Saturday, February 2, 2013

Six Nations prediction

I've been meaning to post this for a few days, and with kick-off only hours away it's probably now or never! Here is my annual Six Nations prediction (which I only ever get round to doing because my sister always presents me with a prediction form for her work)...

Weekend 1

Wales to beat Ireland by less than 10 points
England to beat Scotland by 10-19 points
France to beat Italy by 10-19 points

Weekend 2

Scotland to beat Italy by less than 10 points
France to beat Wales by less than 10 points
Ireland to beat England by less than 10 points

Weekend 3

Wales to beat Italy by 10-19 points
England to beat France by less than 10 points
Ireland to beat Scotland by less than 10 points

Weekend 4

Wales to beat Scotland by less than 10 points
France to beat Ireland by less than 10 points
England to beat Italy by 20+ points

Weekend 5

Ireland to beat Italy by 10-19 points
Wales to beat England by less than 10 points
France to beat Scotland by 10-19 points

As ever, I feel I've been far too optimistic in awarding Scotland even one narrow win (and Scott Johnson scares the living daylights out of me). Elsewhere, I've been guided by the fact that Ireland have a much better home record against England than against France. Here is how the final table would look -

France - 4 Wins
Wales - 4 Wins
England - 3 Wins
Ireland - 3 Wins
Scotland - 1 Win
Italy - 0 Wins

Thursday, January 31, 2013

What's in a question?

It's not often that I spontaneously burst out laughing when I'm travelling alone on a bus, but that's what happened yesterday when I was browsing the internet on my mobile phone, and came across the following sentence on a major media website -

"The Scottish Government agrees to change the independence referendum question, after fears that it might lead people to vote Yes."

Quite right too. Heaven forbid that people should do anything other than vote No!

I was intrigued to see the reasoning in the Electoral Commission's report, and I must say I'm not entirely reassured. In fact, I'm seething with anger on one particular point -

"There is a risk that the Scottish Government will not accept our assessment of the question and will not amend the question that it includes in the Referendum Bill. Not accepting our advice will cause controversy in the public domain...

We anticipate a high media profile and will have a suitable handling plan in place."

Did that "handling plan" include leaking in advance to the unionist press in London? Call me cynical, but I suspect it might have done somehow. Frankly, a body like the Electoral Commission shouldn't even be thinking in terms of "risk" when considering the possibility that the government might reject its advice. That's not a risk, it's a natural part of the process when you have only an advisory role, and you certainly have no business setting up "handling plans" in an attempt to head off that "risk".

In broader terms, I'm at least partly reassured that the EC didn't do what I strongly suspected they might have done, ie. 'tested' the proposed question by asking people to answer it, compared the results to two or three more unionist-oriented questions, and then plumped for the one that conveniently produced the most 'middling outcome'. However, I'm a bit startled by what they seem to have done instead, which was basically to ask people if the proposed question seemed a bit biased to them, and then take those answers at face value. Were those responses spontaneous, or were they influenced by the concerted and high-profile unionist campaign to brand the question as biased? We'll never know, but the risk that it was the latter is obvious, and that means this process cannot be regarded as entirely satisfactory.

I had naively thought that 'testing' might involve a more sophisticated approach of posing the proposed referendum question, and then asking people for the reasoning behind their answer, to see if any confusion or misdirection was evident. Instead the EC seems to have set the general public up as the experts on polling psychology, which is a bit peculiar to say the least. One question that sprung to my mind is this - were the people who claimed the proposed question was leading more likely to be Yes voters or No voters? From the vague language used in the report, the answer appears (unsurprisingly) to be that they were more likely to be No voters, and yet as far as I can see no breakdown is provided for those figures. That doesn't strike me as being good enough.

I partly agree with Marcia that the referendum question will be irrelevant, because by the time of the ballot people will be well aware of what they are voting on, and won't pay much attention to the exact wording when they enter the polling booth. But where it might make a difference is on the psychology of the campaign, which will be driven by the results of opinion polls. Respondents to those polls may not have such well-developed views, and may therefore be more susceptible to influence from a unionist-flavoured question. However, in all honesty the new question is so similar to the old one that any impact on the polls is likely to be minimal.

