Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wisdom on Wednesday : The housemates up for eviction this year are...

"A Yes for independence, Michelle Mone leaves. A No for independence, I leave. Vote wan of us oot! What's it to be?"

'Still Game' star Greg Hemphill, presenting the choice we're faced with this September in its starkest form yet. I'll need to take 0.000000000000000000000000001 microseconds to think about this one.

(And please don't feel guilty. When the inevitable happens, an excitable host will be on hand to reassuringly whisper in Michelle's ear "It's just pantomime booing, babes".)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Commonwealth Games FAQ, brought to you by George Orwell

Q.  Can I bring the flag of a political cause or of a non-competing nation to the venue?

A.  Absolutely NOT.  The flags of political causes and of non-competing nations are strictly forbidden, and if you wave one at the venue you will be removed by the police.

Q.  The UK is a non-competing nation.  Is it OK if I wave a Union Jack?

A.  Yes, of course it is!  But please remember that waving the flags of non-competing nations is not allowed.

Q.  Can I consume any flavour of ice cream at the venue?

A.  Regrettably not.  Due to sponsorship arrangements, only the consumption of raspberry ice cream will be permitted.

Q.  Vanilla is David Cameron's favourite flavour.  Is it OK if I consume vanilla ice cream at the venue, even though only raspberry is permitted?

A.  Yes, of course you can!  But please remember that only the consumption of raspberry is permitted, and if you try having strawberry or any other non-raspberry flavour that isn't David Cameron's favourite, the police are likely to intervene.

Q.  Is it OK for contributors to the BBC's coverage of the Games to make comments that might be construed, however implausibly, as favouring one side or the other in the Scottish independence referendum?

A.  Categorically NOT.  Surely you saw that Chris Hoy couldn't even use the word 'Yes' when he was talking about a marriage proposal, and instead had to weirdly use the word 'acceptance'.

Q.  But even though it's not OK for the BBC coverage to be seen to take sides in the referendum, is it still OK for BBC hosts such as Gary Lineker to presuppose a No vote by endlessly inviting people like Ian Thorpe and Chris Hoy to speculate on the prospects for "Team GB" in Rio, without ever bothering to issue a disclaimer that there probably won't be a Team GB in Rio if Scotland votes Yes?

A.  Did you really need to ask?

The Gaelic musical that likes to say Yes

Ah, the Commonwealth Games.  Is this the greatest show that the far north of "the Middleland" has ever seen?  I've been so busy milling around Glasgow over the last few days that I haven't really had a chance to catch up with the reaction from other countries, but I was thrilled to spot a rave review on the CBC (Canadian TV) website last night.  Of course there have been lots of cultural events running in parallel to the sport, and last night I headed to Glasgow Green to see a free performance of Children of the Smoke, a sort-of-musical (although that doesn't quite do it justice) in Gaelic.  Unfortunately I missed the start, which probably means that I also missed a rough synopsis, so I couldn't make much sense of what was going on - but it did seem pretty extraordinary.  I spotted Kathleen MacInnes in the cast (although I must admit it took me 20 minutes to work out where I recognised her from!), and from what I read afterwards Patsy Reid may have been one of the live musicians, but as you can see from the photos below I was in the wrong vantage-point to see the musicians on the left.

In the last photo, you can probably spot a couple of cards on the side of the boat.  If the camera on my phone wasn't quite so rubbish, you'd also be able to spot that they display the Yes logo!  They were left up for a good couple of minutes at the end of the show.

Here's why the No campaign should be worried about the British Election Study data

Over the last day or two, you might have seen the referendum data from May/June published by the British Election Study. It shows a relatively narrow (albeit hardly untypical) No lead of 51% to 39%, which is down from a 52% to 37% split in February/March.  But what I didn't realise initially was that the fieldwork was conducted by YouGov, whose panel is notorious for producing higher No leads than the average (both in polls for YouGov themselves, and in Progressive Partnership polls for which YouGov conducted the fieldwork). There has been no official YouGov poll so far in this campaign that has shown a No lead of as low as 12% (the lowest was 14%), and nor has there been one that has shown a Yes vote of as high as 39% (the highest was 37%).  Yet the unusually narrow gap in the BES data has been found in spite of the sample size being five times bigger than for a standard YouGov poll.

