Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Facts aren't decided by opinion poll

I've been trying to work out all day what I make of the results on the Wings/Panelbase poll question about whether people believe there was a conspiracy against Alex Salmond.  (A plurality of SNP voters think there was, but a plurality of all voters think there wasn't.)  The conclusion I've reached is that the numbers don't actually tell us anything much at all, and I'm not even entirely sure there was much point in asking the question at this stage when the facts have yet to reach the public domain.  There are a great many topics on which public opinion matters tremendously, but a dispute over a point of fact is not one of them.  It's either true or untrue that there was a conspiracy - what matters is truth, not opinions or hunches or guesswork.  Any evidence of a conspiracy should be thoroughly investigated, and if wrongdoing is discovered, the people involved should be disciplined accordingly.

I was at an event in Edinburgh a few months ago, in which a well-known comedian made a highly provocative comment that implied Alex Salmond was guilty on a "no smoke without fire" or "he just comes across that way" basis.  The audience roared with laughter, and I was left feeling deeply uncomfortable.  Doubtless if there had been a Panelbase poll of that audience, it wouldn't have been very favourable for Mr Salmond - and that wouldn't have mattered a damn, because when a jury actually listened to the evidence, they acquitted him on every single charge.  Exactly the same principle applies to the allegations of a conspiracy - it really isn't important what members of the public think if they don't have the facts in front of them.

I would just make a couple of technical points about the poll, though.  One of the problems with polling that relies on volunteer online panels is that there will always be a disproportionate number of politically engaged people in the sample.  In practice, that doesn't seem to distort voting intention results too much, but I do wonder if this is the sort of question where there may be an issue.  The SNP voters who were polled may, for instance, be significantly more likely to have read Craig Murray's account of the trial than SNP voters in general.  Of course that probably means they're much better informed than most voters, but the flipside of the coin is that we should be cautious about assuming their views are fully representative.  So I'm a bit dubious about Stuart's crude extrapolations that "one million" people must think this or that.  He's also guilty of a sleight of hand by lumping together Don't Knows with people who think there was a conspiracy, and saying "more than 70% of SNP voters either definitely believe that the party tried to fit up Alex Salmond or consider it a real possibility".  Don't Know means Don't Know.  It's not a synonym for "yes, I consider that a real possibility".  Many people who said Don't Know may have literally known nothing about the subject, and were in no position to offer any sort of opinion at all.

For what it's worth, I'm deeply concerned by what I've heard about the sequence of events that led to Mr Salmond being put on trial, and I hope the truth does come out.  But truth isn't determined by public vote or by opinion poll.

29 comments:

  1. ""The SNP voters who were polled may, for instance, be significantly more likely to have read Craig Murray's account of the trial than SNP voters in general. Of course that probably means they're much better informed than most voters,...""


    Assuming Mr Murray's account was accurate.

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    1. Or -- SNP voters might like old style Irn Bru … or chicken balti … or they may be influenced by the Unionist recyclable blatts...
      Why does Mr Kelly choose the particular possibility in the first part of that quote?

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    2. "Assuming Mr Murrays account was accurate?" Oh get a grip Legerwood.

      Some people are starting to behave like Trump supporters - as Trump declared his supporters would vote for him even if he had shot someone dead in the middle of Times Square during the day.

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  2. Stuart Campbell is cynical and calculated, but thankfully largely unheard of.

    He is trying to sow division amongst the only credible show in town. He couldn't even bare to release part of his own poll, which gives the SNP 74 seats in 2021 - as reported by broadcast Scotland.

    Loud and annoying, but thankfully out with earshot of most people.

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    1. Hi, I hold no bags for Mr Campbell, but he puts his views out under his own name.
      Not like you you shitbag.

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    2. Your real name seriously isn't geocyper is it?

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    3. No it’s not, it’s George Gannon, what’s yours?

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    4. Skier is named as Paidric Alloysious Kaffolisism.

