Saturday, December 14, 2013

I am a traitor

And I mean that quite literally. From the Guardian -

"A 165-year-old law that threatens anyone calling for the abolition of the monarchy with life imprisonment is technically still in force – after the Ministry of Justice admitted wrongly announcing that it had been repealed...

The Ministry of Justice said: "Section 3 of the Treason Felony Act 1848 has not been repealed."...

That means in theory that to "imagine" overthrowing the Crown or waging war against the Queen, as the wording of the act describes, could still result in a life sentence."

Merely 'imagining' it is enough? Having been brought up a Catholic, that reminds me a bit of the doctrine that having 'impure thoughts' is just as sinful as actually doing the deed. Now, I don't know about you, but I find that while I may be able to control my actions, my thoughts are rather resistant to that form of discipline. Which begs the obvious question - if you're going to be deemed as bad a criminal/sinner anyway, why not just go the whole hog? Let's do it now - let's overthrow the Queen!

Friday, December 13, 2013

YouGov poll suggests that the pro-independence campaign's childcare proposals have made a big impression on voters

The remaining details of this week's YouGov poll have been released, and the most eye-catching finding is that there are now more than twice as many voters (35%) who think that an independent Scotland would have better childcare provision than there are who think provision would get worse (15%). Even more remarkably, a plurality of Labour voters (27% to 18%) think that independence would lead to expanded childcare provision, while as many as 15% of those who are currently planning to vote No in the referendum share the same view - meaning that, by a fair distance, childcare is the issue that provokes the most favourable impression of independence among current No supporters. That leaves little room for doubt that the decision to make childcare the centrepiece of the independence White Paper has been noticed by many key voters, and that the No campaign's attempts to neutralise the impact of the proposals have thus far been unsuccessful.

One of the subtexts of John Curtice's commentary on recent polls is that, because Yes have failed to storm into an outright lead on the back of the childcare proposals, the strategy must have been wrong, and that they should have focused relentlessly on the economy instead. I disagree. The economy is undoubtedly a vital battlefield, but the idea that there was some kind of silver bullet available that would have produced an overnight 10% swing in voting intentions is risible, and the idea that dry talk about economic growth or tax revenues could have constituted that silver bullet is even more risible. No, the task of the White Paper was not to instantly shift votes in huge numbers (although as we've seen in the polls that have been published since then, some voters have certainly moved over to the Yes camp), but instead to shift perceptions of what independence is all about among the most sceptical voters, many of whom are women, and many of whom care deeply about issues such as childcare. With a change in perceptions you earn a fair hearing further down the line that you might not otherwise have got, and with a fair hearing you have the chance to ultimately win new votes - if your campaigning is skillful enough, that is. There's every indication in these YouGov numbers that things are going to plan so far.

The other thing that struck me is just how few issues there are that really provoke any fear about independence, even amongst people who are currently planning to vote No. For example...

* 53% of current No supporters think that schools would be as good as now or better after independence.

* 62% of current No supporters think that the crime rate would not get worse or would reduce after independence.

* 45% of current No voters think that Scotland would be just as 'safe in the world' (whatever that means) or safer after independence. (This also constitutes a plurality, because only 42% of No supporters believe Scotland would be less safe.)

So we're not exactly dealing with voters who have an all-encompassing dystopian view of independence - their reluctance to embrace the idea seems to boil down to a relatively narrow (albeit very important) range of concerns about issues such as taxation and pensions. The poll also detects a nominal 'concern' about Scotland's influence in the world, which of course is entirely misguided - Scotland can hardly lose any further influence in world councils when the people 'representing' us there at the moment are David Cameron and William Hague. But I don't think it really matters whether the electorate come to accept that fact or not, because the only people who ever actually lose any sleep over a declining influence in the world are to be found in the political class.

Now here's an interesting paradox for you. The poll shows that most people in Scotland think of themselves as having either a wholly or predominantly Scottish national identity (ie. they say they are either 'Scottish not British' or 'more Scottish than British'). The poll also shows that most people with a wholly or predominantly Scottish national identity are in favour of independence. So why aren't Yes already in the lead? Well, quite simply because the No vote encompasses a substantial minority of those with a mostly Scottish identity, and a big majority of those without one. But all the same, this represents a huge potential opportunity for Yes due to the power of example - if voters who think of themselves as primarily Scottish start to notice that most people of like mind are plumping for independence, there might well be a bandwagon effect. There are no guarantees, of course - I mentioned Quebec last night, and the pro-independence campaign there were stuck with their own paradox of losing narrowly in spite of a 60-40 split in their favour among the majority French-speaking population. But the possibility is certainly there.