By the way, now that there is no doubt whatever on the wording of the question, can we expect Peter Kellner and YouGov to use it for their polls - plain, simple and unadorned? I suspect that may be too much to ask, but hope springs eternal.

(Note : I dearly wanted to call this post "That's a great question, Mr. Chairman" as a tribute to James Murdoch, but it probably would have been a bit too obscure.)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Angus Reid subsample : SNP retake the lead in Westminster voting intention

A very quick post because I'm in a mad rush. Here are the latest Scottish figures for Westminster voting intention from Angus Reid -

SNP 39% (+3)
Labour 35% (-1)
Conservatives 18% (+5)
Liberal Democrats 5% (-1)

As previously noted, AR's subsamples have more credibility than those of other pollsters, because they seem to be properly weighted and are therefore more stable over time.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Electoral Commission's reputation for impartiality in tatters as its opinion is leaked to unionist rag

If anyone needed a reminder of why so many of us wanted a Scottish rather than a London body to have oversight of the independence referendum, this is surely it. As a nation, the minimum we were entitled to expect was that we would hear the Electoral Commission's opinion (and it is merely an opinion, not a 'decision') on the proposed referendum question from the body itself, not from a unionist rag in London spouting the usual drivel about a "devastating blow" to Alex Salmond. (Incidentally, just how many more of these daily "devastating blows" can the poor man take from the London press? Presumably by now his body must already have been hacked into a thousand little pieces.)

As we apparently now have to regard the London Times as spokesperson for the scrupulously impartial Electoral Commission, it seems that the alternative question being suggested is "Should Scotland be an independent country?", on the grounds of its greater "simplicity". Which is somewhat ironic, given that much of the unionist press were screaming for a question that was considerably longer and more complex than the Scottish Government's proposal, preferably incorporating catchy words such as "separation" and "divorce".

Ah well, better a sinner that repenteth, and all that...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Panelbase : SNP in commanding lead for the Scottish Parliament

Many thanks to Marcia on the previous thread for alerting me to the fact that the Panelbase poll I mentioned also had voting intention figures for Holyrood. I was oblivious to the fact because it was published in the Sunday Times, and I don't pay the Murdoch levy...

Constituency ballot

SNP 45%
Labour 33%
Conservatives 13%
Liberal Democrats 5%

Regional list ballot

SNP 44%
Labour 31%
Conservatives 12%
Greens 6%
Liberal Democrats 5%

Needless to say, on those figures the SNP would be enjoying another landslide on the scale of their 2011 triumph. So all that and the Yes vote within striking distance on the referendum question as well. Long may the supposed "Scomnishambles" continue!

Panelbase poll : Support for independence remains within touching distance

The latest Panelbase poll on independence is out, and although it shows an increase in the No lead, it's still more favourable for the Yes side than other recent polls.

Yes 34% (-3)
No 47% (+2)

So with the recent TNS-BMRB poll showing a five-point drop in the No lead, and this poll showing a five-point increase, there's clearly no consensus among pollsters on the trend over recent weeks. What there is, however, is a convergence on the raw figures - in the polls we've seen so far this year, Angus Reid showed an 18-point No lead, TNS-BMRB showed a 20-point No lead, and now Panelbase is showing a 13-point No lead. Clearly that type of lead is far from insurmountable with 21 months still to go until polling day. (The Tories had better hope so, because they need a very similar kind of turnaround to win the next UK general election, and yet mysteriously you won't hear the London media calling that one a lost cause!)

Talking of the media, that's one area where we don't need to seek any type of convergence. No, the one thing we've always been able to rely upon is that, in the media's eyes, each and every poll on independence represents a "devastating blow" to the Yes side, regardless of the actual figures. For example, the Sunday Times claims today that the Panelbase poll shows that support for "secession" has "slumped". (Really? A three-point drop is a "slump"?) OK, fair enough, this poll does show an increase in the No lead, so we must allow the unionist media their brief moment of gloating. But surely they must be fair-minded enough to report a poll that shows the exact opposite in a somewhat different way?

Er, no. The verdict of the Scotsman and the Herald on the recent TNS-BMRB poll showing a five-point decrease in the No lead was not that the No vote had "slumped", but that the Yes vote had "stalled".

It gets to the point where all you can do is laugh.