Saturday, February 8, 2014

What to do if an English person phones you to beg Scotland not to "leave" : your cut-out-and-keep guide

1) Gently point out that Scotland isn't "going" anywhere, because it will retain the exact same geographical position after independence, and will remain firmly part of an island and cultural entity called Great Britain (barring the last-minute invention of that giant chainsaw).

2) If you form a suspicion that the person down the line is labouring under the "Madeley Misapprehension" that support for Scottish self-government must for some unspecified reason be motivated by anti-English sentiment, point them in the direction of this week's YouGov poll, showing that 65% of people currently planning to vote for independence have either a positive or neutral perception of England as a country.  If your caller still refuses to accept that fairer and more equal structures of governance on these islands will be perfectly compatible with excellent (and indeed improved) neighbourly relations between Scotland and England, ask them to explain their reasoning, and then judge for yourself whether the response you receive has been properly thought through.

3) Politely seek to ascertain whether the caller is motivated by admiration for David Cameron and/or political support for the Conservative party.  If the answer is 'yes', tactfully explain that while you respect their political convictions, such views are bound to detract from the relevance of any anti-independence arguments they might put forward, given that so many Scots primarily view the referendum as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ensure that this country is never again ruled by a hostile Tory government that it did not vote for.

4) If the caller is unknown to you and proves evasive on the above point, continue to politely but persistently probe them on their personal and political background.  If their responses remain vague, caution them that you strongly suspect that their motivation for making the call is loyalty to a London political party rather than a spontaneous need to declare their love for "the greatest political union in the history of the known universe", and that their anti-independence points are bound to be judged in that light.

5) If they turn out to be a Labour rather than Tory activist and they try the silly "please don't abandon England to the Tories" line on you, courteously explain to them that Scottish votes have only changed the outcomes of two general elections since the Second World War - in 1964 and 1974.  You might ruefully point out in passing that our impact on the 1974 outcome was arguably undesirable in any case, because if Ted Heath had remained Prime Minister it's highly unlikely that Mrs Thatcher would have succeeded him, and the Tories would therefore have remained a much more moderate party.  Explain that the Left can only really hope to flourish in England when it is seen as a comprehensively English movement, rather than one that has much of its roots in Scotland and Wales.  Reassure them that independence will be a win/win outcome for the Left on both sides of the Tweed, with the near-certainty of no more Tory governments in Scotland, and a golden opportunity for a renaissance in the fortunes of English progressivism.  Conclude by observing that there's certainly no point in both countries continuing to suffer together under Tory rule, as has been the norm for as long as anyone can remember.

6) If you become convinced that the caller is a London party activist cynically posing as a 'concerned member of the public', and if you're blessed with plentiful reserves of patience, you could do a lot worse than to simply keep them talking for hours on end, in whichever way you see fit.  This will reduce the number of nuisance phone calls that other people receive.

7)  Ask the caller if he/she supports the plans of all three London parties to abolish the Barnett Formula after the referendum, thus dramatically reducing the level of public spending in Scotland.  In the unlikely event that they honestly and directly say 'yes', ask if they would support Scotland being granted full fiscal autonomy as a fair replacement for the current Barnett arrangements.  If the answer to that question is an honest 'no', tell them that they have your respect, but they do not have your vote.

8) If the caller "loves Scotland" enough to accept that either the Barnett Formula must be maintained or that full fiscal autonomy must be granted, ask them to immediately write to their MP with a plea to that effect, and to send you a copy of the letter and of any reply that is received.

9) If they decline to express any opinion on the future of the Barnett Formula or full fiscal autonomy, don't allow yourself to be fobbed off with the line that "these are matters that can be decided later" or "that isn't really what this referendum is about".  Remind them that anti-independence campaigners have based much of their case on predictions of economic doom and gloom, so it won't wash for them to now turn around and say "forget about your financial future, just think of the LURVE".

10) Ask the caller if their "love" for Scotland extends as far as a willingness to devolve sufficient powers for us to be insulated from Tory rule from within the United Kingdom, thus rendering independence somewhat less necessary.  Get them to specify what powers they think should be devolved and by what date.  Ask them to immediately send a plea to that effect to their MP, and to send you a copy of the letter and of any reply that is received.

11) If they're honest enough to admit that they don't support substantial further devolution to Scotland, and invite us to think of Tory rule that we didn't vote for as an unavoidable price to pay for London's "love", then tell them that they have your respect, but they do not have your vote.

12) Ask them if their "love" for Scotland extends as far as giving us a veto on whether nuclear weapons should continue to be stationed on our shores, and potentially putting up with Trident in their own backyards instead (if they can't accept that it should be scrapped outright).  If the answer is 'yes', ask them to immediately send a plea to that effect to their MP, and to send you a copy of the letter and of any reply that is received.  If, on the other hand, they're honest enough to say that they think unwanted weapons of mass destruction on our shores should be accepted as a price worth paying for London's "love", then tell them that they have your respect, but they do not have your vote.

13) If they pray in aid "that Team GB feeling", point out that it is quite normal for independent countries around the world to support the athletes of neighbouring nations at the Olympic Games, and that it is therefore highly likely that any Scot who currently takes pleasure in the achievements of Mo Farah or Jessica Ennis will continue to do so after independence.  It goes without saying that we will continue to take just as much pride in the likes of Andy Murray and Kim Little once they are competing for Team Scotland rather than Team GB.  What will disappear, however, is the mild fascism of the BOA that has resulted in the banning of Scottish flags at the Olympics, and the persecution of athletes such as Little who prefer not to sing a national anthem that they personally regard as alien.  Ask the caller whether they regard the current situation as consistent with the claim that Scotland will enjoy "the best of both worlds" by rejecting independence.  If they agree that it is not, ask them if they would be prepared to immediately write to the BOA demanding an end to the banning of Scottish flags, and to send you a copy of the letter and any response they receive.

