There was a pretty shocking article in the Guardian yesterday which seemed to come about after a journalist listened to some implausible Liberal Democrat propaganda about the party's election prospects in Scotland, and lapped it up absolutely unquestioningly. We're told that they are "expected" to retain the majority of their Scottish seats, and that they believe they have a good chance of holding most of the others as well. The justification for this startling claim? Well, they weren't actually quoted using the dread words "we've seen the figures", but that was the gist. Basically it boils down to the results of the Lib Dems' notorious "comfort polls", and their canvass returns.
As plainly nonsensical as this is, I don't think we should totally exclude the possibility that the Lib Dems have succeeded in convincing themselves that it's all quite true. What it reminds me of more than anything is the Gordon contest in 2007, when Alex Salmond was challenging the sitting MSP Nora Radcliffe. The Lib Dems were so sure of their canvass results that they briefed the BBC after the polls closed that they had defeated Salmond - at a point when they had absolutely nothing to gain from any more misleading spin. After the real result became apparent, Malcolm Bruce openly admitted he was stunned, and claimed that people must have been lying to him and other Lib Dems on the doorstep. He then proceeded to ungraciously cast around for reasons why Salmond might have won after all - of course nobody actually likes the guy, so they must have just fancied the idea of being represented by the First Minister, or something like that.
I suspect we could be treated to quite a few amusing interviews of that sort in the early hours of May 8th.
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I rarely disagree with RevStu, but I think he's putting slightly too much trust in Lord Ashcroft's summary of how focus group participants in Scotland feel about the prospect of an early second independence referendum. First of all, we don't know whether it's a fair and representative summary of what was actually said - Ashcroft is genuinely neutral when crunching the numbers, but he tends to be much more mischievous in his narrative accounts of focus group sessions. He does, after all, have a well-known political agenda of his own. Secondly, his Scottish focus groups weren't representative of the whole population - "most of our participants had voted Labour in 2010". And lastly, all focus groups are potentially prone to a snowball effect, with everyone falling into line with the direction in which the discussion happens to be going. A good example of that is the bizarre televised focus group run by Frank Luntz in 2005, which identified David Cameron not only as the best candidate for Tory leader, but also as a potential Messiah.
Opinion polls are a much more reliable guide to the state of public opinion on the timing of a second referendum. They've repeatedly shown that a substantial minority want it to happen within the next five years, and a clear majority want it to happen within the next ten years.