Overnight, I was sent the following commentary on the survey results by someone who said "no need to mention me" - I'm not sure whether that was a specific request for anonymity or not, but to be on the safe side I'll assume that it was!  Incidentally, I've changed the Wave 1 Yes figure below from 38.6% to 36.6%, which I'm pretty sure is the correct number.

I am a YES supporter and canvass in Edinburgh. I am not an expert on opinion poll methodology but analyse statistical data from scientific experiments so have some familiarity with issues involved in estimation.

I thought I would pass on some information about the "British Election Study" that was released today. I was at the academic launch meeting in Edinburgh today.

Some detail on methodology

The data was collected **online** by **YouGov** on behalf of BES. The Wave 1 (i.e. 20 Feb to 09 March) sample was N=5896 and Wave 2 (i.e. 22 May to 18 June) was N=6182. The percentages for Wave 1 was 52.0% NO, 36.6% YES and 11.4% undecided. Wave 2 was 51.0% NO, 38.8% YES and undecideds 10.2%. I copied these figures from the powerpoint presentation of Prof Ed Fieldhouse.

Although it can be classified, with regards the IndyRef, as a YouGov poll, many other questions were added (over 200, on a wide range of topics). These 6000 Scots voters were part of a larger sample that had 20,000 English and 3,000 Welsh. The Scottish referendum question was not asked upfront therefore. Also, as part of a GB poll, it did not include voters who were 16 and 17.

Prof Curtice chaired the meeting and commented that, for a YouGov poll, it was not as NO-friendly as expected.

I have some other hand-written notes but I hope this helps to put it in context.

NOTE for OPINION POLL GEEKS (like me :-)

The BES polling data was collected by YOUGOV on behalf of BES.

This poll should thus be compared to recent YouGov IndyRef polls. YouGov is one of the 6 polling companies charting the progress of the referendum, and tends to produce high leads for the NO camp. Polls have shown NO leads ranging from 3% (Panelbase) to 19% (YouGov) recently.

These results above show NO at 51.0%,YES at 38.8% and UNDECIDED at 10.2% (data collected 22 May to 18 June, sample size 6162) at the later date and NO 52.0%, YES 36.6%, UNDECIDED 11.4% (data collected 20 Feb to 09 March), sample size N-5896) at the earlier date.

Note also that 16 and 17 year-olds were not included.

COMPARISON with YouGov polls

These N=6000 polls can be compared with YouGov polls with N=1200 samples. However, note that these larger polls ask other questions (over 200 questions) and the Scottish IndyRef question is not asked upfront. Note also that 16-17 year olds were not included in the N=6000 polls.

N=6000 polls and N-1250 YouGov polls

These two snapshots in Feb/March and May/June have NO leads of 15.4% and 12.2% respectively, based on samples of 6000 voters each.

Standard Indyref polls with sample sizes of about 1200 in approximately the same period showed a NO lead of 18% (24-28 March, N=1257) and a NO lead of 19% (25-29 June, N=1206).

* * *

One point I should add for clarity is that YouGov never interview 16 and 17 year olds, even for dedicated referendum polls - they're the only pollster that still fails to do so.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Panelbase announce huge methodological changes - the new poll is not directly comparable with anything that has gone before

Well, this is a bit startling.  It turns out that the exchange/argument/debate a number of us had on the previous thread was based on an entirely false premise, and indeed on a false premise twice over.  It was certainly the case that in their last poll for the Sunday Times back in May, Panelbase continued to use a slightly different question from the one they use for their other clients - although the full question didn't appear in the datasets, we know it was different because Calum Findlay took part in the poll and quoted it in full.  But if the datasets for the new Sunday Times poll are to be believed, the question has finally been brought into line with other Panelbase polls.  So in that sense the poll is directly comparable to the last Panelbase poll for Yes Scotland - but that fact has been totally eclipsed by the revelation that two other huge methodological changes have been made, meaning that no direct comparison with any previous Panelbase poll is possible.

