Friday, January 17, 2014

Alex Massie, and primary school debating points

I overlooked Alex Massie's defence of Chris Deerin's widely-ridiculed "independence supporters are all kilted bum-barers" article from the other day -

"That's not the only piece of nationalist sophistry we must endure hearing repeated time and time again. There is the notion that Scotland will remain British even after independence because, gosh, British is simply a geographical description. Alex Salmond, who should know better, and plenty of nationalist bloggers (who don’t) endlessly repeat this as though it were something other than a primary school level debating point."

Now, as I made a point vaguely similar to that (but not the same) in a post on Tuesday, I suppose it's conceivable that I'm one of the nationalist bloggers lucky enough to be absolved by Alex of blame on the grounds that we're not as clever as the leader of the political party we support (which is, after all, entirely as it should be). Regrettably, though, I don't feel able to return the compliment, because Alex is more than intelligent enough to know full well that he's vastly over-simplifying Mr Salmond's position, which he helpfully links to in the form of quotes in a Telegraph article. The First Minister is indeed quoted as referring to Britain as a geographical entity, but the specific comparison he makes is with Scandinavia - which, like Britain, is a cultural and historical entity as well as a geographical one. Unlike Britain, it is composed of independent countries which used to be politically united. The citizens of those independent countries undoubtedly regard themselves as having a multi-national Scandinavian or Nordic identity in addition to their own national identity. Long before joining Schengen, they had (and continue to have) a passport union and the closest of political ties through the Nordic Council, and yet nobody is seriously suggesting a return to a single state. Now, that comparison is just a wee bit more problematical for the unionist case than "simple geography", isn't it? No wonder Alex is tiresomely pretending that he hasn't heard or understood it.

Incidentally, the fact that Britain is (among many other things) a geographical entity that cannot be dissolved by political change is indeed one that can be easily grasped by primary school children. What, then, are we supposed to make of the apparent inability of Chris Deerin and others to grasp it? That is, to state what ought to be blindingly obvious, the whole point we've been making since the Deerin article appeared.

"But by that rational (sic) the citizens of the Irish Republic are also British since they inhabit part of the British isles. In my experience this label is one the Irish reject even though, for sure, they are plainly a part of a shared historical, cultural and political entity that reaches east-west as well as north-south."

Come off it. Ireland (excluding the north) has indeed repudiated its Britishness, in a way that an independent Scotland would never do. "The British Isles" is a far, far more contentious geographical term than Great Britain, and Ireland is not and never has been considered a part of the latter. But what else did Ireland do upon becoming independent? It abolished the monarchy and left the Commonwealth. If you follow Alex's logic, the fact that Ireland felt unable to retain those trappings of Britishness makes it unthinkable that any other former British territory would act any differently - and yet the retention of the Queen as Head of State in no fewer than sixteen independent countries tells a rather different story. The fact that fifty-three independent countries are members of the Commonwealth, and that Ireland sticks out like a sort thumb as one of the very few former British territories that are not, demolishes the entire comparison. What was that you were saying about sophistry and primary school level debating points, Alex?

"Deerin’s article was, as you would expect, sneered at and mocked by many of the usual suspects. Lacking any sense of Britishness themselves..."

So Alex has added mind-reading to his many talents? Given that countless SNP members have explicitly stated that they do indeed have a secondary British identity, Alex is essentially accusing them of lying. Is he quite so cynical about the endless "I'm a proud Scot but..." protestations from the anti-independence campaign? It appears not, but the more interesting question is why.

"This is hooey. Or, actually, Tartan Cute Hoorism. It is the idea that independence answers all problems at no cost whatsoever. You can be British and still think the British state as we know it should be consigned to the scrapheap and this won’t change the way you think about yourself or your country at all. It’s a good line but it’s not one, I think, many nationalists really believe. Not in the deepest recesses of their hearts, not really."

