Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Peter Kellner - an 'impartial polling expert'?

I just despair (again). Earlier this afternoon, Peter Kellner of YouGov was trotted out by the BBC News channel to offer his "impartial insight" into referendum polling. Yup, that'll be the same Peter Kellner who until September was cynically distorting the results of his own company's polls by insisting on using a ludicrously biased preamble before posing the referendum question to his respondents. It's also the same Peter Kellner who, after the SNP's victory in 2011, made the now provably nonsensical claim that Alex Salmond wasn't really aiming for independence at all, and was just using the referendum as a wheeze to get a Devo Max question put to the electorate. This is what passes for expertise and impartiality these days, is it? I appreciate that variety is the spice of life and that we all need a break from John Curtice now and again, but why in heaven's name can't the broadcasters use Professor James Mitchell occasionally? He's infinitely more knowledgeable about Scotland than Kellner is.

However, I did my level best to give Kellner the benefit of the doubt this afternoon. That effort lasted until he had uttered about nine words, at which point I burst into hysterical laughter. The presenter Jane Hill had just asked him to give a summary of what the polls were showing at the moment, and his response was "if you look at what the four established pollsters have been saying...". I knew straight away that he was about to claim that these four supposedly "established" pollsters were YouGov, Ipsos-Mori, ICM and TNS-BMRB, and sure enough I was right. Well, blow me down with a feather, Peter, if you haven't just conveniently excluded the two pollsters that are most favourable for Yes at the moment, thus allowing you to hoodwink the viewers into thinking those polls either don't exist or don't matter. Extraordinary.

Tell me, Peter, what possible justification is there for claiming that Angus Reid, of all companies, is not "established"? They're one of the world's leading polling organisations, for pity's sake, and have been around for much longer than YouGov. They're scarcely new kids on the block in UK terms, either, having started up operations here well before the last general election. And as for Panelbase, they may not be as old as YouGov, but it has to be said they were considerably more accurate than YouGov at the last Scottish Parliament election. I don't want to be unkind here, but the numbers speak for themselves.

And TNS-BMRB? Until two years ago they were the most favourable pollster for Yes (sometimes showing outright Yes leads), but now that mantle has shifted to Panelbase. I guarantee you that if that hadn't happened, Kellner would not be listing TNS-BMRB as one of his "established" pollsters. They were, after all, routinely ignored by the London media until they started showing bigger No leads, at which point, hey presto, they were suddenly the "gold standard".

Nope. Not good enough, Peter. You can't cherry-pick like that - Angus Reid and Panelbase are credible pollsters who adhere to British Polling Council rules, just like you and all your "established" chums. If you pretend otherwise, you lose all credibility as an "impartial expert", and your words can be safely ignored. Perhaps in future interviews you should be introduced as a "unionist psephologist", because the only conceivable interest you provide is in hearing what the latest No campaign spin on the polls is.

* * *

While Nicola Sturgeon was making her statement in parliament today, I was amused to see a caption running at the bottom of the screen saying "UK government sources : We're not bluffing on sterling". Isn't it amazing how we're all supposed to drop dead in fright at the pronouncement of shadowy sources (as the press dutifully did in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq), whereas it's just taken as read that UK government ministers speaking on the record will be lying? Well, frankly, I'm equally unimpressed by the anonymous briefers. Perhaps they can explain what their on-the-record counterparts have signally failed to thus far - if you're not bluffing, why don't you just rule out a sterling zone? Hint - the Alistair Carmichael explanation that "we don't want to make the SNP cry" will probably not be sufficiently convincing. Until we do get an answer, it's very hard not to conclude that the reason they've failed to rule it out is because they don't want to make prize idiots of themselves when they inevitably agree to a sterling zone after independence having pretended they wouldn't.


  1. On stormfront lite they are claiming that Scotland can't be independent if the westminster government doesn't say yes. They really are a bunch of racist lunatics.

  2. Yes, it seems like only yesterday that the "Westminster is God" PB Tories were assuring us that "children" (ie. 16 and 17 year olds) wouldn't be voting in the referendum because London wouldn't allow it. Still, I shouldn't complain - they believed their own propaganda to such an extent that I won a £50 bet against one of them on that basis.