The first change is one that I find extremely troubling, because it could be interpreted as the first sign that Peter Kellner's attempts to browbeat his fellow pollsters into adopting a more No-friendly methodology have borne fruit.  Basically Panelbase have decided to weight their results by a mixture of how people recall voting in the European elections in May, and how they recall voting in the Holyrood election in 2011.  Because too many people in the Panelbase sample recall voting SNP in May, the effect of adding a European weighting is to increase the No lead.  The problem with this approach was covered in Survation's response to Kellner's notorious article - they pointed out that far too many people recall voting in the European elections, full stop. So either the samples in online polls are hopelessly unrepresentative of the general population (in which case no amount of weighting can be sure of correcting the problem), or else a large number of people are saying they voted in May when they didn't.  If by any chance the latter is the case, downweighting respondents who claim to have voted SNP in May could be a monumental error, because it's perfectly possible that people who falsely say they voted are disproportionately likely to also say that they voted SNP.

I can only hope that no other pollsters follow suit.  This change would only be justified if respondents' recall of whether or not they voted in May bore at least some resemblance to the actual turnout.  That is clearly not even close to being the case.

On a more positive note, the second change is one that is long-overdue across the entire polling industry - Panelbase have started weighting by country of birth.  For some reason most pollsters seem to end up with too many English-born respondents in their sample, which probably goes some way towards explaining the disconnect between canvassing returns and published polls (although it certainly can't explain all of the disparity).  So in the new poll English-born respondents have been heavily downweighted from 162 to 94, while Scottish-born respondents have been upweighted from 794 to 864.  It's possible that Panelbase are the first company to introduce this form of weighting - the only one I'm not sure about is Ipsos-Mori, who routinely ask for people's country of birth as a "demographic" question (which implies that they weight by it), and yet they still seem to end up with too many English-born people in their final results.

Panelbase imply that the two changes have effectively cancelled each other out, although I'm slightly sceptical about that.  The precise wording used is "the net effect of these two new weights is statistically insignificant", and yet it's later suggested that changes between other recent Panelbase polls have also been statistically insignificant. So it seems this definition of statistical insignificance can encompass changes of 1% or greater - which in turn implies that it's perfectly possible the No lead would not be 7% in the new poll if the old methodology was still being used. So the claims of the No campaign that their lead has increased by 4% since the last Panelbase poll should be taken with a lorry-load of salt.

I'm very grateful to Ivor Knox of Panelbase for copying me in on an email that was sent to all of the firm's recent referendum clients (presumably the Sunday Times, Yes Scotland, the SNP, Wings Over Scotland and Newsnet Scotland). The main aim of the email seems to be to head off any "conspiracy theory" that Yes would have taken the lead in the new poll if the methodology hadn't been changed - "the old weighting would also show a No lead" is the emphatic message. However, there's no additional information about whether that lead would have been as big as 7%, which takes us back to the point I made above.

What is revealed, however, is that if weighting by past vote recall had only factored in the European elections (as opposed to both the European and Holyrood elections), and if there had been no weighting by country of birth, the Yes vote after Don't Knows are excluded would have been in the region of 42-43%. That's fascinating, because it more or less explains the difference between YouGov and the other online pollsters - if Panelbase make the sort of adjustment to their past vote weighting that Peter Kellner would approve of, it's enough to take their numbers down to YouGov-type levels, whereas by the same token it's presumably the case that all YouGov would have to do to produce Panelbase/Survation-type numbers is ditch the artificial "Kellner Correction" and introduce weighting by country of birth.

Another important question is what would have happened if the only methodological change Panelbase had made was the introduction of weighting by country of birth. It clearly wouldn't have been quite enough to push Yes above 50%, but the gap would certainly have been narrower.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

New Panelbase poll shows Yes vote up on last directly comparable poll

A new Panelbase poll has finally been released - I'm not sure yet whether it's the one that we heard about people being interviewed for ten days ago, or whether that was an unpublished internal poll.  Either way, tonight's results are reasonably encouraging for Yes.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 41% (-2)
No 48% (+2)

With Don't Knows excluded, it works out as...