14) If the caller keeps on telling you how much they "love Scotland", struggle against the temptation to ask if they agree with the chap on Channel 4 News who said that he wants Scotland to "stay" because it's the "most beautiful part of England".  Instead, ask whether they accept that the UK government's threats to act vindictively against us if we become independent (for instance by trying to have us thrown out of the EU or attempting to deny us access to the shared asset of sterling) are incompatible with claims of tender feelings for us as a nation.  If they do accept that, ask them to immediately write to Downing Street urging the Prime Minister to call a halt to these threats.  Ask them to send you a copy of the letter and any response that is received.

15) You might also care to add that "true love isn't possessive".

Friday, February 7, 2014

Support for independence rises to its highest level of the campaign in latest YouGov poll

Just when we were feeling mildly disappointed that YouGov had broken the seemingly relentless sequence of polls since the publication of the White Paper to show clear swings to Yes (of the small, medium and huge varieties), along they come right on cue with another poll in which they rejoin the consensus.  At 34%, the pro-independence vote is now at its highest in any YouGov poll since October 2011, and at 18%, the lead for the anti-independence campaign is at its lowest since the same date.  Of course the question used back in 2011 bore no resemblance to the current one, so it would be more meaningful simply to say that the Yes vote is now at its highest level since the campaign got underway.

If there was a referendum tomorrow on Scotland's future and this was the question, how would you vote?

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 34% (+1)
No 52% (n/c)

Unlike several other pollsters, YouGov only post percentages in their datasets, rather than the raw numbers.  If you pump the crude figures 34 and 52 into a calculator, you'll find that the position with Don't Knows excluded is Yes 40%, No 60%.  However, YouGov say that it's actually Yes 39%, No 61%, which means rounding issues must be at play.  With a filter applied for likelihood to vote, though, support for Yes does indeed rise to 40%, and support for No falls to 60%.

I'm glad to say that the information released this time is detailed enough for us to be sure that the notorious Dodgy Preamble was absent from this poll.  However, to the best of my knowledge we're still no clearer about the preamble used in the poll published earlier this week (ie. we can't be sure that the polls are directly comparable).

It may or may not be due to their methodological antics that YouGov are showing a much more confusing picture in respect of the trend than other pollsters.  One thing that is clear is that the No lead has fallen since the late summer/early autumn, in line with the findings of ICM, Ipsos-Mori and TNS-BMRB.  But by how much?  Since YouGov's August poll (the last published YouGov poll that we're 100% sure used the Dodgy Preamble), the No lead has slumped by 12% - an even bigger drop than that recorded by ICM.  But since the September YouGov poll (the first to use the more neutrally-worded preamble) the No lead has fallen by just 2%.  What confuses the issue even further is that the first of the semi-published 'phantom' YouGov polls, conducted in late November/early December, apparently suggested that the No lead had gone back up again by 4%.  That seems highly implausible given what other pollsters were showing at the same time, so perhaps it indicates that the September poll had flattered (in YouGov terms) the Yes position due to margin-of-error issues, which would mean that the No lead has in reality dropped by quite a bit more than 2% since the early autumn.  That theory would obviously be more consistent with the trend found by ICM and TNS-BMRB.

This poll is (at least) the third YouGov poll in a row to show that 18-24 year olds are the most pro-independence age group, so that's yet another nail in the coffin for one of the mainstream media's most beloved narratives!  In fact, the Yes campaign now hold an outright lead among 18-24 year olds, albeit that finding is based on a significantly smaller sample size than the January poll.  YouGov were probably stuck with a more limited number of young respondents in this poll due to time factors - the fieldwork lasted for less than half as long on this occasion.

Incredibly, the poll gives identical voting intentions for higher-income and lower-income voters - in both cases Yes 34%, No 52%.  I find that highly suspicious, because it contradicts the clear evidence from other pollsters that lower-income respondents are significantly more likely to break for Yes.  As I suggested the other day, if YouGov are failing to find a representative sample of lower-income voters, that could well be a potential explanation (admittedly only one of several) for why they continue to paint a less optimistic picture for the pro-independence campaign than the majority of BPC pollsters.

* * *


After the little blip that was artificially generated by the intervention of Survation, I'm delighted to say that normal service has been resumed with yet another swing towards independence in the Poll of Polls.  Of the eight updates since we got underway at the time of the publication of the White Paper, no fewer than six have shown a swing to Yes, with just one showing a swing to No, and one showing an unchanged position.

MEAN AVERAGE (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 34.0% (+0.1)
No 48.7% (n/c)

MEAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 41.1% (+0.1)
No 58.9% (-0.1)

MEDIAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 40.8% (n/c)
No 59.2% (n/c)

(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each of the pollsters that have been active in the referendum campaign, and that adhere to British Polling Council rules. At present, there are seven - Angus Reid, YouGov, TNS-BMRB, Survation, Panelbase, Ipsos-Mori and ICM. Whenever a new poll is published, it replaces the last poll from the same company in the sample. Changes in the Poll of Polls are generally glacial in nature due to the fact that only a small portion of the sample is updated each time.)

