Monday, June 9, 2014

Whatever else may be true about this campaign, it's not true that "Better Together are in the lead"

Of the many objectionable things that journalists tend to do in their coverage of opinion polls, perhaps the silliest is their habit of summarising a poll showing a No lead as being "a lead for Better Together".  A referendum is a vote for or against a proposal. It's not an election or even a popularity contest, and the idea that people who are still sceptical about independence are in any sense giving a vote of confidence to the God-awful campaign run by God-awful Blair McDougall is frankly barking mad.  That point has been driven home in extremely timely fashion by a supplementary question that has just been released from last week's Ipsos-Mori poll -

Based on what you have read, seen or heard, which of the campaigns do you think has been the most effective so far, if any?

Yes Scotland 51%
Better Together 23%

Incredibly, among currently undecided voters the lead is even bigger -

Yes Scotland 50%
Better Together 14%

And it's almost as big among the 'underlying undecided' group, which includes those who gave a voting intention but admit they may yet change their mind -

Yes Scotland 45%
Better Together 23%

Even among No voters, it's practically a dead heat -

Yes Scotland 33%
Better Together 36%

When you take that in combination with the fact that Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have much higher personal satisfaction ratings in the poll than their counterparts in the No campaign, it's absolutely clear that if this was a contest for elected office, the Yes campaign would be winning by a landslide.  They'd even have a fighting chance if the election was restricted to voters who are opposed to independence!


  1. Only the Tories have more thinking the BT campaign was better - but they pay for it & run it, so maybe not surprising.

  2. Owning the mainstream papers, the BT side have the advantage.

    Not to mention the televised media (including the BBC). If it's a Yes in September, it will be against all the odds.

    Let's scare the bookies. :-)

  3. Anon

    I hope so, re the bookies.

    I gave a £100 bet to my nephew for his wedding, both Yesers, a £60 to my daughter and husband who is due on the 21st September and I have a £60 bet up on the fridge for me.

    All made last year at 6/1

  4. With each poll like this I find myself closer and closer to an explanation for Labour's huge mystery lead ahead of 2011 that just appeared from nowhere then vanished.

    Simply, people were mainly just lying.

    Everything says yes bar Y/N (unless you ask without the i-word / in a roundabout way).

  5. Trust in the mainstream papers is at hilariously low levels but rest assured, they can and will go lower.

    Very soon now. :)

    Curious that comical leadership infighting has broken out in the tory party right now, most curious. Whatever could have them so worried?


    One of the most informative aspects of Labour's campaign in 2011 is that when they privately knew things were starting to go badly wrong they simply doubled down on the negativity.

    So Darling's recent "Kim Jong-il" stupidity is a pretty telling sign of that utter desperation and panic starting to set in.

    Fact is even SLAB know that it's the final few weeks that will be utterly crucial and if the laughable efforts so far from 'Better Together' are anything to go by they are going to get hammered in the ground campaign.

  6. O/T but Johnston Press' share price has just collapsed.

    Now sitting at 3.9 pence, halved since early May.

    Why am I not sad?

  7. I agree that Better Together haven't fought a great campaign, although I also think that it's actually quite difficult to fight a good campaign if you're on the No side. That's not because there aren't legitimate reasons to vote No - I might vote Yes, but I hate that kind of dismissive "only an idiot could disagree with me" stuff the internet tends to be infested with. Rather, I think there are some basic logistical problems that would have made it difficult even if they had fought a better campaign.

    One problem, for instance, is the fact that No was always going to have to involve some sort of alliance between Labour and the Tories (two parties that are usually opposed to each other). The Tories in particular are in an awkward position of caring intensely about the issue, but realising that any intervention they make North of the border is likely to be counter-productive. They have to rely in that situation on Labour politicians such as Darling, who they (perhaps rightly) don't think are up to the job.

    Also, while I actually think independence is a far more complex subject than people usually acknowledge (with arguments for and against), I think Yes has a lot of the easier lines to take. It's pretty difficult to try and present some kind of abstract social/democratic argument for the Union when the other side has "let's get rid of the Tories".

    Similarly, there are academic arguments one can make about the spillover between the UK/Scotland post-independence (and thereby the loss of representation that might be created by sacrificing MPs) but none of that has anywhere near the power of "let's get rid of Westminster and have Scots govern ourselves". Even from an identity standpoint it's well known that Scots have more of a Scottish than a British identity, on average, so playing the patriotism card isn't likely to work either.

