Saturday, January 11, 2014

Sagacity on Saturday : Last time around

"Interesting, but appears to have misunderstood the question."

Canon Kenyon Wright, chairman of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, offering his teacherly verdict on the Tory government's 'Taking Stock' proposals in 1993. For the uninitiated, 'Taking Stock' was the 1990s equivalent of the vague 'jam tomorrow' promises of the present-day anti-independence campaign. During the 1992 election campaign, the Tories (as the only remaining anti-devolution party) batted away each and every demand for an explanation of how they would address Scotland's democratic deficit with the vague promise that "of course we will take stock after the election". Having unexpectedly won the election, they then spent the next twelve months going through the charade of making good on that promise. And the end result of all that soul-searching? A few extra meetings per year of the Scottish Grand Committee, and an unspecific (and therefore totally unfalsifiable) pledge that the Tory Scottish Secretary would be allowed greater scope to develop a "distinctive policy platform". Yes folks, that's the type of thrillingly transformative constitutional change we can look forward to after September if we put our faith in the snake oil salesmen of the No campaign.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Ipsos-Mori poll shows that No voters feel much less well-informed than Yes voters

Many thanks to Alasdair Stirling for dropping me a line to point out a fascinating detail from the recent Ipsos-Mori poll commissioned by the Law Society, which sought to ascertain (among other things) how well-informed voters feel about the independence debate.  It hasn't been commented upon much as of yet, but there was a very sharp difference between the responses of those who currently say they will vote No, and those who are planning to vote Yes.

On the whole, how well informed, if at all, do you feel about the issues being debated in the referendum campaign?


Very well informed - 23%
Fairly well informed - 51%


Not very well informed - 20%
Not at all informed - 5%




Very well informed - 10%
Fairly well informed - 41%


Not very well informed - 38%
Not at all informed - 10%


This corroborates what we've seen from other polls in the past, and it's therefore hard not to conclude that the No vote must be much softer than the Yes vote - because of course people who freely accept that they are not currently well-informed are by definition much more open to persuasion once they are exposed to the facts.  Admittedly, that assumption contradicts Ipsos-Mori's own findings on which voters are likely to change their minds (showing not much difference between Yes and No voters), but I do wonder if this question might be a much more useful way of getting at the true picture of how sure people really are in their own minds.

UPDATE : The original version of this post made a comment about the voting intention figures in this poll being identical to the last Ipsos-Mori poll, but I've just realised that it's exactly the same poll! The fieldwork dates were way back in late November/early December - Ipsos-Mori must have tacked on a few extra questions for the Law Society.

*  *  *

There's a Scottish thread running on Stormfront-lite site Political Betting today, and here are just a few of the all-too-characteristic BTL comments -

"To wave goodbye to those Labour trolls from the vast Scottish badlands and prevent them having any say in how sterling is run or anything else in England is run?"

"England would be far richer and more successful in the long run without the Scottish Millstone. And if and when things went tits up North of the border they could hardly complain we didn't give them a good start in life."

"In the unlikely event the Jockanese contingent do decide to bugger off..."

This sort of thing - and much, much worse - goes on day in, day out without a word of reproach from the same Scottish media that witter on endlessly about "Cybernats". (Nor, of course, does it ever lead to any of these people actually being banned from PB, while left-wing, pro-independence voices are routinely banned from the site for no reason that anyone can quite determine.)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Political predictions for 2014

Just over a year ago when I was coming home from the Edinburgh Hogmanay street party, I was rather chuffed to spot that I had finished third in the annual PB prediction competition (not that I won a prize or anything).  Alas, this time around I had to settle for mid-table respectability, finishing 37th out of 80 entrants - partly because I made such a pig's ear of the murderously difficult seat predictions for the English local elections.

But of course a lot more water has passed under the bridge in my relationship with PB over the last twelve months than simply my waning powers of prophecy.  Question - does my ongoing Kafkaesque banning from the site mean that I'm also automatically banned from the prediction competition?  Answer - I don't know, but let's find out!  Here is the entry I've just submitted for 2014...

UK Prime Minister on Christmas Day : DAVID CAMERON

UK Deputy Prime Minister on Christmas Day : NICK CLEGG

UK Shadow Chancellor on Christmas Day : ED BALLS

Of course there is uncertainty over the position of both Balls and Clegg (and there's still a small chance of an early general election, in which case all bets are off).  But I always feel that the percentage prediction in these situations is no change, because even if one of them is displaced, it's quite possible that the replacement will be a complete surprise.