Which harks back to the earlier point. Does Alex think that Norwegians are lying when they say that they feel Scandinavian in spite of no longer being part of a single state with their neighbours? Or does he merely think that they don't really believe it "in the deepest recesses of their hearts"? If so, I suspect that more than a few people across the water might find that presumption rather offensive.

"Granted, Scotland and Ireland are, though alike, also different."


"But that’s the point too. There is no Caledonian grievance to which the *only* acceptable solution is independence."

Trident on the Clyde? Participation in London's illegal wars? Or is this the Hothersall fantasy world where London Labour suddenly reverses thirty-one years of right-wing drift in its own policies, and then wins every general election for the next half-century, thus rendering the cause of independence redundant?

OK, Alex, if it makes you happier I'll agree that independence isn't the only acceptable solution to these problems. It is, however, the only remotely feasible solution.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

More statistical proof that Yes can win (courtesy of Fraser Nelson)

One of the hoary old myths that has occasionally been trotted out in this campaign is that there is some kind of 'iron law' in referendums that the Yes vote will always fall and the No vote will always rise as polling day approaches, meaning that the Yes campaign need to build up a substantial early lead to have a good chance of winning. But even on the rare occasions when that claim is unwisely given the time of day by a serious academic, most of us on the pro-independence side are entirely untroubled by it, mainly because we're aware of the obvious historical example that drives a coach-and-horses through the whole notion - ie. the astonishing surge achieved by the Yes campaign in the months leading up to the Quebec independence referendum in 1995. And Dr Matt Qvortrup helpfully reminded us a few months ago that the Yes campaign also increased its support (albeit to a more modest degree) in the Montenegro independence referendum of 2006, enabling it to pass the artificial 55% threshold that had outrageously been insisted upon by the EU.

However, some people go on and on about this supposed 'law' to such an extent that I've sometimes found myself wondering if there's at least a degree of truth in it, and if Quebec and Montenegro were merely unusual exceptions to a general rule. Luckily, I've just had my mind set to rest on that point - and, weirdly, I have Fraser Nelson to thank for it. Earlier tonight, he triumphantly tweeted a link to one of those perverse academic studies that produce a great deal of high-quality evidence, and then cheerfully ignore most of it in order to reach the conclusion that the author had in mind from the start. However, if we set aside the author's commentary and simply look at the actual evidence, it's fair to say that any Yes supporter reading the study is bound to come away feeling more optimistic. Here's what it shows -

1) Big swings of opinion are more likely to happen in referendum campaigns than in regular election campaigns. That always seemed intuitively likely, given that no-one goes into a referendum with an established and hard-to-break habit of voting in one particular way. However, it's still good to hear that this common sense conclusion is borne out by statistical evidence. As we all know, the swing required for Yes to win is significantly less than the SNP achieved in the 2011 Holyrood campaign. It's sometimes said that there were special circumstances in 2011 and that the Yes campaign will be hard-pressed to repeat such a feat - but the reality is that it's actually much easier to do it in a referendum.

2) In six out of twenty-three referendums looked at by the study that took place between 1980 and 1999, the Yes vote increased over the course of the last month before polling day.

3) In five out of eleven referendums looked at by the study that took place after 2000, the Yes vote was higher on polling day than it was in an average of the polls taken in the period between six months and one month earlier. (The Montenegro referendum is not included in this list, because the author only looked at referendums held in "stably democratic countries".)

