Saturday, April 5, 2014

Panic stations for anti-independence campaign as Panelbase poll confirms swing to Yes

When a polling organisation produces a poll showing something out of the ordinary, as Panelbase did last month by showing the No campaign ahead by just 53% to 47%, the most important question is whether the next poll will confirm the findings, or show that normal service has been resumed.  To the horror of Mr McDougall's merry mob, the answer in this case is the former.  Here are tonight's numbers with Don't Knows excluded -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 47% (n/c)
No 53% (n/c)

*  *  *

1:05am : RevStu has now released some more details of the poll on Wings Over Scotland.  The headline numbers are as follows -

Yes 41% (+1)
No 46% (+1)

The percentage changes above assume that the headline numbers are directly comparable with last month's from Newsnet Scotland.  However, I do have a slight question mark in my mind over that, because in the last Wings poll RevStu headlined the voting intention figures from the whole sample, as opposed to the figures filtered by likelihood to vote (which are the ones that Panelbase normally go with).  I'm not quite sure what the position is this time, and it also remains to be seen which preamble was used.  Hopefully Panelbase will have stuck with their new, more neutral preamble, but if by any chance they've gone back to the old one, the last comparable Panelbase poll would in fact be the one in the Sunday Times that showed No ahead by a full 12%.

In one sense, though, it makes no difference which numbers are being headlined, because either way it's the highest Yes vote that Panelbase or any other pollster have shown since the famous poll commissioned last August by the SNP that had Yes in an outright lead.  If we exclude the August poll due to the methodological criticisms that were made of it, then tonight sees Yes reach its highest level of support in any poll conducted by any polling organisation at any point in the campaign so far.  That's how big this moment is.  It's also a finding that is very much in line with the most recent polls from ICM, Survation and YouGov, each of which showed the Yes vote at a record-breaking level for the pollster in question.

The No lead remains on 5% for a second Panelbase poll in a row, meaning that it is still significantly below the firm's traditional range of 8-13% (and that normal range would probably be a touch higher if you factor in the methodological change that was made towards the end of last year).  It's highly unlikely that there have been two rogue polls in succession, so we can now dispense with any caveats and say with complete confidence that Panelbase have belatedly joined the polling consensus showing a drop in the No lead.

A crucial detail that has yet to be revealed (although it may be in the paywall-protected Sunday Times piece) is the fieldwork dates.  If those dates even partly precede the leak in the Guardian confirming that Osborne's speech on the currency was a bluff, then that would be highly significant, for the simple reason that most respondents to online polls answer the questions as soon as the email invitation is sent out.  In other words, there would be a very plausible scenario you could paint of the Yes vote rising even further since this poll was conducted.  But we'll have to wait and see - obviously that wouldn't apply if the fieldwork took place entirely after the Guardian story broke.

* * *


I seem to have been saying this rather a lot recently, but the Yes vote has just risen to yet another new high watermark on the headline average of this blog's Poll of Polls. And on the mean average with Don't Knows excluded, the Yes vote remains at the high watermark of 42.5% it reached in the last update.

MEAN AVERAGE (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 35.7% (+0.1)
No 48.3% (+0.2)

MEAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 42.5% (n/c)
No 57.5% (n/c)

MEDIAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 42.0% (n/c)
No 58.0% (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 - YouGov, TNS-BMRB, Angus Reid, 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.)

Here are the updated long-term trend figures -

The No campaign's lead in the Poll of Polls headline figures :

Sep 2013 - 20.2%
Sep 2013 - 20.0%
Sep 2013 - 18.4%
Oct 2013 - 17.9%
Oct 2013 - 17.5%
Oct 2013 - 17.4%
Nov 2013 - 17.5%
Dec 2013 - 17.1%
Dec 2013 - 16.3%
Dec 2013 - 16.2%
Dec 2013 - 15.8%
Jan 2014 - 14.2%
Jan 2014 - 14.8%
Feb 2014 - 14.8%
Feb 2014 - 14.7%
Feb 2014 - 15.1%
Feb 2014 - 13.6%
Feb 2014 - 14.0%
Mar 2014 - 14.0%
Mar 2014 - 14.3%
Mar 2014 - 14.3%
Mar 2014 - 13.6%
Mar 2014 - 12.9%
Mar 2014 - 13.0%
Mar 2014 - 12.5%
Apr 2014 - 12.6%

In case you're wondering, the apparent 0.1% increase in the No lead in this update isn't real - it's just a quirk of the rounding.

As Panelbase are an online pollster, it's also time for an update in the averages for the four online pollsters that have reported so far this year (the other three are YouGov, ICM and Survation).