Yes vote in Scottish independence referendum : 52%

GB Conservative vote in European elections : 19%

GB Labour vote in European elections : 25%

GB Liberal Democrat vote in European elections : 8%

GB UKIP vote in European elections : 24%

As I've said a number of times, I wouldn't be surprised by either a Yes or No vote in September, but as it's the contest I care most about, I certainly have no intention of erring on the side of pessimism!  The Euro elections are traditionally the toughest terrain for the Lib Dems, so I expect them to take a pounding, while I just have a gut feeling that UKIP might fall slightly short of their objective of topping the poll.  Incidentally, I don't really agree with the theory that a UKIP victory would be the worst possible result for the No campaign in Scotland - for my money, that would be the Conservatives in first place, UKIP in second place.  If as I predict Labour do narrowly top the poll, that will be completely meaningless in terms of their hopes of winning next year's UK general election - opposition parties have a long history of winning European elections and then failing to win at Westminster (for example Labour won the 1989 Euros under Neil Kinnock, and even more incredibly the Tories won the 1999 Euros under William Hague).

Winner of the Brazilian Presidential election : DILMA ROUSSEFF

Prime Minister after Indian general election : NARENDRA MODI

Control of the US Senate after the November mid-terms : REPUBLICANS

I erred on the side of optimism with the independence referendum, so I'd probably better balance that out by doing the opposite with the US Senate!  Unfortunately Congress seems to be in trouble in India, so I've plumped for the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate, but the situation is very uncertain and all things remain possible.

ICM/Guardian GB-wide polls over the course of 2014 -

Labour high : 38%

Labour low : 32%

Conservative high : 36%

Conservative low : 29%

Liberal Democrat high : 15%

Liberal Democrat low : 11%

UKIP high : 14%

UKIP low : 7%

Labour's highest lead : 8%

Labour's lowest lead : -4%

The difficulty here is that I'm being pulled in two directions - on the one hand, I think this could well be the year in which there is a decisive swing back to the Tories, paving the way for their already highly probable win in the 2015 general election.  But on the other hand, the European elections could complicate matters in the middle of the year, with a temporary UKIP surge harming both Labour and the Tories.  The Liberal Democrat figures may look a touch on the high side, but that's because ICM tend to be more favourable for them.  I've been guided by the range of Lib Dem support over the last twelve months - I don't really expect things to get much better or worse than they already are for Clegg's mob.

New ComRes poll of referendum voting intentions in the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway

The anti-independence campaign have spent the evening making an unconvincing attempt at looking thrilled to bits with the news that a regional ComRes referendum poll has shown them ahead in the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway, which is about as surprising a result as a constituency poll showing that the Tories have the lead in Windsor.  It of course tells us absolutely nothing at all about the national picture - these two local authorities have a combined population of just 265,000, or roughly 5% of the population of Scotland as a whole.  They're also just about the only parts of the country where the uber-unionist Tories can be seriously regarded as a major force, and in the 1997 devolution referendum the Yes vote there was approximately 12.5% lower than the nationwide figure.  So it's not remotely unexpected that the Yes vote in this poll is some 9% lower than the current national average of 33.0%, and that the No vote is just over 10% higher than the national average of 48.8%.  These differences are mirrored in the finding that Scottish national identity is somewhat weaker in the region than across the country as a whole...

ComRes figures for national identity in the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway (with YouGov's most recent figures for national identity across Scotland as a whole in brackets) :

More or wholly Scottish - 45% (54%)
Equally Scottish and British - 35% (27%)
More or wholly British - 19% (14%)

So although the most popular identity is Scottish, there is considerably more of a British loyalty in these two local authorities than there is across Scotland as a whole, and the extent of that difference is uncannily similar (and almost certainly directly connected) to the headline differences in voting intentions.

This poll also further muddies the waters with respect to the state of play among young people, because 16-24 year olds seem to be both the second-most likely age group to vote Yes, and the second-most likely to vote No.  The apparent paradox comes about because there are fewer undecided voters in that age group than in any other - an entirely counter-intuitive finding that can probably be explained by the small sample size.  The findings are more clear-cut in terms of national identity - a bigger percentage of 16-24 year olds feel mostly or wholly Scottish (51%) than is the case among any other age group.  Not much comfort there for Jan Eichhorn and his wildly implausible theory (which was earnestly reported as hard fact by the Telegraph) that exposure to Facebook may somehow be making young people more "British" than their elders!