Those last two points represent a clear-cut open and shut case - the supposed "iron law" has been comprehensively disproven. Not only is it perfectly possible for the Yes side to increase its support during a referendum campaign, the statistics show that it actually happens fairly often. Nevertheless, as you've probably anticipated, the study author thinks he has a get-out clause up his sleeve, which is that in most (but emphatically not all) cases any increase in the support for Yes is relatively modest. But here's the thing - we're still just over eight months away from polling day, and the most recent poll was several weeks ago. The study makes no attempt to assess polling trends in the run-up to referendums over that kind of long timescale - indeed, in the case of the 1980-99 referendums, it only looks at the trend over the very last month of campaigning, thus missing the vast bulk of the Yes surge in Quebec. I think most of us would concede that if, with one month to go, we still find ourselves in the current position (excluding undecided voters) of Yes 40.3%, No 59.7%, then we'd be facing an uphill struggle - although even then the situation wouldn't necessarily be irretrievable, because the study obligingly identifies an extraordinary case in New Zealand where the Yes vote increased by almost 20% over the last month of the campaign. But the reality is that we don't actually expect the big Yes surge (if it arrives) to occur in the final month. The crucial period is more likely to start in late May, when the campaign proper gets underway and the broadcasters face a legal requirement to start providing balanced coverage.

The study author's other tactic for undermining his own evidence is to indulge in a dubious assumption that public opinion in Scotland is fairly settled at present. In support of this, he points out that - according to the polls - the proportion of voters who are undecided is similar to the position prior to the 1997 devolution referendum. But with all due respect to him, those of us who actually lived in Scotland back then know on an anecdotal basis just how much more uncertainty there is in the air this time around. I was talking to my sister the other day, who was a strong Yes-Yes voter in 1997. It quickly became obvious that she was only at the very start of the process of grappling with the issues - she was asking me about extremely basic stuff like the currency, the status of the Royal Family, the nuclear issue, whether it would be possible for Labour to be in power in an independent Scotland, and so on. It was abundantly clear that a) she will definitely vote, and b) she doesn't have a clue how she will vote. And yet if a pollster asked her the referendum question now, I have a sneaking suspicion that she would say 'No', particularly if the silly formulation of "if it was taking place tomorrow" was used. It's no coincidence that TNS-BMRB, a pollster that doesn't use that formulation, produces a much, much higher proportion of undecided respondents than other companies. It seems highly likely that there are many people out there who don't know how they will vote, and yet are still saying 'No' to certain pollsters.

This goes to the heart of a basic piece of human psychology. Suppose I offered you a free cup of coffee. Unless you dislike coffee, the chances are you'll say 'Yes', because it'll seem like a small pleasure with no downsides attached. So I bring you the coffee, but then mention that I thought I might have seen someone spit in it out of the corner of my eye. At that point, you're likely to decide not to drink it to be on the safe side - after all, it's no big deal, it's only a cup of coffee, you're not really losing anything by turning it down. That's roughly analogous to what happened in the AV referendum in 2011, which hardly anyone really gave a monkey's about (although they should have done). In the early polls, Yes had the lead because people were only thinking of the upsides in a situation where nothing much seemed to be at stake, and there was nothing to lose. But then as the campaign progressed, the No side came along and sowed doubts in people's minds that there might actually be something to lose after all - the equivalent of the possible spit in the coffee. At that point the logic turned on its head, and the fact that there wasn't much at stake suddenly meant that there wasn't enough to gain by voting Yes - the "better to be on the safe side" instinct kicked in, and people swung to No in huge numbers.

But an independence referendum isn't like that at all, and it's no coincidence that many of the examples given of a Yes campaign increasing its support happened in major constitutional referendums. A better analogy in those cases might be a situation where your spouse is threatened with redundancy, but is offered the chance to move to a better job overseas. To begin with, your gut reaction is likely to be a provisional 'No', because this is a decision with huge stakes, and in the first instance you're primarily thinking of what you might lose - your current home, your familiar surroundings and routine. But as you get closer to decision day, you weigh up the pros and cons in a hard-headed way, you gradually become accustomed to the thought of a major change, and the potential benefits start to sink in more and more. You might even begin to get rather excited at the prospect of making a fresh start, rather than finding it scary as you initially did. The nagging thought will also start occurring to you that a transformative opportunity like this is not going to come around again any time soon. That, in broad terms, is likely to be why the polls moved in favour of Yes in Quebec and Montenegro, and it's also why it's monumentally silly to lump referendums of all types in with each other in an academic study. The correct comparison for us is with other independence referendums (of which there are very few examples in "stably democratic countries"), and to a lesser extent with other major constitutional referendums.