At exactly 34%, the Yes campaign have now reached their highest ever level of support on the headline average.  In case you're wondering, the reason why the median average is unchanged is that YouGov remain on the No-friendly end of the spectrum (along with Survation and Ipsos-Mori), and therefore the change in this poll doesn't affect the calculation.  The Yes-friendly end of the spectrum is currently comprised of ICM, Angus Reid and Panelbase, with TNS-BMRB providing the mid-point.

* * *

A small housekeeping announcement - my desktop computer packed up on Tuesday, so blogging is a bit of a struggle at the moment.  I made a pig's ear of linking to this post on Twitter earlier, so apologies for that!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

YouGov's 'phantom poll' comes in from the cold - but serious unanswered questions remain

Thanks to Calum Findlay for pointing out that YouGov have furtively released the datasets for their 'phantom' referendum poll from the other day, which means that we can start to take it a bit more seriously, and I can feel confident enough to use it for a Poll of Polls update.  However, the format of the datasets is far from satisfactory, and serious unanswered questions about the methodology of the poll still remain.  Instead of following the standard YouGov practice of giving the full text of the questions asked, the file simply summarises what each set of numbers refers to, eg. 'Holyrood regional vote'.  So when we arrive at the independence figures and we see that the referendum question is listed in unadorned form, that should not be taken to mean that there wasn't a preamble.  We know that YouGov regard it as unthinkable to pose the question without at least using a preamble asking people to assume they are voting in a hypothetical referendum tomorrow.  So there are two basic possibilities of what the preamble was -

1) The original biased preamble (which is ominously still listed in the tracking table as part of the question) of : "If there was a referendum tomorrow on Scotland leaving the United Kingdom..."

2) The more neutrally-worded "If there was a referendum tomorrow on Scotland's future..."

We know that YouGov have, for reasons known only to themselves (and perhaps also to their clients in the anti-independence campaign), been switching back and forth between the two preambles, so there's absolutely no way of knowing which one was used in this case.  I was originally convinced that the biased preamble must have been used, due to the appearance of that wording on the tracker table, from which the 6-9 Dec poll (that used the neutral preamble) was excluded.  But the waters have since been muddied by an update of the tracker to include the December poll.

If the neutral preamble was used this time around, then the results of this poll are directly comparable with the last published YouGov poll, in which case there has been no change in the headline numbers.  If on the other hand the biased preamble was used, it may well be that the last directly comparable poll is the other mysterious 'phantom' poll conducted in late November/early December, in which case the No lead has slumped by 5%.  At this stage we simply have no way of knowing which of those possibilities is the more likely.

There's no sign in the datasets that this was a poll conducted on behalf of the anti-independence campaign - in fact no client is listed at all, which would suggest that the poll was conducted by YouGov on its own initiative, making all the layers of mystery even harder to understand.  Given the lack of transparency, I wouldn't completely exclude the possibility of there being a bashful No-flavoured client lurking behind these figures.

Some interesting nuggets of information from the datasets - once again young voters prove to be the most favourable to independence, so I'm afraid the media will have to forget their beloved narrative about the SNP shooting themselves in the foot by giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote (although YouGov are still maintaining their indefensible practice of failing to interview under-18s).  The gap between the voting intentions of higher and lower income groups is suspiciously low (34% of voters from social grades C2, D and E are supposedly voting Yes, compared to 32% from A, B and C1), which may be a clue as to why YouGov continue to paint a more pessimistic picture for the Yes campaign than most other pollsters.  It could be that they're not as good at getting a representative sample of lower-income voters, which if true would be magnified by the weighting procedure (421 lower-income respondents are upweighted to count as 632). And a healthy 21% of both Labour and Liberal Democrat voters from 2011 are in the Yes column - only fractionally lower than the 22% of 2011 SNP voters who are voting No.  SNP voters are also by some distance the most likely to say they don't know how they will vote in the referendum, which constitutes a potentially sympathetic section of the electorate for the Yes campaign to target for new converts.

* * *


This is going to be easily the dullest Poll of Polls update thus far, because there is literally no change in the numbers at all.  However, it needs to be borne in mind that of the seven updates since the Poll of Polls started, no fewer than five have shown a swing to Yes, and just one has shown a swing to No.  This is the first update to show an unchanged position - and if YouGov have switched back to the biased preamble it may not be a meaningful reflection of the true trend.

MEAN AVERAGE (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 33.9% (n/c)
No 48.7% (n/c)

MEAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 41.0% (n/c)
No 59.0% (n/c)

MEDIAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 40.8% (n/c)
No 59.2% (n/c)

(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each of the pollsters that have been active in the referendum campaign, and that adhere to British Polling Council rules. At present, there are seven - Angus Reid, YouGov, TNS-BMRB, Survation, Panelbase, Ipsos-Mori and ICM. Whenever a new poll is published, it replaces the last poll from the same company in the sample.)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wisdom on Wednesday : Identifying the non-identifiable

"All the calculations about who gets what slice of the public cake are based on what the Treasury warlocks call 'identifiable expenditure'. But identifiable expenditure is far from being the whole story. According to the white paper on the government's expenditure plans, the identifiable expenditure for 1988-89 was £129.83bn, of which Scotland's share was £14.291bn (or 11%). But the UK's total public spending was £161.617bn, leaving a whopping £31.780bn 'not identified'. So where did all these billions go? All the evidence suggests that much of it (and probably most of it) went into London and the south-east."