Yes 46% (-2)
No 54% (+2)

The percentage changes listed above are from the last Panelbase poll, which was commissioned by Yes Scotland.  But it's important to stress that tonight's results are unlikely to be directly comparable to that poll, because the new poll was commissioned by the Sunday Times, and Panelbase use a slightly different question for their Sunday Times series.  It's not a biased question by any means, but there is now quite strong circumstantial evidence that it tends to produce a slightly higher No lead.  You don't have to take my word for it - Anthony Wells (no friend to the Yes campaign) has commented on the phenomenon as well.  If we compare tonight's numbers with the last directly comparable Panelbase poll, this is how they look -

Yes 41% (+1)
No 48% (+1)

And with Don't Knows excluded...

Yes 46% (n/c)
No 54% (n/c)

So no change in the overall headline gap, but with the Yes vote hitting a new record high for the Sunday Times series.  It's also only the second time that the No lead has been as low as seven points.

I almost feel quite sorry for Blair McDougall tonight - he finds himself openly 'gloating' about the No vote being ahead by only seven points in what John Curtice would call an "independently-commissioned poll", even though only three such polls in the entire campaign so far have been worse for No (the two most recent Survation polls and the ICM poll on Easter Sunday).  How the mighty have fallen.

As for what this means for the overall trend, there's good news and bad news.  It further increases the likelihood that the YouGov polls a few weeks ago were just showing margin of error 'noise', as opposed to a real increase in the No lead.  On the other hand, it also slightly decreases the likelihood that the most recent TNS poll was picking up a genuinely big decrease in the No lead.  It leaves us looking at a relatively static position, albeit with the possibility that both campaigns have been picking up a little support as Don't Knows are squeezed (the pollsters are split on whether that is happening or not).

Crucially, however, this is all before the Commonwealth Games - I'm not sure yet what Panelbase's fieldwork dates were, but they almost certainly will have been mostly or wholly before the start of Scotland's extraordinary gold rush.  There's a very strong suspicion that the No lead was significantly boosted in the summer of 2012 as a direct result of Team GB's success in the London Olympics, and if that's true there must be at least a theoretical chance of Team Scotland's success working the same magic for Yes now.  On the other hand, the impact may be diluted by the BBC's rather political choice to place the entire Commonwealth Games within a "British" frame, with viewers being invited (or should I say instructed) to view the distinction between the "Home Nations" teams as a mere formality.  So I genuinely have no idea whether there'll be a Games bounce for Yes or not - we'll just have to wait and see.

Talking of the Commonwealth Games, I've got an early morning ticket booked for tomorrow, with a long journey to get to the venue, so I'll have to cut this short (mainly because I got distracted by an exchange on Twitter with the drongo wing of Blair McDougall's Trolling Army.)  I'll post a Poll of Polls update when I get home tomorrow.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A wild suggestion : why not crowdfund the handing out of free saltires for the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony?

I don't know if anyone has definitively solved the mystery of who was responsible for handing out the blatantly political "two-faced" flags at the opening ceremony on Wednesday, although there have been dark whispers about possible Orange Order involvement.  It was presumably a well-planned stunt, and I'm wondering if there's an opportunity for us to take a leaf out of their book for the closing ceremony.  Nothing political - just free saltires to help the crowd celebrate what may well turn out to be the most successful ever Scottish team at any Commonwealth Games.

For the avoidance of doubt, I'm not suggesting I would be the person to run this potential initiative - for one thing I haven't the first idea of how to go about bulk-buying flags at very short notice, or indeed if it's even feasible at all.  However, the crowdfunding element is certainly doable, because a Paypal-only Indiegogo campaign would enable the funds to be accessed instantly.  So if there's anyone out there who feels capable of taking the task on, I think it would be a great idea.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Come On In, Scotland! (Or 'My trip to the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, plus yet another rubbish photo of the Queen')

So, yes, I'm just back from Celtic Park.  I hadn't been planning to go to the opening ceremony until a few weeks ago, when I got an email offering restricted view tickets for only £20.  I thought to myself, "well, you get what you pay for, so I'm bound to be right behind a pillar", but as it turned out it was fantastic value for money - I could see pretty much everything.  And having just read through some of the comments on Wings, it's probably just as well I was there in person, because I don't think watching it on the BBC would have been good for my health.  Was Cameron really a guest on The One Show? I mean, seriously?  How the hell did they justify that, given that we're now in the regulated campaign period, and especially after they banned Alex Salmond from appearing on a rugby broadcast a couple of years ago?  And what was the logic for it anyway?  Scotland is the host country, not the UK, and as I understand it the London government has contributed absolutely nothing to the costs of the Games - 80% came from the Scottish Government, and 20% from Glasgow City Council.  (Contrast that with the 2012 Olympics when we were all required to stump up for London's party.)

