So just a little postscript to the earlier piece about today's extraordinary Panelbase poll showing 50% support for independence. The Britain Elects account on Twitter tossed a small grenade into the discussion about the poll by stating that the standard indyref Yes/No question hadn't been asked. My initial gut reaction to that was it must be an innocent misunderstanding - the Sunday Times had put out a graphic summarising the results in terms of "Support" and "Oppose" and I thought perhaps Britain Elects had seen that and taken it too literally. However, as a service with a huge following, Britain Elects are presumably very much "in the loop" with the leading polling firms and with the embargoed results that are sent out in advance to journalists and other interested parties, so we shouldn't discount the possibility that their claim is accurate. (It's also possible that this information is publicly available in the Sunday Times article and that I haven't seen it yet because I don't pay the Murdoch Levy, so if you know the answer please let me know.)
If the question has genuinely been changed, it's an inexplicable decision. We all know that unionist politicians have been trying it on recently and attempting to gain some traction with the idea that the question will need to be revised for the next referendum. But with absolutely no reason to assume they'll get anywhere with that, and with no idea what the new question would be even if they did succeed, it's surely a no-brainer for pollsters to continue with the question that was actually asked in the 2014 vote and that almost all polls have used in the five years since. Remember also that this is just the latest in a long series of independence polls conducted by Panelbase on behalf of the Sunday Times, and it would be normal practice to maintain consistency by sticking with the same question wording, unless there's a very good reason not to. If you don't do that, the results cease to be directly comparable and the trends that are picked up may be less meaningful.
The BBC's Philip Sim reacted to the Britain Elects claim by indulging in what I can only describe as some light trolling...
"On top of the usual caveats about individual polls etc - was this not a Yes/No poll? Interesting SNP are promoting it when they've been arguing that Electoral Commission don't need to test the indyref2 question because Yes/No is in "current use" and is always used in polls..."
Well, that's one way of looking at it, but there is another way. Most polls are commissioned by a mainstream media that we know is overwhelmingly hostile to independence. Have unionist newspapers decided that they are now in a position to undermine the SNP's case simply by playing silly buggers with the question they ask in their own polls? And if so, have the polling companies begun to play along with that little game?
As it happens, something along the lines of "Do you support or oppose Scottish independence?" is not an inherently unfair question, and if that's what was asked, I'm not surprised that the results were very much in line with recent Yes/No polling. It's certainly a lot clearer than Scotland in Union's notoriously dodgy "Do you want to remain part of the United Kingdom?" question, which confuses the hell out of people by making them think they're being asked about the monarchy.
But as a matter of principle, polling companies should be sticking with the tried and tested question until and unless a new question emerges from an official process. If each firm dreams up its own question to ask, we're going to end up with five or six competing "referendum questions", each producing different results, and we won't have a clue what the true state of play is.
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What is surely destined to be remembered as "The Poll With No End" finally came to an end today, as Wings published the last results from his own Panelbase poll of SNP voters. You might be surprised to hear that I actually think his final question was a reasonably fair one, although there was still a faint tone of incredulity in one of the three possible options that respondents could choose from, and that may have had a slightly leading effect. However, the results are overwhelming enough that I don't think there's much doubt about the balance of SNP voters' views - they want some sort of Plan B if a Section 30 order is rejected. 42% would want a consultative referendum to be held without Westminster's consent, 35% would want to use a scheduled election to double as a referendum, and only 7% think that the Scottish Government should just keep asking for permission and hoping that Westminster agrees. (That was the touch of incredulity I was talking about.)
So, yes, it appears that the vast majority of SNP voters are directly at odds with the party leadership on this crucially important matter. But what's the rational response to that? The SNP leadership will be less likely, not more likely, to change course if the people who disagree with them leave the party and join a fringe party instead. That would be a recipe for careerist, devolutionist SNP rule for the next twenty years.
For my part, I've just renewed my SNP membership for another year. I didn't do that because I agree with the leadership on everything. I disagree with them on Plan B. I disagree with them on self-ID. I disagree with them on one or two other miscellaneous things as well. But the only way to bring change about is to fight for it on the inside.
We're at a crossroads in our nation's history, and there can be no better time to make your voice heard inside the party that remains the only credible vehicle for delivering independence. If you're not currently a member of the SNP and fancy joining for just a few pounds, you can do so HERE.