Saturday, June 7, 2014

Populus poll : Most Scots think they would regret voting against independence

The mist has cleared somewhat on the Populus poll that we heard the early details of last night, and there's plenty in it that will be of huge concern to the anti-independence campaign. It turns out to have been an online poll, which in a sense is disappointing, because the results would have had even more impact if the fieldwork had been conducted by telephone. Unfortunately, the Scottish figures are definitely from the subsample of a GB-wide poll - I had been hoping that the sample size of 6000 might mean that there was a relatively even three-way split between Scottish, English and Welsh respondents, each separately weighted (as happened in a recent YouGov poll), but that's not the case. However, a raw Scottish sample of 547 is certainly big enough to be taken somewhat more seriously than a typical subsample.  Indeed, aficionados of James Mackenzie will probably be thinking that the margin of error for a subsample like this is 4.2% at the absolute most (especially if the results are good for the Greens!), but in reality the margin of error is incalculable unless proper weightings have been applied.

Unusually, we're given a demographic breakdown for the Scottish subsample, and the numbers don't look too far off-beam. There are slightly too many men, but that won't have made much difference. With it being a GB-wide poll, the figures haven't been weighted by 2011 past vote recall, and haven't been filtered by likelihood to vote. Both of those procedures tend to favour Yes more often than not, so the fact that such a good result has been produced without them being applied is extremely encouraging.

One of the stock excuses emanating from No supporters last night was that the real referendum question hadn't been asked in this poll. Amusingly, it turns out that this makes it even worse for them, because the question actually asked is far more pejorative about independence than the referendum question is (lots of references to "leaving" or "remaining in" the UK), and yet it still produced a Yes-friendly result.

On September 18th a referendum takes place in Scotland on the question of whether Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom or leave the UK and become an independent country. What do you hope the result will be? (Respondents in Scotland only)

I hope that Scotland votes to remain part of the United Kingdom : 47.3%

I hope that Scotland votes to leave the UK and become an independent country : 40.2%

I don't have a strong view either way : 12.6%

When those who don't have a strong view are stripped out, this is the result -

"Remain" : 54.1%

"Leave" : 45.9%

If anything, though, it's the supplementary questions that will be causing the No campaign the greatest alarm. A number of them force undecided respondents to make a straight choice, and it appears that on most occasions those people are breaking more towards the Yes-friendly position. For example, this question on the economy produces a closer result than the headline question -

An independent Scotland would be economically stronger than the rest of the UK : 47.7%

The rest of the UK would be economically stronger than an independent Scotland : 52.3%

Anti-independence commentators always used to ask : "What is the problem to which independence is the solution?" One of the key answers to that question proposed by the Yes campaign is the divergence in Scotland's political culture from the rest of the UK, leading us to get governments we didn't vote for most of the time. It appears that the majority of people in Scotland recognise that this reflects the reality of the situation -

Scotland has distinct and different values from the rest of the UK, especially England : 57.6%

Scotland has the same or similar values as the rest of the UK, including England : 42.4%

Interestingly, this is a rare example of a question where even a significant minority of English respondents agree with the Yes-friendly statement - 41% of those in England think that Scotland has different values (David Aaronovitch will be enraged by their disgraceful "othering" of the Scots!).

The question that will be causing the most panic over at McDougall Central is the one asking whether respondents think Scots would regret voting for independence, or would regret voting to stay in the UK. To me, this looks like quite a useful proxy question for underlying voting intention, because when polling day comes into view, the visualisation of future regrets is going to be the factor that makes up a lot of minds.  Remember, these figures are from the Scottish subsample only -

Five years from now, most Scots will regret it if they have voted to become an independent country : 49.9%

Five years from now, most Scots will regret it if they have voted to stay part of the UK : 50.1%

Crikey. That says it all.

There's also a question asking what people think the result of the referendum will be. There was a similar poll conducted a few months ago that found that Scots were actually somewhat less likely than people in the rest of the UK to think there would be a Yes vote. That position has now been reversed, perhaps indicating that the people closest to the action have noticed the narrowing of the opinion polls. However, the majority still expect a No vote, which is understandable given that No still have an opinion poll lead as of this moment.

Respondents are asked which other part of the UK they feel closest to in terms of outlook. Stupidly, Wales and the southwest of England are lumped together, and Northern Ireland isn't included at all, so the results for Scottish respondents are probably completely misleading -

North of England : 67.3%

Wales and the South-West : 18.5%

The Midlands* : 7.1%

London and the South-East : 7.1%

* Please note that the Midlands refers to the area around Birmingham, and tragically not to Rory Stewart's "the Middleland".

For my money, if there had been a separate option for Wales, it would have been a close run thing between our Celtic cousins and the North of England. Tellingly, no part of England feels a close affinity to Scotland - the north of the country feels much closer to the Midlands (50%) than to us (30%). Across England as a whole, just 15% feel closest to Scotland. So the scope for an authentic "love-bombing" campaign does seem rather limited.

This poll is also distinguished by having what is probably the most biased, leading and tortuously-worded question that we've seen in the campaign so far. I don't know how anyone in the unionist media will have the nerve to complain about SNP-commissioned polls in the future after this little effort -

Alex Salmond and the Scottish nationalists say that the Pound belongs just as much to Scotland as to the rest of UK and, therefore, that if Scotland votes to become an independent country, they will continue to use the Pound as their currency, retaining the Bank of England as Scotland's Central Bank and lender of last resort.  This would mean that in the event of a financial crisis affecting an independent Scotland, the Bank of England would step in and taxpayers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland would have to bear some of the cost. For this reason the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties have said they couldn't agree to let an independent Scotland use the Pound and retain the Bank of England as its Central Bank. If Scotland votes to become an independent country, would you support or oppose Scotland continuing to use the Pound as its currency and retaining the Bank of England as its Central Bank and lender of last resort?

Hmmm.  It's hard not to form the impression that they were a bit scared that a straight "Do you support a currency union?" question might not produce the desired result.


  1. If I was BT I'd be seriously worried about the fact that people apparently right now think it's more likely to be a No, particularly given Yes voters are more likely to vote and only 1/3 appear committed to No going by other polls.

  2. As far as I am concerned all future Populous polls regardless of the subject will be suspect.

    That isn't a question it is a set-up. Plain and simple.

  3. The Herald is reporting this poll as YES 40% No 47% DK 13%
    Very Close!

  4. The question on the voting paper does not mention the UK. Until pollsters simply ask the question that's on the paper any results they report are suspect. To my mind a vote for independence is not a vote for separation or "leaving" anything. The argument has been hi-jacked by vested interests that wish to paint it that way.