Saturday, March 22, 2014

Pro-independence campaign close gap to just 7% in game-changing poll from "gold standard" ICM

I wouldn't normally dream of taking delight in Kenny Farquharson's befuddlement over his failure (just for once) to keep us in the dark about the results of a Scotland on Sunday poll until the official embargo is over, but on this occasion I simply have to.  These numbers are from ICM, regarded by many as the UK's "gold standard" polling organisation, and they will blow this referendum campaign wide open.

As you may know, a referendum on independence will be held in Scotland on 18 September 2014. Voters will be asked, "Should Scotland be an independent country?"  Do you think you will vote "Yes” or "No"?

Yes 39% (+2)
No 46% (-3)

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

Yes 45% (+2)
No 55% (-2)

It actually takes quite a bit of effort to find a way in which the headline figures can translate into a Yes vote of 45% rather than 46% with Don't Knows excluded, so it must mean that the unrounded figures are somewhere in the region of Yes 45.4%, No 54.6%.  The true No lead without DKs is therefore about 1% lower than it appears.  All the same, the unrounded figures must be fractionally less favourable for Yes than was the case in that extraordinary ICM poll in January that put support for independence at 46% - but of course on that occasion McDougall's mob were able to use the excuse that ICM had drastically upweighted their Yes-friendly sample of 16-24 year olds, meaning that the Yes surge might have been overstated.  There is no such alibi for the anti-independence campaign this time, because ICM have since amended their methodology to ensure that no age group needs to be upweighted by a significant amount.

John Curtice's word of caution about the sensational Panelbase poll on Thursday was that "one swallow does not make a summer".  In some ways that was a tad unfair, because we already had supporting evidence in the shape of a Survation poll showing a No lead of just 8.3%.  And now it looks very much like we've just seen a third swallow.  I can't even remember the last time we had three different BPC-affiliated pollsters all showing a No lead of less than 10% on the headline figures, but that's the position we find ourselves in now.  All three polls are strikingly similar in showing an unusually high Yes vote of between 39% and 40%, representing high watermarks in the campaign so far in two cases.  And what's particularly encouraging about the ICM poll is that the fieldwork is bang up to date - it factors in GERS, it factors in Devo Nano, it even factors in the UK Budget to a limited extent.

One suspicion that was raised about the Panelbase poll concerned the particularly low gender gap, with a No lead that was just 3% higher among women than among men.  ICM haven't replicated that finding, but they do show the No lead falling equally fast across both genders.  In line with the figures from many other polls, women appear to be only very slightly more likely than men to vote No (the difference is a mere 3%).  What really distinguishes the female vote is the much higher number of Don't Knows.

There are also some interesting differences between ICM and Panelbase in the figures from the various age groups.  Panelbase suggested there was now a clear lead for Yes among under-55s, albeit one that was more than offset by a huge No lead among over-55s.  By contrast, ICM are showing a much more balanced picture, with No holding a narrow lead among all three of the under-55 age groups, with Yes and No actually sitting level-pegging among 55-64 year olds, but with No still enjoying a huge advantage among over-65s.  These differences between the two polls may well be down to normal sampling variation - the margin of error for age-based subsamples is always extremely high.

Now that there is no longer any credible doubt that the No lead has dropped (in spite of Peter Kellner's ongoing one-man mission to "prove" otherwise!), the obvious question is "why?"  Is it childcare?  A recent YouGov poll suggested the message that childcare provision would be expanded after independence is being successfully driven home.  Is it the incoherence and relentless negativity of the anti-independence campaign?  Is it the effect of Yes Scotland's advertising blitz kicking in, finally neutralising the media-sponsored fear-mongering about Scotland's economic strength?  Is it exasperation at the failure of Eddie Izzard and his ilk to recognise that True Love Isn't Possessive?  It may well be a combination of all four factors, and more.

*  *  *


The records just keep on tumbling in this blog's Poll of Polls.  The latest update shows Yes on its highest level of support to date, and breaking through the 42% barrier for the first time when Don't Knows are excluded.  The No lead has also dropped to a new low of 12.9%.

MEAN AVERAGE (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 35.4% (+0.3)
No 48.3% (-0.4)

MEAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 42.3% (+0.4)
No 57.7% (-0.4)

MEDIAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 42.0% (n/c)
No 58.0% (n/c)

(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each of the pollsters that have been active in the referendum campaign, and that adhere to British Polling Council rules. At present, there are seven - YouGov, TNS-BMRB, Angus Reid, Survation, Panelbase, Ipsos-Mori and ICM. Whenever a new poll is published, it replaces the last poll from the same company in the sample. Changes in the Poll of Polls are generally glacial in nature due to the fact that only a small portion of the sample is updated each time.)