MEAN AVERAGE OF ONLINE POLLSTERS (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 39.0% (+0.2)
No 48.0% (+0.2)


Yes 44.8% (n/c)
No 55.2% (n/c)


Yes 45.4% (n/c)
No 54.6% (n/c)

Thoughts of Margo, plus a graph

I always feel at moments like this that I should be paying my own personal tribute, but there's nothing I could say about Margo MacDonald that hasn't already been said a hundred times better by others. I think all of us who have supported independence throughout our adult lives know exactly how each other feel tonight. And as long-term readers can probably imagine, I also thought that Margo was a tremendous force for good on the subject of prostitution laws and regulations - or at the very least a force for pragmatic common sense, which amounts to the same thing when a powerful and ideologically-driven lobby is threatening to do a great deal of harm.

*  *  *

RevStu has revealed that he has a new referendum poll up his sleeve for the coming weekend, presumably from Panelbase. As far as I'm aware, there have been no hints yet about whether the results are good, bad or indifferent. I know a lot of people will be hoping for (or even expecting) more progress for Yes after the recent crisis in the anti-independence ranks. However, we don't know when the fieldwork took place, and if memory serves me right, I actually saw someone mention on Twitter that they'd just completed a Panelbase referendum poll the day before the now-legendary leak to the Guardian was revealed. In any case, because the recent poll commissioned by Newsnet Scotland marked the first time in months that the No lead reported by Panelbase had fallen below the firm's normal range, it's worth preparing ourselves for the possibility that the Yes vote in that poll was exaggerated a touch by normal sampling variation, and that the new poll will show some kind of modest reversion to the mean. If that happens, it won't of course mean that the No lead has risen in the real world, although doubtless McDougall and co would try to spin it that way!

I'll also be looking out to see if Panelbase have stuck with their new and much more neutral preamble for a third poll in a row.

While we wait, I'd better get this complex and rather wonderful graphic posted before it's out of date. It was sent to me earlier in the week by Scott Hamilton, and it's based (as I understand it) on an extrapolation of the trend from a rolling average of the last eight polls. That differs significantly from the method I use for this blog's Poll of Polls, which is instead based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each firm, regardless of when it was carried out. In my view, that method produces much more meaningful trend figures in a campaign that's been distinguished by pollsters disagreeing with each other wildly due to different methodologies. To take an extreme example, suppose eight polls had been published in February, and they had all been conducted by Yes-friendly pollsters such as ICM and Survation. And then suppose eight polls had been published in March, all conducted by No-friendly pollsters such an Ipsos-Mori and YouGov. A comparison between the crude averages of the figures for each of the two months would have suggested an increase in the No lead, even though in all likelihood the complete opposite had happened!

However, there are pros and cons in both methods, and it's worth pointing out that Professor Curtice uses an approach similar to Scott's.

(Click to enlarge.)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Concerns raised over Ipsos-Mori's methodology

An anonymous poster left this rather troubling comment on last night's post about polling accuracy -

"James this is an excellent article and has prompted me to share with you my own personal experience.

I had never been polled before but in September I was contacted by Ipsos Mori. On paper I should be a No voter, retired professional, own my house, good company pension etc.

After being asked if I would take part in the poll, I was then asked if they could contact me on a regular basis as they wanted to follow trends.

After two or three very leading questions, one of which started "since Scotland would not be admitted to the EU", I was then asked "if the referendum was tomorrow how would you vote" answer Yes. "How likely are you to vote" answer definitely.

After a few other questions the interviewer thanked me for my time then finished the call.

I have never heard back from Ipsos Mori, I wonder why?"

Now, to be fair, it's possible that this was an unpublished internal poll for the No campaign or for one of the anti-independence parties. If so, there's no problem at all - if Better Together are daft enough to use leading questions to convince themselves that they're doing better than they really are, then by all means let them get on with it. But there was in fact a published Ipsos-Mori referendum poll that was conducted between the 9th and 15th of September last year. There was no suggestion at the time that any questions (let alone leading questions) were asked before the main referendum question, and if there had been it would have completely transformed our perception of the results - look at the way Professor John Curtice castigated the Panelbase poll just one month earlier that had asked the referendum question third.

Because this was a telephone poll, one theoretical possibility is that one or more rogue interviewers were asking the questions in the wrong sequence, and thus potentially distorting the results. It's not entirely paranoid of us to raise these doubts, because as things stand Ipsos-Mori are the extreme outliers in this campaign, and that must be happening for a reason (or for a variety of reasons). The other slightly mysterious thing about them is that they did actually produce one poll that was very good for the Yes side, way back in early 2012. That was followed by a huge slump for Yes over the course of the rest of the year, from which there hasn't really been a proper recovery in any subsequent Ipsos-Mori poll. No other pollster has replicated that trend. The only one that has even come close is TNS-BMRB, but unlike Ipsos-Mori they've shown Yes making a very telling recovery from the low point of the initial slump.