Before I set off for the ceremony, I had a good look at the list of items that were not permitted, and one of them was the flag of any non-participating country.  This is presumably a more-or-less identical rule to the one at the Olympics that leads to the banning of Scottish flags on the grounds that they are "political" (the Union Jack being totally fine and "non-political", naturally).  But with delicious irony, the UK is of course a non-participating country in the Commonwealth Games, and so on a strict reading of the rules, the Union Jack should have been verboten, with everyone being required to wave the non-political saltire instead.  I was intrigued to see whether that rule would be enforced with the the same zeal that we've come to know and love at the Olympics, and the simple answer is that it wasn't.  It goes without saying that saltires very heavily outnumbered Union Jacks, but there was a small smattering of little flags with a saltire on one side and a Union Jack on the other.  I now gather that those flags were being handed out for free.  Who was responsible for that, and what was their political agenda?  Did they check in advance whether it was in adherence with the rules?

It's always said that stadiums look much smaller in real life than on TV. True enough, I was very slightly underwhelmed when I arrived, and the initial set-up with the Irn Bru cans (which was there hours in advance) looked incredibly tacky.  I thought to myself "all we need is a giant haggis and John Barrowman, and the twee vision of 'Scotland the Cringe' will be complete".  I really must be more careful about thinking these thoughts, but we didn't get the giant haggis, so I suppose that counts as some kind of result.

I recall being a bit frustrated with the uninspiring music that was used for Glasgow's little presentation at the end of the Delhi Games in 2010.  When I thought of the almost unbelievably good Scottish traditional music that I hear year in, year out at Celtic Connections, it was heartbreaking to realise we'd thrown away a golden opportunity to showcase all of that to the world.  But I thought "surely when the Games are actually in Glasgow, we'll get it right on the night".  Well, the first few minutes gave us Barrowman and Donald Where's Your Troosers.  Surely it could only get better from there?  Thankfully yes, although I never would have predicted that Rod Stewart's appearance would mark the moment when the quality improved.  Nicola Benedetti was spellbinding, and everyone around me immediately started to sing along to Loch Lomond.  I found I could hardly get the words out after a while, because I had a lump in my throat.  And then finally when the Queen's Baton arrived, we got a precious few minutes of the type of music that the evening had been crying out for all along, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.  I couldn't even see who was singing in Gaelic, and there was no name announced - could it have been Julie Fowlis, perhaps?  Whoever it was, take a bow - you made my night.

Where was our national anthem, by the way?  I can't claim to have a photographic memory of previous Commonwealth Games opening ceremonies, but I'm fairly sure Advance Australia Fair was heard at some point during the 2006 ceremony, for instance, and it would have been extremely odd if it wasn't.  When we were invited to stand and sing the "national anthem", and it turned out to be God Save the Queen rather than the national anthem of the host country, I can tell you that there was genuine bemusement all around me.  Some people did sing it, but it was probably one in five at the absolute most, and they weren't doing it with much gusto.  I got the impression they were mainly singing it for the sake of the Queen (and Prince Imran, whose name everyone misheard as Prince William!).

So it was a mixed night, but thankfully there was much more good than bad (there's no getting away from it, though - the Barrowman introduction was absolutely, unspeakably atrocious, and I'd say that even if he wasn't anti-independence).  I'm so glad I went, because I've seen so many opening ceremonies over the years on TV, and there was a real touch of magic to being able to wave back at the athletes as they marched past.  Oh, and I can imagine that the London media must be quietly seething that no-one booed the First Minister.

I wonder if the words "Come On In, Scotland" might resonate in a few weeks' time?  You know, in a "Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on" kind of way?

Overheard on the way back -

Official : "Twenty minutes' walk to the city centre straight ahead.  Or five minutes if you're Usain Bolt."

