There's been a lot of talk in recent days about the UK government 'war-gaming' how things may play out if - as seems increasingly likely - Nicola Sturgeon declares her intention to hold an independence referendum next year. But I suspect the SNP and their allies will be doing some pretty intense war-gaming of their own, and a lot of it will focus on the extent to which the next Yes campaign should essentially be a Remain campaign. We know that the focus will stay firmly on the EU issue until the campaign actually gets underway, because that's the casus belli for holding a second indyref so soon after the first. But I've tended to assume that, once the campaign starts, the Yes side will "pivot" (to use the ugly American buzzword) and adopt a more 2014-style message in an attempt to make it easier for Brexit supporters to back independence.
It's possible I've been wrong about that. The counter-argument is that, if we believe the BMG poll, almost a fifth of people who voted Yes in 2014 and Leave in 2016 have already switched to No. Conceivably that's as bad as it's ever going to get (if the last few months haven't put the other Leave voters off, what will?), and yet we're still only very slightly behind. Instead of obsessing over getting a relatively small group of people back on board, perhaps we should be concentrating on the much larger pool of No/Remain voters, only 8% of whom have so far jumped to Yes. If detailed polling and focus groups find that a significant minority of that segment of the public strongly prioritise the retention of EU membership and free movement of people, it may well be worth going with an all-out pro-EU message. Perhaps these people aren't quite yet ready to admit to themselves, let alone to pollsters, that the Britain they believe in doesn't really exist anymore (or soon won't). For the most part, pro-EU people who voted No in 2014 are better-educated and relatively affluent, and are therefore more likely to turn out to vote. They're a prize well worth winning, and I'd suggest they're unlikely to be wooed by an "EFTA might do" sort of fudge.
Focusing on Europe is also likely to maximise the turnout among citizens of other EU countries, who as we all know anecdotally have swung very heavily behind Yes. Quite how big an impact that's going to have is difficult to say, because pollsters don't have target figures for EU citizens. Most independence polls do weight by place of birth and have a target figure for those born outside the UK, but it's impossible to know whether they're getting the blend of EU and non-EU citizens right. There may well be something going on under the radar that the polls aren't picking up. OK, we're only talking about a small percentage of the population, but an extra 0.5% for Yes is not to be sniffed at in a potentially close race.
Incidentally, and incredible though it may seem, BMG don't appear to weight by place of birth at all. If their online panel is remotely similar to YouGov's or to Panelbase's, it'll have far too many English-born people in it, thus potentially leading to an underestimate of the Yes vote if there isn't weighting to correct for the problem.
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A strange rumour started on Twitter a couple of days ago that the BMG poll didn't interview 16 and 17 year olds. It then mutated to "they did interview 16 and 17 year olds but excluded them from the final results". Quite what the point of that would have been is anyone's guess, but suffice to say it isn't true. 16 and 17 year olds are fully included in the poll, and they actually go some of the way towards explaining why the Yes vote is as high as 49%. In the unweighted sample, just 5 people of that age range answered the independence question, and it looks like they may have broken 4-1 for Yes. Their responses will then have been significantly upweighted to bring them to the correct target figure for the age group - in other words, five real respondents will have been upweighted to count as dozens of 'virtual' respondents.
So we have two factors pointing in opposite directions - the upweighting of 16 and 17 year olds may conceivably have led to an overestimate of the Yes vote, but the failure to weight by place of birth may well have led to an underestimate of the Yes vote. It would be a brave person who claims to know what the true Yes vote is - or even whether it's over or under 50%.
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