It's worth noting that the poll's billing as the "first full poll on attitudes to independence in the south of Scotland" is grossly misleading (if admittedly not technically inaccurate).  It gives the false impression that the poll was conducted throughout the entire South of Scotland electoral region, whereas in fact the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway comprise significantly less than half of that region in terms of population, and are by far the most Tory-oriented part. So it's not even possible to make a direct comparison with the regional breakdown for the South that has been provided in recent TNS-BMRB polls.

Basically, the overall summary is "nothing much to see here".  It may seem distinctly peculiar that the first voting intention poll of referendum year was confined to respondents in just two out of Scotland's thirty-two local authorities, but in fact there is a kind of logic to it.  The 5% of the population who live there are the only people in Scotland who don't receive STV, and instead have to put up with an appalling service from "ITV Border" (basically the London-based ITV network with a tiny number of regional opt-outs, most of which are broadcast from Gateshead!).  The poll was commissioned by ITV Border to launch their new late-night Representing Border show, which will presumably be a rough equivalent to STV's Scotland Tonight.  This marks the station's attempt to up their game in referendum year - which won't exactly be difficult, given that they're essentially starting from a position of zero!  The only slight cause for concern is that their political editor is former Labour spin doctor Peter MacMahon, although to be fair he isn't exactly John McTernan.

Probably the only people who might prick up their ears at the results of this poll are political dinosaurs like Lord Kilclooney and Jim Wallace, with their crazy dreams of London enforcing an Irish-style "partition" of Scotland in the event of a Yes vote...

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

David Aaronovitch loses the plot a bit further

I've just had this bizarre exchange on Twitter with the ultra-Blairite commentator David Aaronovitch, who appears to have been seeing things again (and no, I'm not talking about Saddam Hussein's WMDs this time) -

Yes Scotland : YouGov poll finds that fewer than a third of people in Scotland support staying the way we are.

David Aaronovitch : You somehow seem to have left out the figure for those supporting independence. Perhaps you could correct that now?

Stand Free : According to Unionists' own poll more Scots back independence than status quo...there...fixed it for you.

David Aaronovitch : I ask again. What was the figure for Yes in poll cited by Yes Scotland? Because, unaccountably, they didn't say.

Me : There isn't a figure for 'Yes' because there wasn't a 'Yes/No' question asked. However, the status quo favoured by the No camp got 29% support, and independence got 30% support. Hope that helps.

David Aaronovitch : I think you'll find that a Yes/No question was indeed asked. It would be very odd if it wasn't.

Me : No, David, it wasn't. And yes, it was unbelievably odd. Take it up with your beloved No campaign.

David Aaronovitch : Explain?

Me : You do realise you've been talking about a multi-option poll commissioned by the No campaign, yes?

David Aaronovitch : Referendum voting intention is the 2nd question on that poll. It doesn't matter who commissioned it.

Me : The point is that it wasn't a straight 'Yes/No' question, and that was decided by the campaign that commissioned it. Agreed?

Me : Neither, incidentally, can it be described as a "voting intention" question, because a multi-option ref is not taking place.

* * *

For reference, here is the full poll question under discussion -

What is your preferred constitutional option for Scotland?

Options :

a) Devolution inside the United Kingdom as Scotland has now.

b) Devolution inside the United Kingdom, but with more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

c) Scotland becoming an independent country.

d) Don't know.

Good luck finding a straight 'Yes/No' question buried in there somewhere.

Do you think Alex Salmond should give you a free wok?

After hearing the results of the poll on childcare that was commissioned by the anti-independence campaign, we've been waiting with bated breath to discover just how leading the question was, and it certainly hasn't disappointed.  Here it is in all its glory...

"When Alex Salmond and the Scottish Government launched their White Paper on independence one of the main reasons they offered for voting to become independent from the United Kingdom was that childcare could be improved. However, Alex Salmond is already responsible for provision of childcare which is devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Which of the following best reflects your view?"

Now, I fully appreciate that YouGov is a commercial organisation, and must to some extent follow the bidding of its paying clients. But as a member of the British Polling Council, it presumably also prides itself on having standards that place it above being a cowboy operation or an out-and-out push poller. There must, therefore, be some kind of threshold of acceptability, below which a proposed question is so ludicrously misleading and biased that they will refuse to put it to their panel, because they know as polling professionals that the results will be literally meaningless. Quite honestly, if the above question meets that basic threshold (and YouGov clearly feel it does) then I can't even begin to imagine what question would fail to do so.