George Rosie, writing a quarter of a century ago as he famously 'Scotched the Myth' that Scotland is subsidised by London, rather than the other way round.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Political Betting moderator "The Screaming Eagles" lies about me, dehumanises me, and then denies me any right to reply. But I'll be generous - I'll tell nothing but the truth about him, and he's free to reply if he wants.

Some of you may have seen the comment left by pro-independence Political Betting poster Mick Pork on the previous thread -

"Just thought you'd like to know James. Your article was as thorough and illuminating as ever, and yet for SOME reason (despite the poll being the main subject of the Smithson thread) trying to link your article from PB brought down the wrath of Smithson with the post immediately deleted accompanied by blustering nonsense trying (and failing) to justify it.

Embargoes, polling and betting James. Eh? ;-) PB better hope nobody decides to take a closer look at that anytime soon."

However, events were about to take an even more Kafkaesque (or perhaps by now we should simply call them PB-esque) turn. You really couldn't make this up - having already banned me for life more than seven months ago (since when I've only visited the site a handful of times), Mr Smithson and his Tory moderator henchmen have seemingly concluded that their actions were insufficient, and that they now need to "ban me again, only HARDER!!!!" (© Mr Kevin Baker). I'm reminded of that line from Blackadder - "A fate worse than a fate worse than death? That's pretty bad..."

Here's how events unfolded this morning -

Carlotta Vance : It also appears to have the "biased preamble" that excites some of our separatist friends:

"If there was a referendum tomorrow on Scotland leaving the United Kingdom and becoming an Independent Country and this was the question, how would you vote?"

They get very upset when you mention that 'independence' = 'leaving the United Kingdom', blustering about 'the Union of the crowns' - which they forget about when they go on to claim that 'rUK will have to change its name when we separate.....leave.... get independence.

At this point, suspecting from her use of the term "biased preamble" that 'Carlotta Vance' had probably read my blogpost of last night, Mick Pork made a wry comment and linked to the post in question. Not long after, he quoted from and linked to my post about the 9% and 10% falls in the No lead since the early autumn suggested by TNS-BMRB and ICM respectively, to counter the demonstrably silly suggestion from PB Tory David Herdson that the Yes campaign had only managed a "1.5% swing over the last five years" (!). The first of Mick's comments was subsequently deleted by "PB Moderator", which may or may not be an account name used by several different moderators, but in this instance the words used left no doubt whatever that it was the alter ego of "The Screaming Eagles" (TSE).

PB Moderator (TSE) : MickPork

Please do not post links that accuse pollsters of push polling and/or that question their integrity.

Mick Pork : Sorry??? Are you seriously claiming a pollster's methodology is now "off-limits"?

Your choice but if you think it looks good for PB to make certain pollsters immune to criticism then that's a pretty bizarre and revealing stance to make.

Anorak : I rarely agree with you, Mick, but I'm with you 100% here.

Bizarre is right.

PB Moderator (TSE) : No.

It is fine to question their methodology, but not fine to question their motives, and saying they are push polling falls into the latter category.

We apply this stricture to all BPC pollsters and have done so in the past.

See here Mike Smithson's comment, when people criticised another pollster.

Mick Pork : See here TSE's thread where he describes a "pejorative preamble to their question on Independence, which may distort the final result" for...


I note with wry amusement that is the precise same thing being asked of this YouGov poll by the Scottish blog you have banned me from linking to.

PB Moderator (TSE) : That is a methodology issue.

I would also remind you that the blog you linked to, has in the past, been forced to apologise to a BPC pollster for questioning their integrity, so you can understand our caution.

I've also reviewed that site, and note that some of the comments impugn on the personal integrity of Mike Smithson, so in future, no more links from that site.

This ends the discussion.

* * *

Mick's interpretation of "comments impugning the personal integrity of Mike Smithson" was that it referred to his own hint (and it was never anything more than a hint) in the comments section of last night's post that Smithson sometimes takes advantage of his privileged position (with, for example, early access to embargoed polls) to make a personal profit on the betting markets. That's certainly not a claim I've ever made - and frankly I don't really give a monkey's one way or the other. If Smithson is bright enough to screw the bookies over now and again, then good luck to him is all I would say, and I don't particularly care how he goes about it. But if this mildly creepy, cult-like deification of PB's editor (aka "Our Genial Host" or "OGH") has got to the point where a blog cannot even be linked to unless it immediately deletes all comments from readers that are critical of Smithson (even ones that are made when I'm fast asleep!), then you begin to wonder where this is all going to end.

Alternatively, TSE's hissy-fit could simply have been provoked by my tendency to irreverently refer to his boss as Mike "can't be arsed" Smithson - which, for the uninitiated, is simply a reference to the man's habit of using the phrase "can't be arsed" rather a lot. (His other favourite is "Gawd".)

I know that after all the mindless personal (and sometimes downright racist) abuse that I suffered in the days when I was still allowed to post on PB, this kind of nonsense should be water off a duck's back by now. But I'll be honest with you - I'm hopping, fizzing mad about it. What TSE has done today is knowingly tell a flat-out lie about me (ie. "the blog you linked to, has in the past, been forced to apologise to a BPC pollster for questioning their integrity") and then deprived me of any conceivable right to reply on PB, even in the most indirect of forms. He's also used language that has been mildly dehumanising - everyone on PB (except for a small number of newcomers) will know perfectly well that I used to be a regular poster at the site for several years under my own name, but now there seems to an implied suggestion that even mentioning my name or the name of my blog is off-limits. As bizarre as that sounds, it would not be a new departure - usage of the words "Stuart Dickson" was at one time explicitly banned on PB.