I've been wondering for some time whether I should bite the bullet and remove Angus Reid from the sample, because their figures are ridiculously out of date compared to all the others, and there must be at least some doubt over whether they will ever return to the fray.  I'll leave them in for the time being to keep the trend figures meaningful, but it's worth pointing out that this is the first time that the No lead on the headline average figures has been slightly lower than in the last Angus Reid poll.  In other words, if current trends continue Angus Reid's presence in the sample will start to artificially flatter the No camp's standing. That's already happening on the median average.

I feel somehow that this would be an appropriate moment to once again take stock of the gradual long-term movement towards Yes...

The No campaign's lead in the Poll of Polls headline figures :

Sep 2013 - 20.2%
Sep 2013 - 20.0%
Sep 2013 - 18.4%
Oct 2013 - 17.9%
Oct 2013 - 17.5%
Oct 2013 - 17.4%
Nov 2013 - 17.5%
Dec 2013 - 17.1%
Dec 2013 - 16.3%
Dec 2013 - 16.2%
Dec 2013 - 15.8%
Jan 2014 - 14.2%
Jan 2014 - 14.8%
Feb 2014 - 14.8%
Feb 2014 - 14.7%
Feb 2014 - 15.1%
Feb 2014 - 13.6%
Feb 2014 - 14.0%
Mar 2014 - 14.0%
Mar 2014 - 14.3%
Mar 2014 - 14.3%
Mar 2014 - 13.6%
Mar 2014 - 12.9%

And of course as ICM are an online pollster (at least for the purposes of their Scotland on Sunday polls), it's also time for an update of the average figures for online pollsters that have reported this year. This set of figures does exclude Angus Reid.

MEAN AVERAGE OF ONLINE POLLSTERS (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 38.3% (+0.5)
No 48.0% (-0.8)


Yes 44.4% (+0.8)
No 55.6% (-0.8)


Yes 45.4% (+1.5)
No 54.6% (-1.5)

Margaret Curran's foot, meet Margaret Curran's mouth. Ah, I see you're already well-acquainted.

Here is Ms Curran's snide attempt to undermine the credibility of Labour for Independence -

"It's nice to meet Allan Grogan because I've been a member of Labour for 38 years and I've never actually met him."

Allan Grogan is, I gather, approximately 30 years old.

Incidentally, this is the same Margaret Curran who batted away an awkward question about Denis Healey's comments on North Sea Oil by claiming that Healey and the 1970s were "before her time". 38 years ago, it was 1976.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

An independent Scotland beckons, as Yes campaign close the gap to just 5% in spectacular new Panelbase poll

The third Panelbase referendum poll of 2014 has been released in the last few minutes - and not to put too fine a point on it, it's a cracker.

There will be a referendum on an independent Scotland on the 18th of September. How do you intend to vote in response to the question: Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 40% (+3)
No 45% (-2)

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

Yes 47% (+3)
No 53% (-3)

This poll is a landmark moment in practically countless ways. It shows the highest Yes vote to be recorded in any poll conducted by any pollster in referendum year so far. It marks the first time since last summer that Yes have broken through the psychological 40% barrier on the headline figures produced by any pollster (although tellingly the most recent poll from Survation showed Yes edging up to 39%). It shows the lowest No lead to be recorded by any pollster so far this year - and that includes the ICM poll that set the campaign alight back in January.

Most significantly, though, it's the final piece in the jigsaw that confirms beyond any reasonable doubt that the No lead has dipped since September. Until now, Panelbase were the one and only pollster that hadn't found any decrease in the No lead since the publication of the White Paper - which was very unexpected and mysterious given their reputation for producing Yes-friendly results. But now they have finally joined a consensus that even includes the extreme No-friendly outliers Ipsos-Mori. A 5% No lead is well below Panelbase's normal range of 8-13%, and if anything that range should have creeped up rather than down as a result of the recent methodological change. So unless it's an out-and-out rogue poll (which should only happen one time in every twenty) this breakthrough for Yes can't be dismissed as being "margin of error noise".

It's also worth pointing out that these numbers almost (but not quite) represent what American journalists traditionally refer to as a "statistical tie" - meaning a situation in which there is a greater than 5% chance that the side that appears to be in the lead is actually behind, due to the standard margin of error.