It's also intriguing that more than twice as many respondents (10%) say they are 'British not Scottish' than opt for the more nuanced option of 'more British than Scottish' (4%). It seems to me the most plausible explanation is that most of the 'British not Scottish' group are literally non-Scots - they're people resident in Scotland who have come here from other parts of the UK. By and large, that means they'll be English people answering a question they feel doesn't really apply to them in the only logical way they can - that would certainly explain the counter-intuitive finding that a respectable minority of them are planning to vote Yes or are SNP supporters. If this theory is correct, then it suggests that Scots with a primarily British national identity are now almost an extinct group, and that the No campaign's hopes depend heavily on retaining support among the quarter of the electorate who feel 'equally Scottish and British'.

Lastly, the poll backs up the suggestion from Ipsos-Mori that a swing in favour of independence has occurred in spite of a simultaneous small swing to Labour in Holyrood voting intentions. That suggests that referendum voting intentions are becoming gradually decoupled from party loyalty - and that's a very good thing, even if a modest boost for Labour in the polls isn't. The SNP do retain a slender lead on the constituency vote among respondents who are 100% certain to vote, which many pollsters regard as the most accurate test of how the electorate would actually vote at any given moment.

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!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Alex Massie unwittingly pinpoints yet another excellent reason to vote for independence

From Alex Massie in his Spectator blog today -

"Nor is nationalist talk of a renewed democratic deficit all that persuasive. Sure, the Tories only have one MP in Scotland and between them the coalition parties can only count on a dozen Scottish votes. But a majority of English voters did not vote Conservative either. There is a distinction to be drawn between legitimacy conferred by a parliamentary majority and that earned by a majority of votes cast. In the latter instance, Scotland is different only by degree not kind.

The fact of the matter is that almost all British governments are delivered on a minority of the vote. Neither Tony Blair nor Margaret Thatcher ever won a majority of votes cast."

Which entirely misunderstands the nature of the democratic deficit. If our betters in the London establishment are to sustain the notion (and they certainly do their level best to) that the first-past-the-post electoral system used for Westminster is both fair and democratic, then the only meaningful tests of a democratic deficit are a) whether any given British government would have been elected in Scotland under the same system, and b) whether that government would even have come remotely close to being elected in Scotland under the same system. The Conservative government of 1959-64 failed test a) but not test b). The Tory governments of 1970-74, 1979-83 and 1983-87 failed both tests, but could at least claim to have put up a respectable fight on test b). But the three subsequent Tory governments, including the present one, failed test b) by absolute bloody light-years. It seems reasonable to suppose that the same will be true of any other Tory government that may come along in the foreseeable future.

"Even after independence most of us are likely to be ruled by a party for which we did not vote. Scotland, in this respect, will just be a smaller Britain. That’s fine but I think it reduces the impact of the democratic deficit argument which is, in any case, in part the consequence of our electoral system not the cumulative total of votes cast."

But that's not quite right, is it? An independent Scotland will be more democratic in two ways, not just the one that Alex is hinting at there. The built-in and supposedly unavoidable "British" democratic deficit that Alex refers to can be more succinctly described thus -

The UK uses an antiquated voting system for its national parliament that delivers a result that bears little resemblance to how the electorate actually votes. As a result of the Liberal Democrats' tactical bungling, there is now almost no prospect of that system being replaced for several decades, if ever.

And the solution to the problem can be described thus -

An independent Scotland will replace first-past-the-post with proportional representation for the national parliament, ensuring that election results closely mirror how the electorate actually votes, and that a much lower proportion of votes will be wasted.