But what makes me particularly angry is that this comes from a man who (in spite of his constant provocations) I've actually been honourable enough to protect for a couple of years, during which time I've known his real name and some information that severely calls into question his integrity as a moderator. Given the extreme nature of his actions today, I'm sorely tempted to simply reveal everything and have done with it. However, on reflection, I've decided not to reveal his name - that would simply bring me down to the same level as the PB moderators who colluded with the hounding off the site of the most prolific left-wing poster, after identifying information about himself and his family was posted for a second time. But what I am certainly going to do is reveal the rest of the information about TSE.

First of all, let's lay to rest the cynical lie that he told. What he is referring to is an occasion in 2012 when I wrote a blogpost about an Ipsos-Mori referendum poll, which I suggested might not have been entirely credible because of my suspicion that (like YouGov) they hadn't used the actual referendum question. I was later contacted by a chap called Christopher McLean, who billed himself as a "Senior Research Executive" of something called "Ipsos-Mori Scotland" (is that a bit like "UKIP Scotland"?!), and who claimed that the referendum question had been used in straightforward form and therefore asked me to 'correct' my post. At no point did he ask for an apology, let alone "force" me to issue one (and that, in a nutshell, is the nature of TSE's lie). Even if McLean had been telling me the whole truth, there would have been absolutely no need for an apology, because I hadn't stated as a fact that the referendum question wasn't used - I made clear that it was merely a strong suspicion based on the very limited information available at that time. To put it another way, it was speculation on my part, very much of the sort that appears on PB day in, day out - not least this very morning, when Smithson indulged himself with some highly questionable guesswork about the nature of the new YouGov poll. I have never, ever seen him apologise for any speculation that proved to be unfounded, let alone seen his moderation team demand such an apology. It's perfectly true that I did apologise to Ipsos-Mori, but only as a matter of courtesy, because at that point it seemed to me that McLean had made his request for a correction in a friendly manner. I later had cause to change my mind about that, because he quickly sent me a rather condescending follow-up email implying that in future I should check my facts by visiting the Ipsos-Mori website (which was a load of nonsense, because that website had in fact been my first port of call, but no information about the poll had yet been added at the time that I wrote my post). It then appears that, instead of simply being grateful that I promptly agreed to his request for a correction, he (or another "prominent pollster") was for some reason "amused" by the speed of my response, and bizarrely sent it to TSE to allow him to share in the "joke". This was my reaction when TSE triumphantly told me about what happened several months later -

"I ought to tell you what a prominent PB poster once emailed to me, because he knew I'd be shocked by it, but alas I'm sworn to secrecy.

I was contacted by Ipsos-Mori and asked to make a correction, and I did so immediately. You may be 'amused' by such professionalism, as may your prominent pollster chum, but if I may say so I'm content for my actions to stand comparison to your antics as moderator of this blog.

Let's see if you've got the guts to leave this post up."

The more fundamental reason why I was wrong to apologise to McLean, though, is quite simply that he wasn't telling me the whole truth. It's now a matter of record that Ipsos-Mori do indeed add a preamble to the referendum question, and in some ways it could be argued that their practice is even more reprehensible than YouGov's, because they're not open and honest about what they do. This is how Calum Findlay put it the other night -

"I'd say the exact same about Ipsos as well. They mention in their summaries they ask respondents how they would vote tomorrow (I remember a man from Ipsos even saying that on STV News), but no sign of a preamble has ever been in their results tables. Judging by the No leads they manage to produce, there's a chance that it is very leading indeed."

Incidentally, if TSE seriously reckons that the mere suggestion that a pollster may not have used the actual referendum question in unadorned form constitutes the "questioning of their integrity", then how in God's name are we supposed to interpret the indisputable fact that YouGov DO 'enhance' the referendum question to suit themselves? Presumably according to TSE-logic that by definition means that YouGov have no integrity?

While we're at it, let's turn briefly to TSE's allegation that I called YouGov a push-poller. Again, it's very simple - I didn't. I in fact accused them of "quasi-push-polling". That is not a pedantic distinction - it's as fundamental a distinction as between Mrs Thatcher calling Neil Kinnock a "crypto-communist" and her actually calling him a communist. However, I make no apology whatever for using the term I did, because it's a straightforwardly accurate characterisation of what YouGov are consciously doing. Their preamble transforms a question about independence into a pejorative one (to use TSE's own word) that is primarily about "leaving the United Kingdom". They do that in pursuance of Peter Kellner's own agenda (he has made clear a number of times that he disapproves of the actual referendum question, and is seemingly intent on 'overruling' it!) and also in the full knowledge that such an approach is bound to artificially boost the No vote in their polls. That looks very much like "quasi-push-polling" to me, and I certainly wouldn't use language like that lightly.