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    5. 'Sir' John CurtassMay 6, 2020 at 9:20 PM

      I can, in fact, confirm that he stood as "Trevor Brendan Skier - Smash English Racism" in the constituency of Dunbotherin & Scumflats East in the 2019 election and accrued 478 votes.

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    6. Ross, but I'm not giving folk into trouble for using pseudonyms.

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  3. Sensible point of view as always, James

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  4. Sensible point of view as always, James

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  5. "It's either true or untrue that there was a conspiracy”. Yes, but … it depends a lot what counts as a conspiracy.

    Published accounts of the trial were partial, in all senses of the word. From the little I have seen, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that there was – shall we say – some degree of coordination in the allegations. Some people were quite explicit in seeing the Salmond case as part of the wider Me Too movement. Does this coordination amount to a conspiracy? Till we know a lot more about the number of alleged conspirators and their positions in government, party and civil service I think the only possible verdict is Not Proven.

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    1. Dennis, did you not read about the judicial review case in the court of session.

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  6. " For what its worth, I'm deeply concerned by what I've heard about the sequence of events that led to Mr Salmond being put on trial," finally, what took you so long.

    "and I hope the truth does come out." Plenty of the truth is out there already and only those suffering from blindness cannot see it.

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    1. No idea what you mean by "what took you so long" - I've been expressing that view for weeks.

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    2. "I've been expressing that view for weeks"

      James, sorry to have to point this out to you but it has been going on for years not weeks.

      I guess some people really need it all spelled out for them in a book or do they really know what has been going on but don't have the bottle to say so.

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  7. I have to say I could not make head nor tail of the 'controversial' English blogger's poll results either.

    I found the questions misleading and also inaccurate. For example, 'Senior SNP' does not necessarily mean leadership. You can be senior, with a lot of power, but completely at odds with a party leadership. That's what happens with factions in parties. Therefore, 'senior' doesn't equal sturgeon or advocated by the party as a whole; yet that's how he interpreted the poll.

    Likewise, there is no 'Scottish' civil service; it is an arm of London. Leslie Evans' boss is the head of the 'Great British Union Jack on Her Majesty's Civil Service for the Northern Colonies' in Westminster. She spends much of her time down there getting instructions on how to manage the uppity jocks.

    Scottish indy supporters certainly were not trying to take out Salmond, and Campbell is pushing that very line. So why ask about the 'Scottish' civil service when it was the British going after him? I'm personally very sure the British civil service are out to get him, but I'd have had to answer in the affirmative to his question because of that, irrespective of whether I thought the SNP were involved. And obviously many in the SNP are not involved, as they are friends of Salmond. Are we not allowed to vote for these SNP. Our Bath Blogger is telling us not to.

    The poll questions force those answering to ask too many questions themselves about what's being asked and why, while the whole thing is both leading and misleading, rendering the results pretty useless.

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    1. Why would the British go after Salmond when he is helping the British State.

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    2. You'd need to ask her Majesty's British Civil Service, Northern Colonies division that.

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    3. Do they have a Freephone number?

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    4. Typical Brexiteer, always looking for a freebie.

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    5. Typical Brexiteer, always looking for a freebie.

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  8. If you are interested in what happens if you go for more of a 'herd immunity' type approach. At least at first. Even if, some would argue, that was just through complete incompetence.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52564183

    Coronavirus: UK becomes first country in Europe to pass 30,000 deaths

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    1. There have been no old firm games lately. That must have assisted the NHS.

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    2. Covidia will value that when it inevitably injures itself on mandatory crop harvesting duties.

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  9. I remember, at the time that the rules of conduct became law, that suspicion was voiced that the unusual sanction of retrospective application of the rules was specifically designed to prosecute persons for past conduct, before that conduct was deemed illegal. And it is indeed extremely difficult to believe that the notion of this extraordinary extension would occur to anyone unless they had a target or targets in mind. It was a conspiracy, with a particular target.

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    1. The Scottish working classes will understand your contribution.

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    2. Rather a falcipiant statement, I feel.

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