It should also be pointed out that while the Yes vote increased dramatically in Quebec in 1995, it fell over the course of the earlier independence referendum campaign in 1980. So there's certainly nothing inevitable about a Yes surge, but unlike Ian 'Complacency' Smart we're not actually claiming any inevitability - all we need is the knowledge that if Yes run the right campaign, they have every chance of winning. And fortunately we've got that knowledge.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Warning on Wednesday : The true meaning of the UK's 'best of both worlds'

"The first thing is to stop the Scots grumbling. Emasculate them. That would concentrate their minds. The Scots are getting too much."

Said by Tory darling Bernard Ingham in 1990 while still Mrs Thatcher's Press Secretary, giving us fair warning of what London's attitude to Scotland will revert to once the referendum is over, and the need for all the honeyed words about "Scotland's contribution to the United Kingdom" has passed.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

This is one Scot who will not shirk his moral duty

Whenever Blair McDougall takes some rare time out from his internet trolling career to laud an anti-independence rant in the Guardian as "excellent", it's generally a fair bet that you're in for a feast of the very finest delusions and factual inaccuracies if you follow the link. Former Daily Record propagandist Chris Deerin certainly doesn't disappoint, not even in his title -

"We Scots have a clear moral duty this year – to stay British"

As moral duties go, Chris, that one is going to be astonishingly hard to shirk, given the existence of three basic facts that we crazy separatists consider to be self-evident...

1) As an independent country until 1707, Scotland was the northern third of an island called Great Britain.

2) Right now, Scotland is the northern third of an island called Great Britain.

3) After independence in 2016, Scotland will be the northern third of an island called Great Britain.

Unless someone has finally invented that giant chainsaw we keep hearing so much about, an independent Scotland will be every bit as much a British nation as independent Sweden is a Scandinavian nation. And just like Scandinavia, Britain is a multi-national geographical and cultural entity - it is not a name exclusively reserved for whichever political state London happens to be the capital city of at any given moment. This cuts both ways - geography and history means that we can't and shouldn't deny our Britishness, but it also means that no-one else (and certainly not the UK government or the No campaign) has any power to rob us of our Britishness after independence. It's our birthright, just as much as it's the birthright of someone from Hampshire or Buckinghamshire.

"So far the polls suggest that support for the union v independence remains static, at around two-thirds to one-third."

For the love of Jesus. How many more times? Read our lips, oh gloriously absurd unionist media - YOU CANNOT COUNT UNDECIDED VOTERS AS NO VOTERS. YOU JUST CAN'T DO IT. If you want to claim that roughly one-third of Scottish residents support independence, that means you are not excluding undecided voters from the calculation, and on that basis LESS THAN ONE-HALF of Scottish residents are opposed to independence. To be absolutely precise, when undecided voters are taken into account the current average of the polls is Yes 33.0%, No 48.8%. The alternative calculation is to exclude undecideds, in which case the average pro-independence vote is not one-third, but just over four-tenths. You shouldn't be surprised to hear that this also means that the anti-independence vote is not two-thirds, but just under six-tenths. The exact figures are Yes 40.3%, No 59.7%. There is absolutely no calculation available that will get the average anti-independence vote even close to two-thirds. Sorry about that, Chris. I appreciate it's inconvenient, but lying about it won't change matters.

And I'm not even finished stating the bleedin' obvious yet, because neither is it true that the polls are "static". Every pollster - every single one - that has reported since the White Paper was published agrees that the No lead has dropped. If we believe TNS-BMRB, the No lead has fallen for four months in succession, and is now some 8% lower than it was in the early autumn.

"The yes campaign is struggling to convert the greater mass of Scots into kilted bum-barers who bellow 'freedom' whenever an English person hoves into view."

