out". In other words, there's no point in a fringe party existing just for the sake of it. If there's a realistic chance of making a positive difference, by all means put your heart and soul into it and make it work. But if there's no realistic chance, and if you discover from the polls that you've been caught in a Twitter bubble all along, then for heaven's sake step aside before you cause any real damage.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Sarah Smith's unforgivable lapse of judgement last night may be career-defining

I suspect Sarah Smith's outrageous allegation on live BBC news bulletins last night that Nicola Sturgeon is "enjoying" the "opportunity" of the pandemic is destined to become as notorious as Nick Robinson's "he didn't answer" lie in 2014. Let's be honest - no leader, no leader at all, is enjoying this crisis. Ms Sturgeon isn't enjoying it because of the intolerable stress of having to make life and death decisions, and because (like the rest of us) she's unable to spend time with her family and friends. Boris Johnson isn't enjoying it because of the obvious fact that he almost died. Donald Trump isn't enjoying it because he's a known germaphobe and because it may have screwed up his chances of being re-elected in November.

So what could possibly have given Sarah Smith the impression that the First Minister is somehow having lots of fun? The specific claim was that, although Ms Sturgeon insists her decisions have been driven by scientific advice and not politics, she is in fact relishing the chance to diverge from London policy. No evidence was provided to support this suggestion - which is hardly surprising, because no such evidence exists. Ms Smith was given total licence by the BBC to speculate and editorialise from a partisan anti-SNP perspective in front of millions of viewers, and without any right of reply.

What's so stupid about this incident is that it's blindingly obvious to anyone who has paid attention since March that the truth is the polar opposite of Ms Smith's claim - the First Minister was in reality determined to remain in lockstep with London, and did so for several weeks, even though that meant disregarding all of the key recommendations of the World Health Organization. It took a catastrophe of near-biblical proportions for her to finally accept that London didn't know best on this occasion - and even then she diverged from Boris Johnson's decisions with the greatest of regret and reluctance. She would infinitely have preferred Johnson to have compromised in order to maintain a UK-wide approach.

It's bad enough for a BBC correspondent to drop all pretence of impartiality and shove their own political opinions down viewers' throats - but when they're just plain factually wrong at the same time, that really is unforgivable.

* * *

To return briefly to the subject of the previous post, my eye was caught by this claim from Kevin McKenna in the Herald -

"A wide-ranging poll conducted this week for Wings Over Scotland by Panelbase has already produced one astounding conclusion: that the number of SNP voters who’d be willing to sacrifice power for the sacred goal of independence has dropped from 82% to 59%. It bears out my worst fears for the future of the independence movement: that the party which alone is defined by this has now become so dazzled by the trinkets of high office that it’s fast losing the stomach for the fight."

That's highly misleading on one count, and inaccurate on another. The poll quite simply didn't ask whether voters would "sacrifice power for independence". It didn't ask them whether they would prefer power or independence. It didn't ask any other variant of that question either. It instead asked whether people would vote Yes or No to independence under wildly implausible hypothetical circumstances, and didn't give them any opportunity to explain their reasoning. By far the most likely explanation for people getting cold feet about independence in the specified scenario is that they were concerned that Scotland might not be competently governed if the SNP suddenly ceased to exist. They therefore concluded it would be a risk too far. I doubt if it even occurred to them that they were "sacrificing power", and quite right too - ordinary voters don't have much power to sacrifice, and they generally don't have any control at all over the political party they vote for.

The direct inaccuracy is that the figure has "dropped from 82% to 59%". That suggests the result is being compared to a previous poll that asked a similar question - but it isn't. No such previous poll exists.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Landmark Wings poll finds that the SNP's popularity is crucial to preserving the coalition of support for independence

One of the reasons I knew in advance there was a Wings poll on its way was that people who had been interviewed by Panelbase mentioned there were "a lot of oddly-worded questions about the trans issue".  But it turns out that the oddly-worded questions weren't just confined to one subject.  Check out this monster - 

Please consider the following hypothetical scenario: the SNP issue a legally-binding commitment that in the event of a Yes vote for Scottish independence, they will permanently disband the party and step down from government as soon as the independence negotiations are concluded.  In that event, how do you think you would vote in an independence referendum?

Oh-kaaaaaay, Stu.  I mean, why stop there?  Why not ask people how they would vote in an independence referendum in the hypothetical scenario that Nicola Sturgeon and the entire SNP cabinet make a legally-binding commitment to blast off on a rocket bound for Saturn the following day?  I'm not a lawyer, but I have my doubts as to whether it's even possible for the kind of pre-commitments Stuart is talking about to be legally-binding.  For the SNP to disappear "permanently", I presume it would literally have to be prohibited by statute in much the same way that Germany has banned any form of Nazi party.  As for government formation, that's a matter for the Scottish Parliament at any given moment in time - options can't be closed off months or years in advance.

So what the hell was the point of Stuart asking such a ludicrous question?  Reading between the lines, it appears to have been a propaganda exercise, intended to establish that the SNP are a drag on support for independence.  If so, it backfired totally, because the result is the opposite - support for independence actually decreases from 50% to 47% when people are asked to assume that the SNP will no longer be around.  That really shouldn't have been such a surprise to Stuart, because a number of people have become independence supporters precisely because they've seen the SNP run a devolved administration with a high degree of competence, and expect more of the same with the full powers of independence.  As soon as you take away even the possibility of a post-independence SNP government, the reassurance disappears and those people are left with a considerable amount of uncertainty about what independence would look like and whether it would be a success.

Having failed to get the result he wanted, Stuart naturally does his usual "heads I win, tails you lose" thing, and tries to spin the result so that it supposedly still shows that the SNP are the main obstacle to independence (because their voters allegedly care more about maintaining SNP rule than about achieving the party's goal).  Yeah, whatever.

In science, there's an important concept called 'falsifiability'.  One implication of it is that if you set up a study in the hope of proving that a theory is true, there has to be a way in which the study could also prove the theory is false.  For example, if someone is claiming to have psychic powers, and you ask them ten questions to prove they are a charlatan, you have to accept that if they get all ten questions right, you've failed to prove what you set out to prove.  You can't then shift the goalposts and say "oh, but this just proves how cunning a charlatan he is!"

Stuart's claim (that his poll proves that the SNP are the main obstacle to indy) fails the falsifiability test, and fails it utterly.  He would literally have made exactly the same claim if he had got precisely the opposite result - and that was what he was seeking.

Prematurely relaxing restrictions on so-called "low-risk" groups is an exceptionally high-risk thing to do - unless you can somehow totally segregate the generations, which you can't.