Hardly a position consistent with "voting Yes won't make much difference". And funnily enough, what I've just done is a good example of the Yes campaign narrative that Alex spends most of his piece moaning about (while confusingly conceding that it is totally necessary). It goes like this - you identify something that is profoundly wrong with the United Kingdom, you explain why that problem cannot possibly be fixed from within the United Kingdom, and then you set out in very simple terms how an independent Scotland would fix it. I'm not remotely squeamish about any of this - if the Yes campaign have been using that narrative to a sufficient extent that Alex now feels able to accuse them of 'victimhood', then it shows that it's hitting home. What Alex sees as 'scaremongering', I see as facing facts - the fundamental difference with the No campaign's negativity is that they are dreaming up wildly implausible speculative claims of how an independent Scotland might flounder, while Yes are talking about what is verifiably wrong with the UK right now. There is no dispute over the factual reality of unwanted nuclear missiles being present on Glasgow's doorstep, for example.

An authentic Yes equivalent to Project Fear (or to the No2AV campaign) would instead be one that comes up with hypothetical examples of what Westminster might do to Scotland over the coming decades, and presents them to the electorate as cold hard fact. Frankly, I think there might be a place for that tactic as well, at least to a modest degree. The No campaign have got to learn that they're not the only ones allowed to play hardball. And although I don't agree with Iain Macwhirter's assessment of the White Paper's impact, one thing he is certainly right about is that another vital aspect of a successful Yes campaign will be a vastly enhanced rebuttal operation, with a team of experts constantly on hand to rapidly and authoritatively rebut any or all of the silly scare stories that crop up on a daily basis. There's a strong case for having separate rebuttal units based in both Scotland and London, to finally get to grips with the utter drivel that is routinely bounced back to voters via the London media.

Alex concludes his piece by suggesting that the Yes campaign's attempts to identify what is wrong with the UK will come up against voters' own perceptions that life isn't really so bad at the moment. I must say that it seems quite odd for a blogger who prays in aid shades of grey and matters of degree in respect of the democratic deficit to see no relevance at all for those same concepts when it comes to people's level of contentment with the way in which they are governed. I don't think life for Scots within the UK is intolerable by any means (although it may well be for a substantial minority) - but there's an awful lot wrong with it just the same, and there's plenty we can do to put it right in an independent Scotland. Conversely, there's precious little we can do about it for as long as we contract out our choice of government to a country that - perfectly legitimately - keeps voting for right-wing administrations.

New YouGov poll shows increase in support for independence since the White Paper

My new favourite pastime of "spot the good #indyref poll for Yes by seeing what Blair 'Complacency' McDougall doesn't say about it on Twitter" continues to delight.  An hour or two ago he posted this tweet...

"Interesting figure on what £800,000 worth of taxpayer-funded White Paper propaganda gets you coming up."

...and it instantly became blindingly obvious that there must be a new poll about to be released in which the No lead had fallen yet again, because the narrative he was manfully trying to prepare the ground for was "Yes haven't made enough progress". The problem for him being that the poll he was hinting at was a YouGov, which is highly significant because - a) YouGov have traditionally been one of the most favourable pollsters for the anti-independence campaign, and b) the last YouGov referendum poll showed a dramatic slump in the lead for No, which was down to its lowest level in eighteen months. So any further improvement for Yes from that position represents unalloyed good news, no matter how much Mr McDougall might care to harrumph about it. Here are the full figures from tonight's poll -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 33% (+1)
No 52% (-)

Now you'll notice that I list the real referendum question above the results, but that isn't intended to suggest that YouGov were necessarily professional enough to actually let that question speak for itself when conducting the poll. I've heard some dark whispers that they may in fact have reinstated their notorious biased preamble that unsubtly attempts to push people towards saying No. If so, it would be an astonishing retrograde step for both their own credibility as a company and for the accuracy of referendum polling more broadly, so let's fervently hope it isn't true. We should find out one way or another tomorrow, and rest assured I have my customary "YouGov's credibility in tatters" headline raring to go if it turns out that the preamble has indeed reared its ugly head yet again. The only consolation is that it would make tonight's figures look even better for Yes, because it seemed that the simple act of introducing a more neutrally-worded preamble was responsible for as much as eight of the ten percentage points by which the No lead dropped in YouGov's September poll. If Yes have closed the gap even further in spite of the reinstated handicap of the preamble, it would represent a massive "real terms" advance for them.