And finally to the information about TSE I've helped to suppress for a very long time. Before he was inexplicably appointed as a moderator (although perhaps it's not so inexplicable, given that sycophancy is the only qualification for the job), he left Smithson in the lurch by offering to host a PB get-together in the north of England, and then going AWOL at a very late stage. At roughly the same time, he failed to settle bets with the site's aforementioned leading left-wing poster for over six months, using a series of increasingly bizarre excuses to buy himself time. This is a serious matter in PB-world, because welching on a recorded bet is considered a banning offence (it's almost as heinous a crime, whatever it was that was the excuse for my own lifetime banning). The saga culminated in TSE fabricating two terrible and contradictory stories about his family to excuse what had happened - firstly that his wife had lost a baby (one of twins), and secondly that he'd been forced to consent to the termination of a pregnancy to save her life, and that she hadn't forgiven him. The deceit went so far that "PB Queen" Plato actually collected condolence messages. When the truth came out, TSE's Tory friends briefly turned against him - but he somehow turned the situation to his advantage by hinting that he'd been maliciously lied about by the left-wing poster, and that he had never in fact used the stories about his family as a delaying tactic. Unfortunately, I've seen the full set of emails that prove beyond a shadow of doubt that he did. This is the most damning one -

TSE (in response to the question 'Family OK?') : Not really.

My wife collapsed last weekend, and I had to give the Doctors permission to terminate the pregnancy to save my wife's life.

A decision my wife hasn't forgiven me for.

As someone privately pointed out at the time, the story was never remotely credible because no husband would be asked to give consent in those circumstances.

And this is the man who 'prominent pollsters' are happy to have as a chuckle chum? You're welcome to him, guys.

Trying to make sense of YouGov's latest idiocy (it isn't easy)

A little flurry of excitement tonight, because YouGov have released a table showing that a poll conducted between the 21st and 27th of January saw the anti-independence campaign's lead slump by 5% since the previous poll conducted between the 27th of November and the 2nd of December.

Yes 33% (+2)
No 52% (-3)

Just one snag, though - we previously knew nothing at all about any poll conducted between the 27th of November and the 2nd of December, nor any poll that contained the findings it supposedly showed.  We did, however, know about a YouGov poll that was conducted more recently than that (between the 6th and 9th of December) with much better results for Yes, but that one is missing from the table.

So what the hell is going on?  A possible clue is that the chart quotes the precise question posed to respondents, and to the unalloyed horror of anyone who cares about polling accuracy it contains the notoriously biased preamble designed (presumably by Peter Kellner) to coax people into reporting an anti-independence opinion.  Unless YouGov have been lying to us, that preamble was finally dispensed with for their last two published polls of 2013, predictably producing a dramatic improvement in the Yes position.  And yet we had plenty of anecdotal evidence that members of the YouGov panel were still being asked the referendum question with the preamble intact, which suggested that Kellner and co were continuing to use it for the No campaign's internal polls, or for unpublished 'testing' polls.  My best guess is that tonight's news indicates that the latter was the case, and that the newly-released table is supposed to include only those polls that used the biased preamble.  If that's true, the substantial swing to Yes suggested by the numbers above can be regarded as real, because any poll that used the biased preamble cannot be meaningfully compared to one that used a neutral question, and must instead only be compared to previous polls with an identical wording.  It would therefore also imply that the No lead is lower than at any time since the preamble first reared its ugly head in early 2012.

All the same, it's (to put it mildly) absolutely bloody outrageous that Kellner is still seeking to distort the media coverage of this campaign with quasi-push-polling, and indeed with poll numbers that are casually published without any apparent regard for the standard BPC rules on transparency and disclosure.  Unless we're allowed to see the datasets for this poll, I'd be inclined to say that academics and the media would be utterly wrong to regard it as being part of the 'true canon' of polling in this campaign.  The only reliable aspect is the very favourable trend for Yes, but the headline figures themselves are hopelessly tainted.

The other news from this poll is that the SNP have retaken the lead on the Holyrood regional list vote, having apparently slipped six points behind in the unpublished 'phantom' poll conducted in late November/early December.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Celtic Connections photos

Last night I finished off two weeks of immersion in Celtic Connections by going to the Young Traditional Musician of the Year final at the City Halls. As the host Mary Ann Kennedy reminded us about seventeen billion times, it's being televised on BBC Alba tonight, so I hope there aren't too many close-ups of the audience, because I wasn't exactly looking at my finest (I left the house in a bit of a hurry!). I was sitting next to someone who I think may have been the uncle of the winner, Robyn Stapleton. He certainly must have been a friend or relative of some sort, because there was something akin to a volcanic eruption when her name was read out at the end.

The highlight of the festival for me was also at the City Halls about ten days ago, when I went to see Patsy Reid and The Gloaming. Both acts were excellent, but it's Patsy Reid's performance that will linger long in my memory - she and her backing musicians produced some of the most gorgeous sounds you could ever wish to hear.

Last year I posted photos of all the winners of the Open Stage event, so I thought I might as well do the same this time. But first of all I must give pride of place to one of the non-winning acts, a band from the Highlands called The Cask, who were brave enough to perform a song explicitly calling for a Yes vote in the independence referendum. It can still be heard on catch-up HERE (albeit you have to scroll through to about 16 minutes) and the chorus went like this -

Say Yes!
For Alba's day
Say Yes!
For independence day
You have the power to make Alba shine...
Vote Yes.

They were very warmly received (definitely no booing!), in spite of the fact that the audience must have had mixed views on the subject. It was a powerful reminder of one of the natural advantages that the Yes campaign possess, which is that it's much easier to get a generous reaction when you're asking people to positively embrace an exciting new idea, rather than pouring scorn on it. Presumably if that song had been anti-independence, it would have gone something like this -

Say No
Or bad things may happen
Say No
We cannae dae it, cap'n!
You have the power to keep Cammo in power...
Vote No.

Probably not quite such a crowd-pleaser.

