First things first: happy fifth anniversary of the day that Scotland's largest and fourth-largest cities voted decisively to end Westminster rule, and the day that almost half of voters throughout Scotland did the same. Hapless anti-independence group Scotland in Union (who may or may not have finally broken their ties with Neil "Alligators" Lovatt) have decided to mark this momentous milestone by commissioning another of their comical propaganda polls, and in fairness to them have somehow succeeded once again in persuading a number of mainstream media outlets to regurgitate their press release about it almost word for word - although that says rather more about the publications concerned than about Scotland in Union's public relations skills.
The basic tactic in these propaganda polls is to ask a question that is not about independence and then to convince the media to earnestly report the results as if they were taken from a genuine independence poll - and to that extent the deception seems to work all too easily. The Herald, for example, are reporting that the poll shows "41% of those surveyed supporting independence" - which is categorically an untrue statement. Respondents were asked whether they wanted Scotland to "remain in the United Kingdom or leave the United Kingdom", and the 41% figure actually refers to those who wanted to "leave the United Kingdom". We have no idea whether those people wanted to leave the United Kingdom in order to become an independent country, or to become part of another existing state, or to become a crown dependency like Guernsey, or to become a freely associated state like the Cook Islands. It is, in a nutshell, a dud question, and the results tell us absolutely nothing whatsoever about levels of support for independence.
And in fact there's an even greater problem than the fact that the question doesn't actually ask about independence. There's also a very severe risk of accidental confusion, because the terms "Remain" and "Leave" have become so synonymous with the Brexit debate that many respondents may have taken only a cursory look at the question and assumed they were being asked whether they wanted to remain in the European Union. (Although maybe I'm being too generous when I say "accidental confusion" - it might have been exactly what Scotland in Union were hoping would happen when they framed the question in that way.) I also think there's a degree of uncertainty about whether voters actually understand what "the United Kingdom" is. It's quite possible that some respondents may have assumed that "remaining in the United Kingdom" refers to the retention of the monarchy, and that they would have answered the question completely differently if they had been aware that it's possible to leave the United Kingdom and still have the Queen as Head of State.
All in all, then, the results of this poll are essentially worthless apart from the trend since the last comparable poll, and what that tells us about the declining enthusiasm in Scotland for Our Precious Union. It's very much in line with recent polls from other firms in showing that support for the Union has dipped.
Should Scotland remain in the United Kingdom or leave the United Kingdom?
Remain: 59% (-2)
Leave: 41% (+2)
It's also in line with other recent polls in showing a sharp increase in support for the holding of a second independence referendum - although that's obviously not the impression you'll get from reading the lightly rewritten Scotland in Union propaganda press release in the newspapers. A grand total of 63% of respondents now want a second indyref, up six points from 57% in the last comparable poll in April. Only 28% of respondents are opposed to a referendum, down six points from April. In terms of timing, 42% want the referendum to take place within the next five years, up a dramatic eleven points on the 31% recorded in the April poll. And 27% want it within the next eighteen months - almost identical to the number who don't want a referendum at all.
Some unionist politicians are beside themselves with excitement at the starkness of the difference between the results of genuine independence polls and these Remain/Leave polls, and clearly think that all they need to do to win next time is to rig the referendum question. But they're barking up the wrong tree. Above all else, the Electoral Commission seek in their research to avoid unclear or confusing questions, and for the reasons given earlier in this blogpost, there are at least three very obvious ways in which a Remain/Leave question would be unclear or confusing. And the irony is that even if the Electoral Commission could somehow be coaxed into endorsing such a question, it probably wouldn't even make the difference to the final result that unionists expect. Past history shows that the effect of different question wordings diminish as a campaign progresses, because voters become better educated about what they are being asked.
Final thought: why on earth didn't the Yes side commission their own propaganda polling to mark the anniversary? Maybe something like "Should Scotland be a country?" or "Should Scotland be a country in the European Union?" I think we can guess what the outcome would have been...