Either way, YouGov have now become the fourth pollster out of four to report that the No campaign's lead has fallen since the publication of the White Paper, so there can be very little remaining doubt about the general direction of travel. Indeed, it's been so long since YouGov have produced a No lead as low as this that I'm struggling to definitively put my finger on the last occasion that it happened - I think it may have been October 2011.

* * *


And now its time for the third update of this blog's Poll of Polls - yes, these updates are coming thick and fast all of a sudden! As you probably know by now, the Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of six polls - the most recent one from each of the six referendum pollsters that adhere to the British Polling Council's rules (Panelbase, YouGov, Ipsos-Mori, ICM, Angus Reid and TNS-BMRB). So this update simply replaces the last YouGov poll from September with the new one.

MEAN AVERAGE (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 32.8% (+0.1)
No 49.0% (-)

MEAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 40.1% (+0.1)
No 59.9% (-0.1)

MEDIAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 39.2% (+0.3)
No 60.8% (-0.3)

Given that only one-sixth of the sample changes with each newly-published poll, the movements are inevitably glacial. But even a 0.1% change on the mean average excluding Don't Knows is sufficient for the No vote to slip below 60% on that particular measure for the first time since the Poll of Polls began.

The swing required for the pro-independence campaign to draw level is now just 8.1% if Don't Knows are taken into account, and 9.9% if Don't Knows are excluded.

* * *

UPDATE : I'm hugely relieved to say that YouGov haven't reinstated the Dodgy Preamble. The most likely explanation for the 'dark whispers' I mentioned is that YouGov have been using the preamble for internal party/campaign polls not intended for publication (ie. the No campaign are getting the comforting answers they're paying to hear), or have been doing it for testing purposes of the sort that Oldnat mentions in his comment below. If it's the latter, then I'm still immensely troubled that they're even bothering to 'test' such a self-evidently biased preamble, because it suggests that they still haven't entirely given up on the ludicrous idea of reinstating it.

The detailed results from the poll also show that the No lead (excluding Don't Knows) is slightly narrower among those who are absolutely certain to vote. It also appears that the Yes lead among SNP supporters is not only slightly higher than the No lead among Labour supporters, but also quite a bit higher than the No lead among Liberal Democrat supporters.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ipsos-Mori poll : SNP retain lead in Scottish Parliament voting intentions

As I noted in the comments section from yesterday's post, I was a bit concerned after looking at the Ipsos-Mori datasets that Labour might have taken a narrow lead in Holyrood voting intentions.  As it turned out, I needn't have worried, because it's just been revealed that the SNP are still ahead on the headline figures.  In fact there's only a very marginal difference with the last Ipsos-Mori poll from September, amounting to the equivalent of a 1% swing to Labour (in other words the change could easily be an illusion caused by that legendary "margin of error stuff").

SNP 36% (-3)
Labour 34% (-1)
Conservatives 15% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 8% (+1)

The figures are for the constituency vote - for some reason Ipsos-Mori don't seem to bother asking their respondents for list vote intention.

The fact that the SNP's lead is relatively narrow, though, may provide a clue to the reason for the huge differences we've been seeing between the pollsters on referendum voting intention.  We know, for example, that Panelbase (the most favourable pollster for Yes) has tended to show very large SNP leads for Holyrood, while Newsnet Scotland discovered after some sleuthing that Progressive Scottish Opinion, the non-BPC pollster that has been producing the most inflated No leads of all, was privately showing a thoroughly implausible Labour lead for Holyrood of 8%.  So there does seem to be a clear (and admittedly unsurprising) relationship between the divergence on referendum voting intention figures, and the number of SNP voters each pollster has in its sample.

That's not to say Ipsos-Mori are necessarily getting it wrong, of course, although that will certainly be the suspicion of many of us - especially given that they are one of the only pollsters who still refuse to weight their sample in line with the 2011 Holyrood result.