Anyway, now to the six winners, all of whom will receive a supporting act slot at next year's festival. They are Austen George, Ho Ro, The Chaplins, Griogair Morrison, Arthur Nicholson and the Mischa Macpherson Trio. Unfortunately I took these pictures from quite an acute angle, so I unavoidably chopped off some of the musicians, most notably transforming the Mischa Macpherson Trio into a duo.  And I'm sure you all know the drill with my photos by now - don't even bother clicking to enlarge, because it'll just make the atrocious picture quality even worse!

A word in my defence, by the way - none of the performers actually handed out Better Together leaflets at any point, so hopefully Kenny Farquharson won't consider me "creepy" for publishing these photos (and in non-pixelated form at that).



While I'm at it, I may as well post a few photos of memorable acts from the heats who didn't win. I must admit I had the first two of these (Watermelon Moon and The New Prohibition) down as nailed-on winners. Of course I'm not musically trained (leaving aside my ill-fated attempts at the age of 12 to learn to play the flute with the assistance of the tutor from hell), so when I get something wrong like that I always wonder if there were some shortcomings that my ear wasn't picking up, or if it really is just totally subjective and a different set of judges would have come up with an entirely different set of winners.

The third is Jennifer Andrew, who I didn't really expect to win, but who certainly made the hair stand up on the back of everyone's neck with her rendition of The Dark Island, which was about a thousand times more pleasing to the ear than the excruciatingly twee versions of the song that you'll find if you search for it on YouTube.

I believe the fourth and fifth ones are Malcolm Bushby & Chloe Merriott and Jacob & Jane.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Six Nations 2014 prediction

As ever, I was asked by a member of my family to fill in a Six Nations prediction form for a competition at her work. I forgot to post this earlier in the week, but as I got the first prediction partly wrong it hopefully won't be too implausible that this is genuinely what I put down!

Weekend One :

Wales to beat Italy by 20 or more
France to beat England by less than 10
Ireland to beat Scotland by 10-19

Weekend Two :

Wales to beat Ireland by less than 10
England to beat Scotland by 10-19
France to beat Italy by 20 or more

Weekend Three :

Wales to beat France by less than 10
Scotland to beat Italy by less than 10
England to beat Ireland by less than 10

Weekend Four :

Ireland to beat Italy by 20 or more
France to beat Scotland by 10-19
England to beat Wales by less than 10

Weekend Five :

England to beat Italy by 10-19
Wales to beat Scotland by 10-19
France to beat Ireland by less than 10


Wales - 4 Wins
France - 4 Wins
England - 4 Wins
Ireland - 2 Wins
Scotland - 1 Win
Italy - 0 Wins

More drama as TNS-BMRB poll suggests the pro-independence campaign have closed the gap for the FIFTH time in a row

There are two new referendum polls out tonight, one from a polling company that is a veteran of this campaign, and another from a pollster that has just entered the fray for the first time. Both provide further powerful evidence that the pro-independence camp are continuing to narrow the gap (although in the case of the new pollster that evidence has been somewhat masked by a barking mad weighting procedure that has already been castigated by no less a figure than Professor John Curtice). Let's start with the familiar pollster - TNS-BMRB are suggesting that the pro-independence vote is up 2% on the equivalent December poll, which also means that it is up a full 4% since late October.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 29% (+2)
No 42% (+1)

A net one-point decrease in the No lead may not look terribly significant, but the true drama lies in the relentless long-term trend in favour of independence over the last five TNS-BMRB polls. In the late September/early October poll the No lead dropped from 22 points to 19, in the late October poll it dropped from 19 points to 18, in late November it dropped from 18 points to 16, in December it dropped from 16 points to 14, and now it has fallen from 14 points to 13. So the No campaign's advantage (with a pollster that is traditionally one of the most favourable for them) has been slashed by 9% since the late summer - almost exactly in line with the 10% drop in the No lead suggested by last week's sensational ICM poll over roughly the same time-scale.

Although the number of undecideds in this poll has dropped back a bit from the previous record high level, TNS-BMRB are still showing a significantly higher percentage for "Don't Know" than any other pollster, almost certainly due to their practice of asking people how they will vote on the actual referendum date, rather than how they would hypothetically vote in a referendum taking place right now. That makes it harder to make much sense of the headline numbers - so, for greater clarity, here is the state of play suggested by this poll when Don't Knows are excluded from the calculation...

Yes 41% (+1)
No 59% (-1)

And for the benefit of innumerate London media folk such as Mr David Dimbleby, that is not a "2-1 majority against independence". In fact, it's somewhat less than a 3-2 majority.

The pollster making its debut in this campaign is Survation, which on its raw unweighted figures shows a position of Yes 43%, No 57% (with Don't Knows excluded).  That would be almost as good for the Yes campaign as the ICM poll, and can probably be taken as a further indication that the gap is narrowing significantly.  However, Survation have distorted those figures out of all recognition by adopting a discredited weighting method that no other pollster uses, and that was finally abandoned even by YouGov a few months ago.  Basically, respondents were asked how they voted in the 2010 UK general election, resulting in figures of SNP 42%, Labour 32%.  That of course bears no resemblance to the actual 2010 result of SNP 20%, Labour 42%.  But instead of coming to the common-sense conclusion that huge numbers of people were mixing up how they voted in 2010 with their vote in the 2011 Holyrood election that produced an SNP landslide (an established phenomenon), Survation have stupidly made the assumption that everyone remembered correctly, and have accordingly adjusted their figures on an industrial scale to bring them into line with the UK general election result.  The 240 people who reported that they voted SNP in 2010 (in reality they are much more likely to represent the 45% of the electorate who voted SNP in 2011) are downweighted so that their responses to the referendum question count as the responses of just 150 people - a ridiculously low 15% of the sample.  People who recalled that they voted Labour have had their responses upweighted to a similar extent, with a significant upweighting of Liberal Democrat voters also taking place.  After all that, the published headline figures should be regarded as almost meaningless, but for what it's worth (ie. nothing) here they are...