What do you want to bet that most members of the YouGov panel will have encountered that question and thought to themselves : "But there must be a reason why the Scottish Government say that they need independence to improve the provision of childcare. It might be a good reason, it might be a bad reason, but I'd like to judge that for myself." Yet at no point was that reason provided, and as such the respondents cannot be considered to have been offering an informed opinion. Instead, they were simply presented with a supposedly factual statement that "Alex Salmond" already has all the necessary powers to improve childcare, and were then absurdly invited to choose between two options, one of which flatly contradicted that initial statement : "Alex Salmond and the Scottish Government need Scottish voters to vote for independence in the referendum before they can deliver better childcare." I can only salute the 22% of respondents who were sufficiently well-informed to choose that option anyway - and indeed the 14% who were smart enough to realise they weren't being supplied with enough information, and who said they didn't know. What YouGov have connived in is the rough equivalent of this...

"It has just been scientifically proven that the Moon is composed of a substance called jegspickle trelusplaut. Which of the following best reflects your view?

a) The Moon is composed of jegspickle trelusplaut.

b) The Moon is not composed of jegspickle trelusplaut.

c) The Moon is disguised as Luisa Zissman and is currently living in the Big Brother house."

And is also not a million miles from something like this...

"Alex Salmond could give you a free wok, but says he won't. Do you think he should change his mind and give you a free wok?"

Another gem from the same poll is a question that tries to lead people into saying that anyone who is not absolutely sure of their opinion in the referendum should "vote for Scotland to remain in the UK". In spite of the anti-independence campaign's best efforts with the wording, a healthy 43% of respondents refuse to play along with their little game - of whom 15% choose the option saying that voters who aren't absolutely sure of their opinion shouldn't vote in the referendum at all, which is proof positive that if you ask a stupid question you get a stupid answer! The fact that such a question was even dreamt up in the first place is testament to the No campaign's astonishing poverty of ambition, and to their entitlement complex - they clearly don't expect to win the argument, but don't think they should need to, because they feel that the referendum should somehow function like a court case where the jury is supposed to acquit on the basis of "reasonable doubt" even if they're 90% sure that the defendant is guilty.

Let's imagine the question had been phrased slightly differently. How about -

"Do you think voters who aren't 100% sure of their opinion on independence should vote in the way they are most inclined, or do you think they should vote against independence regardless of their own inclination?"

What do you think the answer would have been then?

Yeah. So do I.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Anti-independence campaign shoot themselves in the foot by publishing YouGov poll that shows Scots are overwhelmingly opposed to the constitutional status quo

Incomprehensibly, 'Better Together' - the campaign that is fighting to maintain the constitutional status quo - has just published a YouGov poll revealing that the status quo is the least popular of three constitutional options...

More powers for the Scottish Parliament - 32%
Full independence - 30%
Status quo - 29%

(It's not clear from the Scotsman report whether the abolition of the Scottish Parliament and a return to the pre-1999 status quo ante was also offered as an option - we'll find out when YouGov release the datasets.  Most probably there wasn't a fourth option, and the remaining 9% of respondents were Don't Knows.)

So full independence fares pretty well in this poll, but even more salient is the fact that the option of more powers for the parliament within the UK isn't on offer in the referendum, entirely as a result of anti-independence campaigners' determination to block it.  Voters are making a straight choice between full independence and the status quo.  Those who favour the most popular option of more powers will therefore have to plump for their second choice - and if they split roughly 50/50?  Well, what do you know, independence will win.

Nice one, Mr McDougall.  Do keep them coming.

Nice to be ruled by Tories we didn't vote for, to be ruled by Tories we didn't vote for...nice!

The full story isn't online yet, but judging from the preview of the Herald's front page, it seems that the No campaign are lining up a number of English celebrities to lead the charge against Scottish self-government.  Whether this will prove to be an astute move obviously remains to be seen - my guess is that for every Scot impressed by Bruce Forsyth, Katie Hopkins, Richard Madeley or whoever telling us that it's a cracking idea to be ruled from London by Tories we didn't vote for, there'll be at least two Scots who'll feel distinctly patronised by the spectacle.  But for now I'm much more interested in how the No campaign are going to justify the tactic.  After all, isn't this the same campaign that has...

1) Lambasted the Scottish celebrities Brian Cox and Alan Cumming for daring to show their faces at the Yes campaign launch, on the grounds that they didn't live in Scotland at the time?

2) Justified David Cameron's refusal to debate Alex Salmond on the grounds that this is a decision for Scots alone, and that "Englishmen" have no place in the debate?  (Yup, it was Blair McDougall himself who dismissed Cameron as a mere "Englishman" in a characteristically offensive tweet yesterday - on his head be it.)