Hmmm. We seem to have slipped into a parallel universe where the Yes campaign's objective is - for some unspecified reason - to turn us all into Scottish versions of Katie Hopkins, rather than to convince us of the merits of taking responsibility for the governance of our own country. And this stuff is genuinely what Blair McDougall considers to be quality reading? If so, it's hard not to conclude that the anti-independence supremo and his entire campaign hold the people of this country in utter contempt - there cannot be many other parts of the world where a desire for the normality of self-governance could ever be equated with Starkey-esque chauvinism and immaturity.

"Lord Robertson, the former defence secretary, recounts how, having been appointed secretary-general of Nato, he was asked by an official why he didn't support Scottish independence, as 'surely then you could run the whole show'. Before he could answer, another colleague butted in: 'The Scots run the big show anyway.' This is pretty much true, and has been ever since James I."

I don't think anyone has ever said it better than Joyce McMillan back in the 1990s, when she pointed out that the hoary old claim that Scots don't really need self-government because they already run Britain anyway is eerily similar to the claim in the early 20th Century that women didn't really need the vote because they already ruled the world by using their feminine wiles to exercise control over their nominally more powerful menfolk. Actually, in both cases it's the substance of power that's required, not a patronising pat on the head to assure us that we've got something much better going for us.

"So, when my girls put the question to me, I hope to be in a position to tell them that when the moment arrived, Scots – Scots, of all people! – did not opt to go small, to lay down the moral role conferred on them by history, to turn their back on the difficult and painful decisions – and inevitable mistakes – that come with a position in the front rank of world powers: that it never really seemed like a very Scottish thing to do."

This seems to be identical to Rory Stewart's insistence on denying absolutely every version of Scottishness other than his own faintly ludicrous confection. Remember when the Tory MP for Penrith (and professional refugee from the 18th Century) angrily declared on Newsnight that the vast majority of Scots, ie. those who fail to buy into his personal worldview of British national uniformity, were not "real" Scots? I must say that if I truly thought the most typically Scottish thing to do is to be haughty and to have delusions about divinely-ordained missions on the world stage, I'm not sure I'd want to have much to do with independence. Thankfully, in the real world, the centre of gravity in Scotland is egalitarianism, not Rumsfeldism.

"...if we walked out, we would leave behind a much-diminished state, and one that would be heavily compromised in its international dealings. How could it urge the Chinese towards democracy, if that very system had led to its own collapse?"

Because a state's insistence on defending its territorial integrity against the freely-expressed wishes of its own citizens is inconsistent with democracy, you silly, silly man.

"after all, if even dear old Britain can't keep it together, where is solidarity to be found?"

In George Osborne's generous little heart, I presume.

"Britain's existence stands as a rebuke to those who say that prosperity cannot go with human rights..."

Except for readers who use food banks or who have been detained without trial.

"...that tolerance cannot co-exist with robust debate"

Except for readers from Romania and Bulgaria.

"...that the rule of law and personal freedom must be mutually exclusive."

Except when the UK government tries to criminalise people who are "annoying" - wasn't that just last week?

"Because, for me, a world without Britain is almost unthinkable."

Still no chainsaw, then? Fair enough. But you might also want to aim for the global eradication of nuclear weapons, just to be on the safe side.

"I know how I'll vote. I have always found it easy and natural to think of myself as both Scottish and British."