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 32%
No 52%

With Don't Knows excluded, it works out as...

Yes 38%
No 62%

It's impossible to know what the figures would be if a defensible weighting procedure had been used (most pollsters now weight by recalled 2011 Holyrood vote, although Ipsos-Mori ploughs its own furrow and doesn't weight by past vote at all).  However, it's virtually certain that the Yes vote would be significantly higher and the No vote would be significantly lower.  This is Professor Curtice's verdict -

"It looks highly likely that if Survation had followed the same practice as most other pollsters, the reported Yes vote in this poll would have been over 40% – just as it was in last weekend's ICM poll and is in this weekend's TNS-BMRB poll."

A vivid illustration of just how extreme the scaling down of SNP voters is in this poll is provided by the Holyrood and Westminster voting intention questions. On the Holyrood vote, the unweighted figures show the SNP on 45%, Labour on 29%, the Conservatives on 13%, and the Liberal Democrats on 6%. But the adjusted figures used for publication show a radically different picture (albeit one that will still give the SNP enormous heart in mid-term) -

Scottish Parliament constituency voting intention :

SNP 38%
Labour 36%
Conservatives 12%
Liberal Democrats 9%

On the Westminster vote, the unweighted figures show the SNP in the lead on 40%, Labour on 31%, the Conservatives on 15% and the Liberal Democrats on 9%. But (hey presto!) the adjusted figures for publication reverse the position and show Labour in the lead -

Westminster voting intention :

Labour 38%
SNP 30%
Conservatives 16%
Liberal Democrats 10%

Regardless of whether the adjusted or unadjusted figures are more accurate on that count (and you can probably guess my own view), those are numbers that should be scaring Labour to the core.

The poll is arguably most useful in showing the potential impact on the referendum result of a Tory surge in the UK-wide polls (the last week has seen conflicting evidence on whether that is already happening). When voters are asked to assume that the Tories will win a majority in the next general election, the No lead reduces by 6%. When they are asked to assume that the Tories will win a majority and then go on to remain in power for the next fifteen years, the No lead slumps by a full 11% - which for all we know might even be enough to put Yes ahead under the correct weighting.

There is also further proof (and we've now had so much evidence of this sort that it can't really be doubted) that lower-income voters are breaking for Yes. Even on the adjusted Survation figures, all three of the lowest income brackets - covering anyone living in a household with combined earnings and benefits of less than £20,000 - have Yes in the lead. The outright lowest income category gives Yes the nod by a whopping 2-1 margin.

* * *


It may seem utterly bizarre that such strong evidence of a narrowing gap coincides with a Poll of Polls update showing a slight increase in the No lead (finally bringing to an end a run of five successive updates showing the lead decreasing), but it's just a freakish occurrence brought about by the introduction of a seventh pollster into the sample. I was going to say that not too much should be read into it, but in fact I'd put it even more strongly than that - it's literally meaningless. If Survation had weighted their data correctly, we'd be looking yet again at an improved position for the pro-independence campaign on all three averages. Even as it is, the Yes vote has increased fractionally on the headline average.

MEAN AVERAGE (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 33.9% (+0.1)
No 48.7% (+0.7)

MEAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 41.0% (-0.3)
No 59.0% (+0.3)

MEDIAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 40.8% (-0.1)
No 59.2% (+0.1)

(The Poll of Polls is calculated as a rolling average of the most recent poll from each of the pollsters that have been active in the referendum campaign, and that adhere to British Polling Council rules. Whenever a new poll is published, it replaces the previous poll by the same company in the sample. That used to mean a sample of six polls, but with the introduction of Survation it's gone up to seven.)

Regular readers will know that the Yes vote on the median average has typically lagged a bit behind the mean average, but the two figures have now virtually converged. It's hard to know which measure is likely to be more accurate - the case for looking at the median is that it isn't affected by extreme outlying figures in either direction, but on the other hand it's always possible that an outlier might be right, in which case the mean average could be slightly closer to the truth. For the time being, we no longer have to worry about that conundrum.

On the headline figures, the Yes campaign now require a 7.4% swing to draw level.

* * *

UPDATE : Some good news - Damian Lyons-Lowe of Survation has left a comment on Professor Curtice's blog indicating that in future his company won't be weighting by recalled Westminster vote, in order to make comparisons with other polls more meaningful.

On a similar theme, I was contacted this morning by Roger Scully, Professor of Political Science at Cardiff University and author of the Elections in Wales blog. Roger felt that I shouldn't have included Survation in the Poll of Polls update, because it isn't comparing like with like, ie. it makes the trend figures less meaningful. Instinctively I want to agree, not least because if I'd only included the TNS-BMRB figures in this update it would have produced a further swing to Yes across all three averages, which is likely to reflect the reality of what is actually going on. But I just don't see how that approach will work in future - it's highly likely that other BPC-affiliated pollsters will conduct their first referendum polls between now and September (Populus and ComRes are the most probable candidates), each potentially bringing a different methodology to the table, and if I ignore all of them it will leave us with a very partial picture.