Sarcastic pedestrian : "Hashtag Topical."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wisdom on Wednesday : Knowledge is power, in more ways than one...

"An independent Scotland could now expect to have massive surpluses both on its budget and on its balance of payments and with the proper husbanding of resources this situation could last for a very long time into the future."

From the 1970s McCrone Report, that was unsurprisingly suppressed for decades by successive UK governments.

I wouldn't have thought this was possible, but I've just lost even more respect for Craig Reedie

There's been a perception for quite some time that, in broad brush terms, and perhaps because of the personality traits that drive people to go down a certain path in life, creative types such as artists, writers and musicians are voting Yes, and elite sportspeople are more inclined to vote No.  The most useful thing about John Beattie's documentary on the relationship between sport and politics is that it challenged that perception, and reminded us that there are a great many sportspeople out there who have already firmly nailed their colours to the Yes mast, including household names such as Alex Arthur.

For the most part, it was an admirably even-handed programme, which was perhaps surprising given the extent to which it entered into "a personal view by John Beattie" territory.  But there was just one particular bit that left me absolutely fuming, and that was when the factual basis of Craig "Apolitical" Reedie's drivel about Scotland having no chance of entering a team to the Rio Olympics went unchallenged.  Indeed, it was worse than unchallenged, because Beattie went on to ask judo star Connie Ramsay if she would still support independence even if it meant passing up the chance to compete at the Olympics (answer : yes, she would).

The reality is that, even in the highly unlikely event that it did not prove logistically possible to enter a Scottish team for 2016, the top Scottish athletes would not miss out.  They would be able to take part via one of two methods, both of which have clear precedents in recent Olympic history -

1) Team GB, possibly under a different name, would continue on a transitional basis for one more Games.  The precedent for this is the 'Unified Team', which represented twelve of the fifteen ex-Soviet republics at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.  Yes, the BOA could theoretically veto Scottish involvement, but does anyone seriously think that such a glory-seeking organisation would turn down the chance to boost their team's medal haul?

2) The best Scottish athletes would compete outside any formal team as 'Independent Olympic Athletes'.  There are several precedents for this, most recently London 2012, when athletes from the new state of South Sudan and the freshly-dissolved territory of the Netherlands Antilles competed as independents.

But this is all ridiculously hypothetical, because whatever fairy-tale Reedie tries to weave, the overwhelming likelihood is that a Scottish team would go to Rio.  Unlike the collapse of the Soviet Union in the second half of 1991, independence will not be a bolt from the blue that nobody sees coming until just a few months before the Games - there will be lots of time to put arrangements in place.  It's worth remembering that international recognition of the independence of the three Baltic states was deemed utterly unthinkable until the Soviet coup of August 1991, and yet less than a year later all three countries were represented in Barcelona - they didn't even need to take part in the Unified Team on a transitional basis.

So much for Reedie's transparently agenda-driven 'predictions'.  But just when you thought the man couldn't sink any lower, he made what I can only describe as an utterly shameful comment.

John Beattie : So in a word, do you think Scotland, should there be a Yes vote, would have a team in 2016?

Craig Reedie : No, I think they would miss on the basis of adhering to the Olympic rules, and because simply I think they'd be timed out.

John Beattie : As a Scot, though, would you not fight very hard to get them in?

Craig Reedie : No, I wouldn't, because I was proud to be President, or Chairman, of the British Olympic Association, and I think the elite athletes from Scotland have been served very well by membership of Team GB.

Hang on, hang on.  That is a perfectly legitimate argument to deploy before the referendum in an attempt to persuade people to vote No.  But surely after the referendum, once there's nothing anyone can do to change the outcome, we all revert to being on the same side - we're all part of Team Scotland, and we'll all do whatever we can to make sure the nation's interests are protected and advanced.

Apparently not.  Apparently Reedie will take revenge on his own country if it makes the 'wrong' choice.  Let me make clear that I have absolutely no time for people who use the word 'traitor' about opponents of independence, but it's very, very hard to see Reedie's petty and vindictive stance as being anything other than a betrayal of this country's elite athletes, and indeed of the sport-loving population at large.