Thursday, December 12, 2013

Vive L'Écosse Libre!

As I've spent a fair bit of time recently calculating poll averages, I thought I might take it a step further and do the same thing for what is probably the closest international parallel to our own independence referendum, namely the Quebec referendum of 1995. I'm sure most of you know that, in the early stages, the Yes camp in Quebec found themselves in a seemingly hopeless predicament, before recovering with a few months to go to roughly where we in Scotland are right now on a mean average of the polls - 40% Yes, 60% No (with Don't Knows excluded). They then made further impressive gains which took them all the way to a narrow lead by the close of the campaign.

That part of the story is well-known, but what might surprise you a little more is that an average of the polls from September 1995, the month before the referendum, shows that Yes were still trailing by more than five points...

SEPTEMBER 1995 AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 47.4%
No 52.6%

An average of polls conducted during the month of the referendum itself shows that the position had been dramatically reversed...

OCTOBER 1995 AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 50.7% (+3.3)
No 49.3% (-3.3)

Then of course came the famously cruel twist in the tale that has poisoned Quebec politics to this day. Fieldwork for the final poll was concluded three days before the referendum, too late to pick up any late swings. The No campaign indulged in some rather questionable practices in a desperate effort to rescue the situation, and it appears that this was sufficient to generate a small but decisive late swing back to No. However, this didn't reverse all or even most of the gains that Yes had made between September and October, as a comparison between the final result and the September average will demonstrate...

REFERENDUM RESULT, 30 OCTOBER 1995 (changes from September polling average) :

Yes 49.4% (+2.0)
No 50.6% (-2.0)

I'd say those numbers fairly definitively give the lie to the hoary old myth that you'll still sometimes hear otherwise intelligent people trot out, namely that a Yes campaign is bound to suffer a seepage of support during any referendum campaign, and that undecided voters are bound to break for No. More specifically, it suggests that our own Yes campaign in Scotland could still hope to win even if it remains a few points behind next August. It currently stands at 40.1% in the Poll of Polls with Don't Knows excluded, so if the Quebec precedent is anything to go by, it would probably need to increase its support by at least 7% or so over the coming seven or eight months. For my money, the crucial period will be from May until early August, because it's in May that the official campaign period starts, and from that point on the broadcasters will finally be obliged to treat both sides of the debate equally (and it'll be fascinating to see how faithfully they live up to that obligation).

NOTE : Apologies if I got my French grammar wrong in the title of this post. If so, hopefully Tris will correct me!


  1. May is also important becuase it's the European elections. If, as commenters are predicting, UKIP do well in E&W, this may concentrate a few minds on the referendum

  2. I need to read up of this a bit more.

    I have always thought that the British state was unlikely to let its cash cow go without something more of a fight than the likes of Comatose and his team of amateurs have been putting up.

    Not only can the UK not afford to lose Scotland in financial terms, but think of the personal disgrace shame for Cameron.

    I'm not really a conspiracy theory type, but I believe they have far too much to lose to just shrug their shoulders and say "Que sera". The unions will certainly have a plan B; they just can't tell us about it.

    The last time around they changed the goal posts so that the dead had to vote Yes. Clearly that won't work again.

    Postal voting can be (as has been proved) effective in a ward at a by-election, but massive organisation would be needed to get it right all over the country, and I doubt their capacity to organise something on that scale and to keep it quiet.

    But I have no doubt they are planning something.

    It is interesting to speculate what they could come up with, two days before the vote...and how big they would need it to be to sway the vote.

    I must read more about the dirty tricks au Canada!

    Au fait, ton subjonctif est sublime. Toutes mes félicitations. :)

  3. I was in Quebec at that time, Montreal.

    The dirty tricks at the last minute against Yes are a pointer to what we should expect.

    Air Canada, a nationalised airline made just about every aircraft they could to the No campaign, aka CanGov, to fly thousands of Canadians from all over Canada for a "stay in Canada, we love and need you" march in Mtl. The lucky day trippers paid peanuts their flights and had a good days shopping and eating.

    The cost of that circus never appeared in the No accounts. In fact No overspent their limit with impunity.

    The week before the vote, every billboard in Quebec was bloc booked by No asking the voters not to desert Canada. The cost of that was never revealed.

    In fact James the difference between the Yes and No votes was fewer than the number of fans who attend the Montreal Canadiens hockey games; that few.

    Our No mob have stolen lots from the Canadian experience and a few more things yet too be revealed.

  4. On the subject of the "we love you, need you and want to have your babies" rally, I think it was Kenny Farquharson who pointed out at the time that a similar rally of thousands of Home Counties types in George Square, waving Union Jacks and singing God Save the Queen, would be likely to have precisely the opposite impact on the result of a Scottish referendum. That's the handicap our No campaign have got - they can't appeal to British nationalism in the same way that the No camp in Quebec could (to some extent) appeal to Canadian nationalism, because they know it would repel more voters than it attracts. So instead they have to torture themselves with this weird formulation of "I'm so Scottish that I had haggis, deep fried Mars bars and Irn Bru for breakfast this morning BUT it's because I'm so patriotic that I know our limitations as a country."

  5. tris, "two days before the vote..." Devo max?

  6. It's a thought, Anon.

  7. There won't be a "please don't leave us" rally like in Quebec. K Farq has it right, it would backfire. And I doubt if the English care enough.
    But Devomax promises could swing a close call. Would voters be naive enough to believe it? For me it would have to include Holyrood to have full control of oil with all the civil service jobs and paraphernalia to go with it.
    Finally, I am sure the SNP have also learned a lot from the Quebec experience.