    On top of this you add the (quite effective) line that Yes Scotland/the SNP have used from day one about negative campaigning. It doesn't matter for the purpose of this argument how "negative" one of Better Together's arguments happens to be, the fact that the line about negativity has been hit constantly throughout the campaign has made it extremely awkward for the No side to dispute one of the Yes campaign's claims without it being written off (particularly on Wings Over Scotland and the like) with "too wee, too poor, too stupid".

    When you take all that on board the only thing that's really left to the No campaign is to stand back, cast a few doubts on anything the SNP/Yes Scotland say and hope aversion to change wins the day. That would arguably be the most effective thing they could do, but in comparison to the Yes side's grassroots efforts it's doomed to appear lacklustre and lacking in vision.

    I personally think No will win - we could see a late swing, but when every poll bar one has given No the lead I tend to think there's at least a better than 50% chance that's going to be what we see in the vote - but I don't think there's much doubt Yes Scotland has been a more effective campaign.

  8. There's three months to go not three weeks with the big setpiece debates and the main campaign on the ground (including the somewhat crucial GOTV) not even started yet.

    So I'm afraid it's not the most convincing argument that because the polls are the way they are right now then they are bound to stay that way. Particularly not when we know the extent of the swing that took place in 2011 which, for those who don't remember, heavily featured SLAB negativity and anti-independence rhetoric.

    The likes of John Curtice also got 2011 badly wrong because he severely underestimated just how vital the final weeks of a campaign can be.

    'Better together' and project fear also very consciously chose to go the negative campaigning route. That's not some line of spin, it's the strategy Cameron and Darling plumped for with Cameron relying on advice from his own people who worked for the NO to AV campaign because he thought they had done such a good job for that referendum.

    The fact that No to AV's main lethal weapon (the toxic calamity Clegg) is now on better together's side seems to have somehow escaped Cameron. Which is odd because Cameron himself is quite obviously a massive liability to the No campaign too as he shall find out soon enough when he features rather heavily in the ground campaign.

  9. @Mick "So I'm afraid it's not the most convincing argument that because the polls are the way they are right now then they are bound to stay that way"

    I'm afraid "the pollsters were wrong in 2011 so they must be wrong this time" is even less convincing.

    Of course the polls can change - Yes could win by 20% for all we know - but there's no way to predict that kind of swing. We don't know what's going to happen over the next three months and how people are going to respond to it, so either we just say nothing on the subject or you use the only real evidence we have available (opinion polling) and make a guess.

    If you look at it objectively and think Yes will win then more power to you, but I'm genuinely prepared for a No vote - that's my honest assessment, it could be utterly wide of the mark, but it is what it is.

  10. The facts are that the polls were wrong in 2011 and for those who actually remember SLAB's amusing campaign there is no question whatsoever that it was heavy on the negativity and full of much of the same anti-independence rhetoric that we are getting recycled yet again now.

    We've heard most of it all before. SLAB tried the precise same thing in 2007 and it didn't end well for them then either.

    We don't even need to take the 2011 campaign into account. (though how can it possibly be ignored when some of the exact same SLAB idiot's are working on the exact same strategy for No, even down to wee Dougie and Iain Gray) Look at the AV referendum. There were polls that had Yes to AV WINNING months out from the actual vote. So that meant Yes was bound to win, right? Wrong.

    The Independence referendum will not get decided months out. It will get decided in the final weeks when all of the scottish public that decides to vote makes up it's mind one way or another.

    I'm not one of those who dismiss all the polling and James blog provides an invaluable service in debunking most of the polling myths and outright bullshit that gets ignored by the mainstream media and Better Together's friendly pundits.

    But nor do I take the polls as the word of god since it's all too clear that they can and have been manipulated and have been very wide of the mark several times before. Watching trends is informative and useful as is some of the individual polling on issues with comparative assessments on individual pollsters.

    Make no mistake though, even if every single poll showed 60/40 or 70/30 for No then I'm afraid Better Together would still be facing an extraordinarily determined and formidable ground campaign.

    This is just a touch more important to Independence supporters than a set of EU elections or even a Holyrood or Westminster election. For those who support and campaign for Independence this is as serious as it gets and many will have been working most of their lives to achieve a Yes vote. Those who can't factor that into their objective assessments will be guilty of extraordinary complacency and making a huge mistake.

