The first published Scottish poll of 2017 has just arrived from BMG - although in fact the fieldwork is already ancient history. It took place in the first half of December. As far as I can see, BMG haven't posted any information themselves yet (hardly surprising given that it's only the early hours of 2nd January), so all we have to go on are the details in the report from the Herald, who commissioned the poll. There is a claim made in the report that this is an independence poll, and that it shows figures of Yes 45.5%, No 54.5%. However, we have to be extremely sceptical about that claim, because the Herald also reported that a previous BMG poll back in October was an independence poll, and it turned out to be no such thing - respondents had instead been asked whether Scotland should 'remain a member' of the UK or not. That was a nonsensical question, not least because the UK isn't an organisation and it doesn't have any 'members'. The biggest problem, though, was that the question gave no indication at all of what would happen to Scotland if it didn't 'remain a member'. Would it become a Crown Dependency? Would it become part of another existing state? What? Without clarity on that point, the poll could not possibly be considered to be a poll on independence, and it was profoundly depressing to see people who ought to know better (John Curtice and whoever runs the Britain Elects account on Twitter) going along with the fiction that it could.
We'll just have to wait and see whether BMG have put their house in order and changed their ludicrous question. In the interests of the whole polling industry, and also in the interests of basic fairness as we approach a likely second independence referendum, we must hope that they have. The only minor consolation if they haven't, though, is that it would mean that this poll is directly comparable to the October poll, and shows a small 0.2% increase in support for "leaving the UK" since then. Obviously that is not a statistically significant increase, but the fact that there has been no decrease is potentially important, because it boosts the chances that the extensively reported drop in support for independence in the last YouGov poll was just a meaningless blip caused by routine sampling variation, rather than a real drop that we can expect to see replicated in other polls.
BMG certainly aren't doing much to dispel their reputation for bias on Scottish affairs with the breathtakingly daft second question they asked in the new poll (although obviously if the wording was insisted upon by the Herald I'll apologise to BMG). They asked whether respondents wanted a second independence referendum in 2017, and unsurprisingly found that a majority didn't. Er, so what? Does anyone seriously think the SNP are remotely interested in holding a snap referendum this year? The earliest it's likely to be is 2018, and 2019 is also a strong possibility. Here's my suggestion to BMG - next time, go the whole hog, and ask people if they want an indyref within the next week. Then, to your little heart's content, you can play around with headlines like "Devastation for Sturgeon as Scots reject holding UK partition vote before teatime next Friday", but what the hell you'll think you have actually proved is anyone's guess.
Why are these people so scared of asking sensible questions about a realistic timescale, or indeed about the basic principle of holding a second indyref to keep Scotland within the EU? Well, yes, I think we can probably guess why.
* * *
An amusing quote in the Herald piece from Labour's nominal "Shadow Scottish Secretary" Dave Anderson : apparently the SNP must not use the Remain vote in Scotland as a "false mandate" for an independence referendum. Don't worry, Dave, they won't do that. The mandate is instead derived from the SNP's overwhelming victory in the Scottish Parliament election, and their manifesto pledge that Scotland should be able to call a referendum if there was a material change in circumstances, such as the country being dragged out of the EU against its will.