Ditto. I'm voting Yes to independence, because I refuse to make a false choice between self-governance and identities that are an inalienable part of my birthright.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Ipsos-Mori's 'state of the nation' poll provides dramatic new evidence that the No vote is soft

The think-tank 'British Future' (who, judging by both their name and their analysis, are anything but impartial on the matter in hand) have published the results of an Ipsos-Mori survey that asked voters in Scotland and the rest of the UK a variety of questions on a broad range of topics - including the independence referendum question itself. Oddly, however, respondents were offered an extra 'Neither' option, in addition to the standard 'Yes' (or apparently 'Agree' in this poll), 'No' ('Disagree') and 'Don't Know'. So the outcome isn't directly comparable to the last Ipsos-Mori poll, but is fascinating nonetheless.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Scottish-domiciled respondents only)

Yes ("Agree") 32% (+1)
No ("Disagree") 49% (-6)
Neither 10% (n/a)
Don't Know 9% (-5)

(The percentage changes listed above are based on the assumption that this poll was not filtered by certainty to vote. If it turns out that such a filter was applied, then the No vote is down a whopping eight points, the Yes vote is down two, and Don't Knows are down one.)

Now a couple of health warnings here - the Scottish sample size was unusually small at just under 400, although that certainly isn't so low a number as to be meaningless (for example, two of the three Angus Reid referendum polls from last year had sample sizes of about 500). Also, we don't know if the results were only weighted to be representative of Great Britain as a whole, or whether the Scottish sample was weighted separately. The latter possibility seems much more likely given that British Future are making quite a song and dance about their Scottish results, but we may find out more information when Ipsos-Mori publish details of the poll on their own website.

If we assume for the moment that this result is robust, though, what does it tell us? Just like the Ipsos-Mori poll for the Law Society, it provides further evidence that the No vote is softer than the Yes vote. All it seems to take is for respondents to be provided with an additional de facto 'undecided' option, and the No vote instantly plummets, while the Yes vote remains steady.

The poll also confirms the unsurprising finding of recent surveys that Scottish independence is considerably more popular in Scotland than it is in the rest of the UK, which may reflect nagging fears south of the border about the true cost of losing Scottish oil revenues. This is certainly something of a blow for the tedious Tory trolls who used to taunt us with the line "Scottish independence is less popular in Scotland than in England". Those days are over, chaps. Oh, and talking of trolls, this was the brave face that No campaign troll-in-chief Blair McDougall was trying to put on the poll earlier -

"New poll in morning with pretty clear message for us from rest of UK - please don't leave."

Hmmm. So if the implication is that we should always listen to "pretty clear messages" from south of the border, I presume we should also be listening to the pretty clear message from voters in the rest of the UK that David Cameron must stop running away from taking part in a TV referendum debate with his opposite number Alex Salmond? (As of yet, we have no polling evidence on whether English and Welsh voters think that Vladimir Putin, Mariano Rajoy or any of the other foreign leaders that the UK government have begged for help in keeping the Jocks in their place should be allowed to deputise for Cameron in the debate.)

Cynics who reckon that Scots don't really give a monkey's about independence one way or the other will be dismayed to learn that Scottish respondents say that the referendum is by far the most important event of the coming year to them personally. The grotesque 'celebration' of the start of the horrors of World War I limps in at a distant fourth place with 13% saying it is important, only just ahead of the football World Cup - at which Scotland won't even be represented. Incidentally, a mere 13% of respondents in Scotland will be supporting England at the World Cup, which is less than the 15% of respondents who will be supporting whichever team England happen to be playing. 20% regard themselves as genuine neutrals, 10% will be supporting a specific team other than England, and the remainder won't be watching the World Cup at all. Not much comfort for the "UK is a big happy family" worldview there, and I must admit I'm really surprised by those numbers - particularly given that almost 10% of the population of Scotland are English themselves!

The other interesting finding from this poll is on national identity...

More or wholly Scottish 49%
Equally Scottish and British 31%
More or wholly British 19%

I know that Scottish Skier will be concerned that this once again indicates that Ipsos-Mori may be getting their Scottish sampling wrong, because both the census results and the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey suggest that Scottish identity is stronger than that (much, much stronger in the case of the census).

