As a number of people feared, the latest Panelbase poll commissioned by Wings Over Scotland appears to be largely a propaganda exercise to further that site's recent anti-SNP agenda, and in particular Mr Campbell's tentative plans to set up a new political party in direct competition with the SNP. Only people planning to vote SNP on the Holyrood constituency ballot were interviewed. The idea seems to have been to identify a series of ways in which the SNP are regarded as deficient by their own voters, and then to present a magical 'solution' to these supposed 'problems'.
The results from the poll are being drip-fed to us, and the latest batch purport to show that SNP voters are confused by the party's strategy and aims in regards to Brexit. Actually the poll shows no such thing. It shows that SNP voters disagree with each other in their interpretations of what the strategy and aims are, but there's no evidence at all that individuals are unsure in their own minds. (To get that sort of evidence, there would have had to be a question along the lines of "On a scale of 0 to 10, how confident are you that you understand the SNP's goal in relation to Brexit?") Even the supposed division of opinion among SNP voters is somewhat artificial, because a clear majority of respondents (56%) said that they thought the aim was either to stop Brexit altogether for the whole UK, or to stop a No Deal Brexit for the whole UK. The difference between those two options is one of emphasis, because stopping No Deal probably requires stopping Brexit altogether, at least for the time being.
It's true that another 26% of the sample do hold an interpretation that contradicts the view of the majority, ie. they think the SNP want a Scotland-specific Brexit deal within the UK. But that's a product of the evolution of the SNP's own position - at one point Nicola Sturgeon was pressing for exactly such a deal, but having failed to get blood out of a stone she started taking the view that the only way (short of independence) to keep Scotland in the single market and/or the EU itself was to keep the whole of the UK in.
What I find really encouraging from the results is that only a very small 8% of the sample take the cynical view that the SNP are just "pretending" to try to stop Brexit as a way to win voters over to the independence cause. That's been one of the Scottish Tories' favourite smears ("the SNP are desperate for No Deal"), and it appears from the poll that it simply hasn't resonated with SNP voters. But what would be more helpful to know is whether it's resonated with the wider electorate.
Several Wings supporters have indignantly protested to me in recent weeks that Mr Campbell is extremely hard-headed, and would use his forthcoming polling as a genuine attempt to measure the likely support for a Wings party. If that support wasn't there, he would drop the whole idea to avoid splitting the list vote and possibly reducing the number of pro-independence MSPs. But what would a genuine attempt to measure support for a Wings party look like? It would have to be a question that presented Wings as one of a menu of options. Something along the lines of...
If the following parties stood on the Scottish Parliament regional list ballot, which one would you vote for?
Scottish National Party (SNP)
Wings Over Scotland
Scottish Socialist Party (SSP)
If the Wings party scored significant support on a question of that sort (assuming, of course, that it wasn't at the end of a leading 'question ladder'), Mr Campbell would be entitled to say that he's onto something.
What a legitimate question wouldn't do is ask about a Wings party in isolation, ie. "Would you consider giving your regional list vote to a Wings Over Scotland party?", because history shows that a question of that sort will give a wildly distorted impression of how well a party might do. The classic example was the YouGov poll that Archie Stirling commissioned when he set up his Scottish Voice party in 2007 - he managed to breathlessly persuade newspapers to report that polling showed his party was on course to take 20% of the vote and dozens of list seats. Just weeks later, Scottish Voice took a mere 0.3% of the list vote and naturally didn't come within light-years of winning any seats at all.
Similar dodgy polling questions earlier this year gave the bogus impression that the Independent Group/Change UK was on course for a massive breakthrough at Westminster.
So if Mr Campbell asks a credible polling question that presents Wings as one of a menu of options, it can reasonably be inferred that he is serious about accurately measuring support, and if he asks a vaguer question about the Wings party in isolation, it can reasonably be inferred that his motivation is somewhat different. And guess what? It looks like he's done the latter. An anonymous commenter on this blog was interviewed for the poll, and recalled that the question asked was along the lines of -
"Would you consider voting for a new alternative pro-independence party on the list ballot?"
Mr Campbell responded to the comment in his trademark derisive and foul-mouthed manner, but what he very noticeably didn't do was deny that he'd asked that sort of question. He isn't a fool - he knows exactly what he's doing. Even if at one point he was naive enough to believe that such a vague question would produce meaningful results, it's been pointed out to him for weeks why that isn't the case. I wrote a blogpost in mid-August setting out the problem with Archie Stirling-type questions, and Alex Birnie has repeated the point several times in comments on Wings itself. We know that Mr Campbell saw at least some of those comments, because he directly responded to them.
If, as it appears, he's gone ahead and asked that question anyway, it's safe to conclude that this is not an attempt to accurately measure potential Wings support on the list ballot. It's most likely an attempt to generate the impression of significant support, to whip his most devoted fans up into an even greater frenzy, and to make the momentum towards setting up the party unstoppable, regardless of the damage it might do to pro-independence representation in the Scottish Parliament. Remember that a small party that takes less than 5% of the list vote in any region will almost certainly not take a seat in that region, and can only do damage by taking votes away from larger pro-indy parties that do have a chance of winning list seats.
My advice to Wings readers, regardless of whether you're sympathetic to the idea of a new party or not, is this: demand better polling.