Ever since it became apparent that the No lead had fallen by an appreciable amount, I've seen some Yes supporters fretting that the pace of the trend across all pollsters isn't quite sufficient to get us to a 50%+ Yes vote on September 18th. I must say I think that misses the point - any really dramatic changes of opinion, if they occur, are likely to happen during the official campaign period that commences in late May. Look at the overnight Cleggasm, for example, or the SNP's dramatic advance in 2011. Neither of those occurred until voters properly switched on to the choice that lay ahead of them. The significance of a dip in the No lead at this stage is that it demonstrates that the mantra we've heard from unionist journalists and politicians is wrong - public opinion is plainly not set in stone, and if some No voters have been won over already, there is every chance that others will follow if they are exposed to the same arguments over the coming months.

It'll be fascinating to see how (and if) Blair McDougall reacts to this poll. In true Orwellian fashion, the anti-independence camp's embarrassment of a campaign chief treated the last Panelbase poll as an "un-poll" - it simply didn't exist in his eyes, presumably because it was commissioned by the hated SNP. (If you look at his comments about recent polling trends, you'll see they don't make any logical sense unless he is treating the last-but-one Panelbase poll as if it was the most recent one.) Well, this new one was commissioned by Newsnet Scotland, so I wonder if that will be considered better or worse in McDougall-world? He really ought to bear in mind that there's a downside as well as an upside to pretending that bad polls don't exist. Suppose for example that the next Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times shows an 8% No lead - in most people's eyes (and in reality) that would be a 3% increase. But to maintain his cherished fiction, Blair would have to say that the No lead had slumped by 4% since the last Panelbase poll. That would be a rather amusing moment.

* * *


This update of the Poll of Polls also represents a landmark for the pro-independence campaign, with Yes breaking through the 35% barrier on the headline figures for the first time. The 41.9% Yes vote when Don't Knows are excluded is also the highest recorded so far.

MEAN AVERAGE (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 35.1% (+0.4)
No 48.7% (-0.3)

MEAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 41.9% (+0.4)
No 58.1% (-0.4)

MEDIAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 42.0% (n/c)
No 58.0% (n/c)

(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each of the pollsters that have been active in the referendum campaign, and that adhere to British Polling Council rules. At present, there are seven - YouGov, TNS-BMRB, Angus Reid, Survation, Panelbase, Ipsos-Mori and ICM. Whenever a new poll is published, it replaces the last poll from the same company in the sample. Changes in the Poll of Polls are generally glacial in nature due to the fact that only a small portion of the sample is updated each time.)

Of course these figures are significantly influenced (some would say distorted) by the inclusion of extreme No-friendly outliers Ipsos-Mori in the sample. An alternative way of measuring the current state of play is to look at an average of the most recent figures from each of the four online pollsters that have conducted polls so far this year (Panelbase, YouGov, Survation and ICM), and unsurprisingly that shows a tighter race -

MEAN AVERAGE OF ONLINE POLLSTERS (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 37.8% (+0.8)
No 48.8% (-0.5)


Yes 43.6% (+0.7)
No 56.4% (-0.7)


Yes 43.9% (+0.4)
No 56.1% (-0.4)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wisdom on Wednesday : The reason for asking the question

"Whatever the future holds, research shows that, in 2013, Scots are still more discontented with the balance of powers between Westminster and devolved government than any other sub-state in the European Union."

Professor Murray Pittock of Glasgow University, in his closing remarks for the Roots of Scottish Nationalism series on BBC Radio 4.  (It was such an excellent observation that I might even forgive him for the mind-boggling assertion on the same programme that the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament - ie. full blown PR - is a "concession" to proportional representation.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

UK "democracy" does Judge John Deed

I know I should be way, way past this point by now, but my jaw dropped to the floor last night when Alex Massie (a man who in all apparent seriousness claims to be an undecided voter in this referendum) attempted to repudiate Lesley Riddoch's seemingly unanswerable argument that the BBC have a duty to subject Labour's vastly over-hyped 'Devo Dwindle' plans to exactly the same level of hostile scrutiny that has been applied to the detailed proposals for independence. Not a bit of it, Massie insisted, for this referendum is like a court case where the burden of proof falls entirely on the proponents of independence. The No campaign shouldn't be expected to defend themselves or even to make their case at all, beyond picking holes in the dastardly separatists' crazy schemes (which is apparently how the media will be spending all their time anyway).