    The setpiece debates will matter. The ground campaign will matter. GOTV will matter. And any one of those could be crucial in swinging enough votes to decide the referendum. That's not wishful thinking, it's a simple statement of fact.

  11. Alan,
    most everything you implied as an unfair advantage to YES, in my view is simply the political realities of a losing campaign. You come across as a classic academic determined to weigh tactical advantage against strategic imperative. Neither are relevant.

    For example, Cameron will not debate Salmond. NO fears it will be portrayed as Scotland vs (Etonian) England. A justifiable fear as the Scots electorate have already (over and over) democratically rejected exactly that stereotype of governance.

    Understandably betterNO want to deny this reality, or at the very least deny its reality in the media.

    Never the less David Cameron is currently the Prime Minister of Scotland, whether or not he wants to acknowledge Scotland exists as a political entity of itself or not.

    This is reality. It favours YES because YES is aligned to reality. The same reality that you and I experience every day on the ground, but you, for some reason, seem intent on counter balancing.

    There are many other examples of this kind of mindset 'on our side' out there in the debate. I absolutely accept your sincerity (whatever your vote), however, without the constant and pervasive BBC and MSM echo of your internal intellectual musings, do you really think they would hold water against our lived reality?

    Of course our lived reality is partly the BBC and MSM version of 'reality' so none of these conflicting reality perceptions can be answered (if they can ever really be answered at all) until the 19th of September.

    Myself, I think your 20% remark will be closest to the truth of the final result. I think this because it matches the reality of my experiences among and as a previously unpoliticised Scot within the current UK power structure.


  12. Alan : The bottom line is that there are two completely different schools of thought - one is that a referendum like this is basically decided close to polling day, and the other is that it is decided over a much longer period. If the first is true then the polls as of this moment don't really matter very much, if the second is true then they matter enormously. My own view is that the truth lies somewhere in between the two extremes, and therefore the fact that Yes are behind at the moment is a disadvantage, but nowhere near as big a disadvantage as some people are making out.

  13. One thing people forget about 2011 is that polls in 2009 largely predicted the result bar the Lib swing due to coalition with the Tories. SNP were hitting 45% with a good 40% on average.

    Then up to 10% of people who supported the SNP started saying 'Labour' to pollsters when asked even though they supported the SNP and that's who they voted for in 2011. They did this for over a year.

    Exact motivations are hard to know, but effectively a large section of the population lied to pollsters. They feigned support for Labour (and the UK) until the last minute, then went ahead and did what was really their intention.

    If you knew nothing about Scotland and I handed you all polling data bar recent Y/N (I say recent because Yes has been ahead when it was ok to say so to pollsters) you'd have a look and think: 'Most likely a Yes'. NatID, which parliament is trusted, which parliament to control tax and welfare, which parties / leaders most popular / which least popular, which campaign doing the best / worst, which campaign most trusted / least trusted, which campaign most positive / most negative, would you vote to join the union today (no way!), do you think an iScotland would be successful (Yes!) etc. If I give you an excuse to say Yes (e.g. a few 100 smackers) - Yes!

    I mean in which country on earth do a large section of the population say they are happy with a government they say they wouldn't vote for? Something very odd going on. You can't help but feel people are not quite telling the truth on one sensitive ('you anti-English, braveheart obsessed, economic illiterate!) issue; something they have recent form on.

    We shall see, but I can understand the worries of the No campaign. An apparent, but narrowing, lead in just one question out of a plethora of indicators, one where people are most uncomfortable giving an answer and where 3 x as many have suffered abuse for saying Yes compared to No.

  14. if you look at the behaviour of the people who do know the truth about whether we can trust the polls, (the Politicians) you would notice that it is the BT camp who continually change policies, or change there tactics.
    Why would a winning campaign feel they needed to change?
    Why do we only get the opinions of John Curtice? can't STV find another 'expert'?
    Like the rest of the Westminster system, the polling company owners can be bought.

    The way they have changed the questions or weighted the respondents are a joke.

    I am surprised that anyone who is engaged in the political campaigns, would predict the outcome of the vote, based on these polls, but I suppose, deceiving the gullible is what they set out to do so I shouldn't be.

  15. Based on what you have read, seen or heard, which of the campaigns do you think has been the most effective so far, if any?

    57% Yes Scotland
    21% Better Together
    17% Neither
    5% DK

    47% Yes Scotland
    24% Better Together
    16% Neither
    13% DK

    Almost identical apart from DK vs Yes.