* * *


I've been swithering over whether I should take this poll into account for the Poll of Polls. At first, the answer seemed like an obvious 'no', because the methodology is so different from past (and presumably future) Ipsos-Mori polls, with a smaller sample size, fieldwork conducted online rather than by telephone, the peculiarity of offering two distinct 'Neither/Don't Know' options, and the likelihood that no certainty to vote filter was applied for the headline numbers. We also don't know for sure whether the Scottish sample was weighted properly, and I have one or two doubts over the question used. (The British Future report lists the actual referendum question with no alterations, but places a very suspicious asterisk next to it, for which no explanation is provided.)

The counter-argument, though, is that the purpose of the Poll of Polls is to calculate a straightforward average of the latest headline findings from all British Polling Council pollsters, regardless of the methodology they choose to use at any given time. So I'm going to provide a provisional update that takes account of this poll, but I'll revert to the previous update if it turns out that the Scottish sample wasn't separately weighted, or that the question asked bore no relation to the referendum question. Fortunately, one thing we do know for sure is that the fieldwork for this poll took place later than the fieldwork for the last published Ipsos-Mori referendum poll, albeit only just (6-11 December).

Unsurprisingly, the provisional update shows the pro-independence campaign closing the gap still further...

MEAN AVERAGE (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 32.7% (-0.3)
No 47.5% (-1.3)

MEAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 40.8% (+0.5)
No 59.2% (-0.5)

MEDIAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 39.6% (n/c)
No 60.4% (n/c)

If this update is confirmed, then the 1.3% drop in the headline No vote is by far the biggest individual change we've seen since the Poll of Polls started - as only one-sixth of the sample differs with each update, movements in the figures are usually much more glacial in nature. The No lead has dropped from 15.8% to 14.8%, and the Yes campaign now require a mere 7.4% swing to draw level.

* * *

There's an editorial in today's Scotland on Sunday that references the Ipsos-Mori poll, and if the familiar phraseology is anything to go by it seems to have been wholly or partly penned by Kenny Farquharson. It also indirectly mentions the anti-independence campaign's wizard plan to bombard Scotland with nuisance phone calls from English people trying to persuade us to vote No (they'll almost certainly be activists from the London parties posing as 'ordinary people'). It concludes with this utterly bizarre example of logical gymnastics -

"The SNP makes reassuring noises about the social union with the rest of Britain continuing after independence. But what happens when the people in that social union – our friends, relatives and colleagues from Liverpool, Newcastle, the Welsh valleys and the rolling hills of Antrim – ask us not to sacrifice the UK’s political union? Such a moment will be the ultimate test for the kind of Yes voter who says 'I’m not a nationalist, but...' Because it is very difficult to characterise the ignoring of that plea as anything other than act of political nationalism."

OK, let's think this through, step by step. Imagine you're a member of the Green party who is definitely not a nationalist, but you've nevertheless reached the pragmatic conclusion that the kind of transformative change you want to see in Scottish society is far more likely to come about through independence than by sticking with the Westminster system. However, you then receive a telephone call from someone who wants you to vote against independence. According to Kenny (or whoever wrote the editorial), the simple fact that this person has an English accent is sufficient to mean that your own opinion has become invalid - and if you want it to become valid again you have to henceforth call yourself a nationalist. Er, why? How does that work? How does an English political activist telling you "we should stay united because of EastEnders and the Queen and stuff" suddenly mean that your own logic about Westminster's inability to deliver transformative change no longer applies?

Unless the activist is offering you some kind of vote swap (I'll vote Green at Westminster if you vote No), there's no reason whatever to suppose you would be given even the slightest pause for thought. Indeed, the fact that your support for independence is founded on policy objectives rather than nationalist emotion means that you're even less likely to be open to that kind of heartstring-tugging persuasion. If this 'love-bombing' wheeze reminds me of anything, it's the Guardian's idea of getting its readers to write to Ohio residents in 2004, asking them to vote for John Kerry - and we all know how that went down.

* * *

UPDATE (2.50pm) : More details of the poll have now been released, and on that basis I'll be removing it from the Poll of Polls - see the comments below.