That proposition is so obviously risible that I would have been tempted just to forget all about it, but then I recalled that Massie's language is disturbingly similar to a key segment of Ian Small's response on behalf of BBC Scotland to Professor John Robertson's independent academic study concerning the broadcasters' bias in favour of the No campaign. The awful realisation suddenly hit me that at least some sections of the BBC truly do see their legal obligation to be scrupulously balanced in precisely the way Massie suggests - that they should provide equal airtime for the No campaign to explain why independence is so ghastly, and for the Yes campaign to answer hostile questioning. That's it. If you're expecting the shortcomings of the United Kingdom as presently constituted (ie. the reason we're having the referendum) to be scrutinised in any way, it seems you should forget it - Riddoch was recently told by a researcher for a London-based network BBC show that there wasn't "time" for any of that, and in any case it wasn't as "interesting" for viewers/listeners.

If that's what balanced coverage looks like, then for the purposes of this particular campaign we might as well be living in Turkmenistan.

Where does the courtroom analogy end? Since the Tories will be the incumbents at the next UK general election, are we to take it that the 'burden of proof' should fall entirely on Labour, and that the media would be deeply impertinent to even think about asking David Cameron a searching question or two? And will the judge acquit the Tories and allow them to continue governing unless the electorate delivers a unanimous verdict in favour of Labour? Or will he be generous and consider letting Miliband into Downing Street on the basis of a mere 80%-20% split decision?

* * *

Give the BBC's Norman Smith his due - he very fairly tweeted earlier today that the most recent poll shows the pro-independence campaign riding high on 45% of the vote. Must be something of a shock to him, though, as that certainly isn't what polls conducted by Aberdeen bridalwear companies were showing the last time he ventured north.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Five opinions of Andrew Marr that are not actually Andrew Marr's opinions

"I think it would be quite hard to get back in, I have to say, but let's move on..."

"This is what, the Andrew Marr analysis? Is that an individual expression or is that the expression of the BBC?"

"No, it's not, I've got no views on this, nor does the BBC. I was simply reflecting on what Mr Barroso told us."

"Well you just said what your opinion was."

*  *  *

"I have to say I think it's far too warm in this room."

"Do you want me to turn the heating down, Andrew?  Is that the wish of the BBC as well?"

"Sorry?  What?  Oh, I see what you mean.  You probably thought I said "I think it's far too warm", yeah?  But what I actually said was "Eye thinks it's far too warm".  I was referring to the opinion of my friend Neena here.  "Eye" is my pet name for her, because the name Neena means "beautiful eyes" in Hindi.  Please don't worry about it, mate, it's an easy mistake to make!"

*  *  *

"I have to say I think Ker-plunk is vastly superior to tedious board games of the Stratego ilk."

"Is that your view, Andrew, or the BBC's view?"

"Do you seriously think I and my BBC colleagues have nothing better to do with our time than play Ker-plunk and assess its relative merits as compared to Stratego?  Away and stop being so daft.  Quite clearly I was using 'I think' in the biblical sense, which roughly approximates to 'meh'."

*  *  *

"I have to say I think the TMO was entirely wrong to disallow France's last-minute try against Ireland on Saturday."

"Is that your opinion, Andrew, or is it the opinion of the BBC?"

"Opinion?  It's not a question of 'opinions'.  Information in the form of pixels travelled from a television screen to my visual cortex, whereupon it was instantaneously translated by my brain into a subjective perception that Pascal Papé's pass was probably not forward.  I had no control whatever over that process, and nor did the BBC."

*  *  *

"I have to say I think you look utterly sensational in that blue dress, Imogen."

"Aw, thanks, Andrew."

"For pity's sake, woman!  Did you HONESTLY think I was expressing an opinion there?  I am but a mere vessel for my genes, which for reasons known only to themselves seem to have an irrational preference for the colour blue.  Take it up with evolution, or with whichever intelligent designer you believe in!"

*  *  *

Marr has form on this, of course.  A few months ago, he quizzed Alex Salmond on the possibility of a televised referendum debate with Alistair Darling.  Salmond gave his usual reply that he would be quite happy to debate with Darling or with others, but that a debate with Cameron should take place first.  Marr ended the interview by saying something like : "I have to say that sounds like a 'No', but we'll leave it there."  So the authority of the BBC presenter was used to instruct viewers that plain English did not mean what it appeared to mean, and that a conditional 'Yes' was in fact a 'No'.  That example was probably even worse than yesterday's, because Salmond wasn't even permitted a right to reply.