    More reluctance amongst women to put their heads above the parapet and be labelled a 'blood and soil, anti-English separatist' etc?

  16. @Mick

    "The Independence referendum will not get decided months out. It will get decided in the final weeks when all of the scottish public that decides to vote makes up it's mind one way or another."

    I completely agree, but as we are months out of the vote if we're absolutely pushed to make a guess now as to what's going to happen then you have to base that guess on something. That's all that's being said here - if someone held a gun to my head and asked me to pick who I thought would win I'd have to pick No at this stage given the polling. That isn't the same thing as treating polls as gospel. Nobody is arguing that polls get it right all of the time. It's an imperfect guess based on the limited information we have available.

    There are other things we can use to make that guess of course. You can draw parallels to previous elections/referendums. Of the two you've cited here, one would imply a swing to Yes (the 2011 election) and the other would imply a swing to No (the AV referendum where it swung towards the status quo/establishment position).

    Other than the limited point of "polls get it wrong" (which, I have to say again, *nobody* is disputing here) that doesn't offer much to back up an argument for or against Yes in my view. While we can say the polling could change drastically between now and the vote, we can't say with any real precision how it's going to change. You can't make a call three months out of the vote on what might happen next week, so you judge it on the information we have now.

  17. @ braco

    "most everything you implied as an unfair advantage to YES, in my view is simply the political realities of a losing campaign. You come across as a classic academic determined to weigh tactical advantage against strategic imperative. Neither are relevant."

    At no point did I claim anything was an "unfair advantage", it's simply a post about the problems a campaign for No would face even under the best of circumstances (i.e. if they had someone better than Darling fronting it).

    I'll be honest and say I don't really understand the point you're making in the rest of your comment. It seems to be premised on the idea that I'm a voice for the No campaign who's trying to "deny the reality" that Scotland is already a political entity. That wasn't the intention at all and I really don't know where you're coming from if that's the argument.

  18. @Alan Findlay

    You still don't seem to understand why the 2011 and even 2007 campaigns are so relevant. It's not merely that they are a quite obvious mass test of scottish public opinion after a campaign but that the campaigns were organised and run by some of the same people now in charge of the NO campaign.

    The SLAB campaigns in 2007 and 2011 were extremely negative in tone and they trotted out a great many of the anti-independence sloganising we are seeing right now. Something that was admitted by some of the smarter politicians in SLAB when the "root and branch" post-mortem was instigated by Murphy and Wee Dougie. It's also why so many scots laugh when they hear people complaining about "too poor, too wee and too stupid". There is nothing whatsoever new about Labour doing that. They have been doing it for decades along with their tame media outlets like the Record. It's hilarious when those out of touch in the Westminster bubble complain about it because it merely shows they don't know scottish politics very well and only showed an interest when the referendum loomed large.

    That clear negativity and anti-independence tone is why they should be looked at as a guide to how the campaign will go. It's not just a case of saying the polling can be wrong but in a scottish campaign where one side is negative and fiercely anti-independence the polling has been wrong two times now and always swung heavily against the negative campaign. Nor do the similarities stop there as the precise same use of the women's vote when the polls were narrowing was used in 2011 by SLAB when the polls kept narrowing and they needed something to cling onto.

    The one example which was purely used to show that big swings are commonplace and that minds are made up in the final stages of a campaign is the AV referendum. However. But let's not pretend AV lost because FPTP was the status quo, AV lost because calamity Clegg ran a hopeless and incompetent campaign and Clegg was and is utterly toxic to voters. We just watched about a textbook example of just how toxic he is in the EU elections so I doubt many people (apart from those inside Clegg's ostrich faction) can possibly deny the obvious any more. Yes self-evidently does not have anyone as toxic as Clegg on it's side whereas NO DOES have Clegg on it's side alongside the out of touch Cameron and the amusingly ineffectual little Ed Miliband. Lest you think I'm merely traducing political opponents with nothing to back me up I'd point not just to their hopeless EU election results but also plenty of comically bad personal poll ratings for each of them over the years.

    When it comes to trust it is most definitely not the Yes side that has the biggest liabilities and the bizarre attempts by SLAB and the tories to attack Yes through Salmond seem to be being done with zero knowledge that he and the SNP won a landslide only three years ago and also just won the EU elections in scotland.