Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The anti-independence campaign must be worried by the first post-Euro GB-wide polls

For the last few weeks I've been rehearsing my concerns about the potential implications of a UKIP victory across Britain in the European elections. Basically I feared that there would be a temporary surge in support for UKIP in Westminster voting intention polls, and that because most of the extra support would come from the Tories, it might give the false impression of an increasing Labour lead, thus leaving soft No voters with a false sense of security about the consequences of rejecting independence. As it turns out, none of that has happened. We've now had two YouGov daily polls conducted since the weekend which show an average Labour lead of just 3%, very much in line with the pre-election position. So the facts remain broadly the same as before - we have a Labour lead that has declined to such an extent that we are seeing Tory leads in certain individual polls, and there is a significant chance of a verifiable crossover occurring before the referendum. Added into the mix is the fact that voters now know that any future Tory-led government may either directly involve UKIP, or be under UKIP's influence.

If the Tories do open up a lead in the polling average over the coming months, the challenge will be to get the facts out to people. YouGov have released separate figures that show that 50% of respondents think that Labour did well in the European elections, compared to just 23% who think the Tories did well. In the Scottish subsample, the gap is even bigger. I find that utterly incomprehensible given that the two parties were essentially tied, and given that the onus is on the opposition party to do well, not on the government. To put it in perspective, Neil Kinnock, William Hague and Michael Howard all enjoyed decent-looking wins in the Euro elections as Leader of the Opposition, but all of them lost the subsequent general elections. The opposition needs to be pulverising the government at this stage of the electoral cycle, as Labour did in 1994, not finishing second with a pathetic 1% lead over the governing party. As for Labour in Scotland, since when did finishing behind the SNP in the popular vote constitute "success"? Changed times, indeed - unless of course voters are falling for mass media misinformation.

YouGov don't release their datasets until the morning, so as of this moment we only have one Scottish subsample conducted since the European elections. It shows the SNP in the lead for Westminster voting intentions, which is highly unusual given the way in which the methodology YouGov use for their GB-wide polls tends to understate SNP support.

SNP 37%
Labour 33%
Conservatives 18%
Liberal Democrats 5%
Greens 2%

That came about in spite of YouGov downweighting the number of SNP and Plaid identifiers in the sample by almost one-half - extreme even by their standards. But it remains to be determined whether the SNP lead is just a fluke, or is an early sign of a reaction against the drift to the right seen in the rest of the UK.

YouGov patted themselves on the back for their reasonably accurate prediction of the election result with an article immodestly titled "YouGov gets it right (again)". It might more reasonably have been called "YouGov gets it right (as we didn't in the last Holyrood election, and we weren't the most accurate in the last UK general election either)". But even though YouGov were by a small margin the most accurate pollster this time around, they were in line with a consistent pattern across all the firms of underestimating the Tories and overestimating Labour. In YouGov's case, Labour's advantage over the Tories was exaggerated by 3%. Whether the same error also applies to Westminster polling is obviously a very big "if", but if we make that assumption for the sake of argument, it would completely wipe out Labour's average lead in the two polls so far this week.

*  *  *

I couldn't help but raise a smile at the attempts of Gary Gibbon from Channel 4 News to sound even-handed about the financial claims and counter-claims today, before innocently adding "but independent bodies like the Institute for Fiscal Studies tend to prefer the No campaign's numbers". It was Professor John Robertson who first pointed out that the perpetuation of the fiction that the highly political IFS are "neutral" is one of the key factors contributing to the broadcast media's bias against the Yes campaign. Channel 4 News is of course produced by ITN, which is 40% owned by ITV plc, a company which is a member and financial backer of the explicitly anti-independence business organisation the CBI. So Gibbon should more accurately have said : "This non-neutral news organisation prefers to take heed of the preference of non-neutral thinktank the IFS for non-neutral numbers from the No campaign."

* * *

The rather impressive (and refreshingly even-handed) lawyer who appeared on the BBC's new Scotland 2014 show tonight asked how it was possible that the implosion of the Liberal Democrats could lead directly to the UKIP surge. The answer is that it didn't, or at least not to any great extent. In the last GB-wide poll of European voting intentions conducted by ICM, only 16% of UKIP voters had been in the Lib Dem column at the last general election. 34% of them had voted Tory in 2010, and a very large chunk had either not voted at all, or not for one of the mainstream parties. The Liberal Democrat vote from 2010 was in fact dispersed several different ways last week, with only 27% sticking with the Lib Dems, 22% going to UKIP, 15% to Labour, 13% to the Greens, 9% to the Tories, and 1% to the SNP.

* * *

I was surprised to read the suggestions in newspapers that cinema ads from both the Yes and No campaigns were about to be banned, because I hadn't actually been aware of any Yes cinema ads - only the excruciatingly awful ones from "Better Together" and "Vote No Borders". Admittedly I haven't been to the cinema since I almost had a nervous breakdown watching Gravity in 3D at the start of the year, but I did an internet search which failed to turn up anything. Has anyone seen any Yes cinema ads, and if they exist, what are they like?

Not for the first time, "Better Together" are risking extreme ridicule with their bleating about how the Yes campaign have 'ruined it for everyone' by getting their supporters to boo at the ads, thus provoking the ban.  Just how huge is this remote-controlled Cybernat army supposed to be, if it's big enough to muster a presence at every film showing in the land?!


  1. See the statement from Great Ormond st hospital for the real reason for the ads beng pulled.

  2. I've been to the pictures a couple of times over the last fortnight - each time there were 2 ads from No Borders, 1 from BT and 1 from Yes Scotland. The Yes Scotland ad was 'Kirsty's story':

  3. Thanks. I'm relieved to hear that the No adverts haven't gone unanswered, although a 3-1 margin still seems a bit much.

    Kirsty's Story is an incredibly powerful short film - an absolutely pitch-perfect balance between pointing out the UK's shortcomings and showing how an independent Scotland will be better. It's a great pity that it won't be seen in cinemas for much longer, but hopefully Yes Scotland can take a leaf out of the No campaign's book and get it widely seen via internet advertising.

  4. I don't hold the subsets in Yougov UK wide polls for Scotland in particularly high esteem. However, the Labour gap over the SNP has declined from ~17 points in mid 2013 to 13 points at the start of 2014 to ~4 points at most now with increasing frequency of crossover with the SNP ahead.

    This ties in with their share of the UK national total increasing and sitting at ~40% for Scotland.