Monday, December 9, 2013

New Ipsos-Mori poll confirms increase in support for independence since the publication of the White Paper

Ipsos-Mori have just released the third poll on independence referendum voting intentions to be published since the launch of the Scottish Government's White Paper, and the second to be wholly conducted since then (last week's TNS-BMRB poll was partly conducted before the WP).  It confirms the trend suggested by the previous two, of a clear swing in favour of the pro-independence campaign.  Here are the full figures -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 34% (+3)
No 57% (-2)

In the STV report on the poll, Ipsos-Mori's Mark Diffey acknowledges the boost in support for independence, but goes on to note that No retain a healthy lead.  Unfortunately, what he doesn't go on to note is that, even with this shift, Ipsos-Mori remain the outlier at the No-friendly end of the polling spectrum, showing a bigger lead for the No campaign than any of the other five pollsters that adhere to British Polling Council rules.  They also remain one of only two BPC pollsters (the other is YouGov) to be showing a raw No vote higher than 50%. In all likelihood, therefore, the true position is somewhat rosier for Yes than the raw figures of this poll would imply.

A couple of interesting titbits from the poll's datasets - Yes have a slim lead (47% to 45%) in the country's most deprived communities, while the No lead among Labour supporters (73% to 18%) is now several points lower than the Yes lead among SNP supporters (74% to 15%).

* * *


And now for the second update of this blog's Poll of Polls, which is based on a rolling average of six polls - the most recent from each of the six BPC pollsters to have been active during the referendum campaign (Ipsos-Mori, Panelbase, ICM, YouGov, Angus Reid and TNS-BMRB). This update simply replaces the last Ipsos-Mori poll with the new one, and therefore unsurprisingly sees the pro-independence campaign moving in the right direction.

MEAN AVERAGE (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 32.7% (+0.5)
No 49.0% (-0.3)

MEAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 40.0% (+0.5)
No 60.0% (-0.5)

MEDIAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 38.9% (-)
No 61.1% (-)

As you can see, the Yes camp have broken through the psychological 40% threshold in the middle batch of figures. The median average is unchanged for the simple reason that Ipsos-Mori remain one of the outliers, and are therefore irrelevant to the calculation.

When Don't Knows are taken into account, the Yes side now need just an 8.15% swing to draw level. With Don't Knows excluded from the equation, the required swing is down to 10%.


On the evening of Saturday, 7th December 2013, the Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP said kitten, and the world changed forever.

In an intellectually-coherent and devastatingly powerful rebuttal to the argument that staying in the UK as a form of "solidarity" with the poor of England doesn't work because the populous south of England keeps voting for governments that continually widen the gap between rich and poor in Scotland as well as in England, Alexander explained that things would be totally different in future because of kitten.

And in a minutely-detailed and highly plausible prospectus, Alexander pledged that Labour would transform the governance of Scotland after a No vote by doing kitten.

The Scottish press were understandably wonderstruck.  Editorials were united in declaring that kitten was a game-changer, and had opened up a "new phase" in the referendum campaign.

Scotland on Sunday's Kenny Farquharson noted that, while No voters constitute a fixed point in space/time and have effectively already cast their ballots, Yes voters are entirely different and are now likely to drift away in huge numbers due to the potency of kitten.  "It's no great surprise to hear Scot Nats dismiss kitten - the very fact that they're Scot Nats means that they don't understand the emotional pull of kitten.  But their own voters do feel the pull, and that disconnect could prove fatal for Yes."

Faced with imminent calamity, rattled SNP chiefs hurriedly dreamed up puppy as a response to kitten.  After being told of this, anti-independence campaign figurehead Alistair Darling could only shake his head, more in anger than in sorrow.  "Puppy?  Puppy?  PUPPY?!  Is that it?  The SNP have had 79 years to come up with a case for independence, and it's puppy???  This just won't cut it with the people of Scotland, I'm afraid.  They want facts, they want details, they want a comprehensive explanation for the origins of the universe.  I'm very, very angry about puppy."

A blustering Alex Salmond was reduced to asking where Mr Darling's positive case for the union was, which provoked a degree of incredulity among the Scottish press.  "Quite simply, it's no longer good enough for the Nats to complain that we haven't seen a positive case for the union yet," explained Farquharson.  "We now have kitten and it's sensational.  The SNP's credibility depends upon acknowledging that fact.  Once they've accepted the indisputable premise of kitten, then perhaps they'll be worth listening to again, and we can at last have a grown-up debate about independence."

Asked for a comment on puppy, Farquharson rolled his eyes to the heavens and muttered "for the love of Jesus".