Not that point 2 stopped Cameron lecturing Scots in his New Year's message on how we should vote in the referendum, of course.  Never let it be said that the anti-independence campaign are martyrs to consistency.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Poll Exclusive : Voters demand that the Scotland on Sunday newspaper deliver extra childcare provision NOW

Pollster : OK, here's the next question.  How and when do you think that free childcare provision should be extended to match the best in Europe?

a) The Scottish government should do it after independence, once it has the necessary control over revenue to make the system affordable and self-sustaining.

b) The Scottish government should ignore the laws of physics, economics, and basically just the laws, by somehow doing it now without the necessary powers.

c) The Scotland on Sunday newspaper should stop MUCKING ABOUT and extend free childcare provision RIGHT NOW.

Oh wait, wait, that can't be right.

Voter : Hmm, answer c) I think.  Yeah, the Scotland on Sunday newspaper should do it.

Pollster : No, you don't understand.  I think someone in the office must have been having a bit of a larf.  Just let me make a quick phone call, and I'll see if I can find out what's going on here.

Voter : No need, my answer is c).

Pollster : Seriously, you can't say c).  There's no way the Scotland on Sunday newspaper can deliver free childcare provision.

Voter : Why not?

Pollster : Well, because they don't have the powers.

Voter : But we've already established that the Scottish government don't have the powers at the moment either.  Does that mean I'm also not allowed to give b) as my answer?

Pollster : No, b) is a perfectly legitimate answer.  The poll was commissioned by the anti-independence campaign, and is therefore pushing their agenda (with the assistance of an obedient Scotland on Sunday front-page splash).  Feel free to make them happy - that's what we're paid for!

Voter : Paid?  Did you say paid? That means you've been given some of the blood money from Ian Taylor?

Pollster : Well, I wouldn't put it in quite those terms, but I suppose...

Voter : In that case, d).

Pollster : What?

Voter : My answer is d).  YouGov should extend free childcare provision RIGHT NOW.  Do it with the Taylor money!

Pollster : Look, I don't think you fully appreciate...we may have been given a tiny fraction of the Taylor money, but there's no way it would stretch that far.

Voter : You mean they've still got almost all of the cash?  That does it, my answer is e)!  The anti-independence campaign should extend free childcare provision RIGHT NOW!

Pollster : OK, reality-check time, I feel.  In the first place, you cannot possibly give me an answer that the anti-independence campaign deems illegitimate.  This poll is being conducted under the long-established and scrupulously fair "Questions to which the answer is Er..." rules.  So please cut all this nonsense out, because it just ain't on.  And in the second place, the anti-independence campaign can't possibly extend free childcare provision anymore than YouGov can.  They may have cash, but remember they also have enormous overheads.  And they have salaries to pay, and...

Voter : You mean like the salary for that thoroughly likeable and philanthropic chap Blair McDougall?

Pollster : Well, yes, among many others.

Voter : OK, f).

Pollster : What?

Voter : My answer is f).  Blair McDougall should use his personal fortune to extend free childcare provision RIGHT NOW.

Pollster : No, no, no, no, no.  It really isn't his responsibility to do that.

Voter : And whyever not?

Pollster : Well, between you and me, Blair's more of an apparatchik than a politician.  Delivery just isn't his scene.

Voter : In that case, g) is my answer!  Alistair Darling should do it instead.  He's a politician, isn't he?

Pollster : Well, sort of, I suppose, but he has even less power to act than anyone else we've mentioned so far.

Voter : Oh, surely not!  He's Alex Salmond's opposite number, isn't he?  So if we vote No in the referendum, he'll be in charge of the country.  He can do what he likes!

Pollster : Ah, now I see where you're going wrong here.  No, it doesn't work like that.  If you vote No it'll be David Cameron in charge of the country, not Alistair Darling.  I don't think Mr Cameron is very interested in childcare.

Voter : So why do the anti-independence campaign seemingly want to put up Darling rather than Cameron to debate Alex Salmond on TV?

Pollster : Er...

*  *  *

Which brings us neatly onto the only serious poll to be released this evening - a Panelbase one showing that voters on both sides of the border are distinctly unimpressed by David Cameron's failure to live up to his stated intention to "fight with every fibre of his being" against Scottish self-government.

Q. Do you think that there should be a televised referendum debate between Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond to argue the case for an independent Scotland, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron to argue the case for the UK?


Yes 63%
No 25%


Yes 56%
No 24%

Of course, the obvious follow-up question I'd have liked to see asked is : "And if Mr Cameron declines to take part in such a debate on the grounds that this is an issue for Scots, do you feel that he and the non-Scottish members of his government will have forfeited any moral right to intervene in the referendum campaign from that point on?"