I'm not a regular watcher of the Marr show, so I don't know whether he regularly pulls this stunt on politicians of all persuasions or if he saves it for the SNP only, but either way it just ain't on.

Still, he's probably done us a favour.  By necessity, the online BBC article on the controversy contains an official response from the SNP, which quite reasonably states that no complaint will be made as Salmond was able to reply at the time, but that the BBC nevertheless have questions to answer about their overall coverage of the referendum campaign in the light of recent academic research.  There's a touch of poetic justice in this - if the broadcasters hadn't attempted to throw a smothering blanket of silence over the University of the West Scotland study when it was initially released, it probably wouldn't have become as well-known as it now is.  Professor John Robertson is well on his way to becoming a minor celebrity.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The numbers you are about to see are a CARICATURE. Please stop OTHERING.

ComRes have conducted a new poll of European election voting intentions, showing that UKIP hold a narrow lead across Great Britain as a whole. But here is the level of support for Nigel Farage's party by region -

South-east of England : 29%

English Midlands : 39%

North of England : 31%

Wales & South-west of England : 36%

Scotland : 6%

Now, if it's not immediately apparent to you why these figures mean that public opinion in Scotland is in fact virtually identical to public opinion in the rest of the UK, I gather that ultra-Blairite commentator David Aaronovitch will be on hand to explain later. Don't worry - he's used to dealing with people who are even stupider than you.

As I've said before, I think the idea that a GB-wide UKIP victory will assist the pro-independence campaign is probably misguided. The main effect would be a temporary boost in UKIP's opinion poll ratings for Westminster, largely at the expense of the Tories rather than Labour. This would mask the fact that David Cameron is comfortably heading for re-election next year, and that independence is the only way to protect Scotland from the Bullingdon Boys. In truth, the nightmare result in May for the No campaign would be the Tories in first place and UKIP in second. I don't expect that to happen, although on an ultra-low turnout anything is possible.

What we can start to be a bit more optimistic about, though, is the result of the European elections in Scotland itself. Here are the full results of the ComRes Scottish subsample -

SNP 39%
Labour 19%
Conservatives 13%
Liberal Democrats 12%
Greens 8%

Those numbers need to be taken with a huge dose of salt, as they're based on a tiny sample size and are not properly weighted. All the same, they represent an intriguing straw in the wind, particularly as they're eerily similar to the results of ICM's full-scale European voting intention poll a few weeks ago (which I must admit seemed a bit too good to be true at the time). It's absolutely vital that the SNP go into the referendum campaign with momentum from having won the popular vote in the European elections - the seat breakdown is less important in my view, although it would obviously be fantastic if they could finally claim that elusive third seat.

Incidentally, the SNP also hold a narrow lead in Westminster voting intentions in the Scottish subsample -

SNP 35%
Labour 32%
Conservatives 20%
Liberal Democrats 7%
Greens 3%

Again, these numbers are subject to a huge margin of error. But I do find it interesting that they were produced by ComRes, a pollster that only conducts polls once every few weeks (this is their fifth of the year). By contrast, YouGov conduct a poll almost every day, and yet as far as I'm aware their Scottish subsample has only shown the SNP in a clear lead once this year. It really does call into question the weighting procedure that YouGov apply to Scottish respondents in their GB-wide polls. Day in, day out, the people who identify the SNP as 'their party' are downweighted in YouGov's results to a significant degree. As an example, here are the last few polls available in the YouGov archives -

12th/13th March - 67 SNP/Plaid Cymru identifiers downweighted to 36
11th/12th March - 63 SNP/Plaid Cymru identifiers downweighted to 36
10th/11th March - 62 SNP/Plaid Cymru identifiers downweighted to 35
9th/10th March - 86 SNP/Plaid Cymru identifiers downweighted to 54
6th/7th March - 58 SNP/Plaid Cymru identifiers downweighted to 34

It's true that YouGov usually have to downweight their Scottish sample as a whole, but that doesn't account for anything close to all of the discrepancy. The lesson I draw is that it's perfectly possible that Survation's last two full-scale Scottish polls are correct, and that the number of people who are currently planning to vote SNP in next year's UK general election is much higher than YouGov's daily polls would typically lead us to believe. (That said, the SNP were on 33% in the YouGov subsample on Friday, just 1% behind Labour!)