It's very difficult to explain this divergence from the general pattern, given that as far as we know Ipsos-Mori haven't altered their methodology since that early 2012 poll. So if anyone else has been interviewed by them, feel free to let us know your own experience. Were you contacted on your landline phone, or on your mobile? Was the referendum question asked first? If not, could the earlier questions be construed as in any way leading? Was there a preamble to the referendum question, and if so, what was it?

UPDATE : I've been contacted by someone else who was interviewed by Ipsos-Mori more recently. He asked to be anonymised, so I've excluded his postcode and a few other details that might conceivably be personally identifying. In some ways it's quite a similar account to the one above, but crucially there's no indication this time of any leading questions being asked prior to the referendum question. There's still no sign of anyone having been contacted by Ipsos-Mori on their mobile phone. That's important, because if they aren't calling mobiles it's hard to see how they can be confident that their sampling isn't significantly skewed.

"Firstly, thank you for your excellent blog, which has helped me to come to a dim appreciation of some of the complexities of opinion polls. I'm stimulated to contact you as a result of reading your post this morning, with details of a reader who contacted you with details of his experience with IPSOS-MORI.

I have to say that I can echo that experience. I was contacted by them by telephone (my landline) earlier this year - I would guess around 6 to 8 weeks ago, but add a significant plus or minus on either side of that. I was asked a similar set of question (no leading comments re the EU, but was asked my voting intention, which is Yes, and my likelihood of voting, which is certain). The final question which I was asked related to age - when I said that I was **, I was told that their quota...was filled, and that they could go no further with questions. I was asked if I would be happy to be contacted for future polls, and answered yes, but no further contact has been made to date.

Interestingly, I fall into the same demographic as your other correspondent...I live in a fairly affluent area...and guess I should be a right of centre No voter (neither of which tags describes me!). I don't know if these two anecdotal reports have any significance, but it seemed worth giving you this information."

If you scroll down to the comments section, you can also find an interesting comment from an ex-Mori interviewer.

* * *

I did actually manage to make it through the whole of Clegg v Farage this time, but as someone with pro-European views it was a profoundly depressing experience to have as my supposed "champion" a politician as unappealing and insufferably condescending as Nick Clegg. I'll be honest - he was so dreadful that it got to the point where I was more or less cheering on Farage. In retrospect, it's hard to understand why the public didn't see straight through Clegg in the 2010 leaders' debates, because his style hasn't changed one iota - it must have been a very weird kind of novelty value.

Instead of treating us like adult human beings and saying "that's because of the Lisbon Treaty", he'll say "that's because of something called the Lisbon Treaty, which is...", before proceeding with a patient explanation in words of no more than one syllable for his very favourite little girl Hannah, who asked such a clever question. In fact, I almost expected him to say : "That's a really important question, Hannah, and I'm going to answer it for you with what we call 'words'. Those are really cool things that we use to make up a sentence..."

You won't be surprised to hear that the bit that made the most steam come out of my ears was when Clegg abused the platform he'd been given by embarking on an anti-independence rant. Dimbleby did eventually close down the topic, but he waited far, far too long - it felt like a good thirty seconds went by. And even then, the way he did it was totally unsatisfactory - he seemed to imply he was only shutting Clegg up because independence was a rather tiresome subject. Instead, he should have said this -

"Nick, stop. This isn't on. You know perfectly well that there is no representative here from the pro-independence campaign to put the alternative point of view. The reason they aren't here is that they weren't invited. The reason they weren't invited is that independence isn't on the agenda for discussion tonight. So it's inappropriate for you to raise it, and I'd ask you not to do it again."

The point being of course that Clegg knew full well that he was chancing his arm, and if other anti-independence politicians are to be deterred from doing the same on network TV they need to know they'll be clearly 'punished' by having their transgression flagged up for viewers. A moderator half-heartedly changing the subject after the damage has already been done just isn't good enough.

Interestingly, the BBC's own guidelines call on presenters to effectively slap down politicians who try to slip in a sly anti-independence dig in interviews related to other topics. Those guidelines won't officially come into force until late May, but Dimbleby's performance tonight doesn't fill me with confidence that they'll ever be properly implemented.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How much credibility do the polls have?

Over the last couple of days, I've been contacted by three different people asking for my thoughts on this blogpost from Auld Acquaintance, which offers a number of possible reasons for believing that the polls may be understating the true strength of the Yes vote. So I thought it would probably be simpler just to give my reaction in a new post.

First of all, though, a few general observations about where we currently stand. As regular readers know, I get a bit exasperated with the 'Flat Earther' tendency among some Yes supporters in their attitudes to the polls. How often do we hear "well I never look at the polls, they're all rubbish anyway" or "the only poll that matters is on the 18th of September" or "OK, they asked 1000 people but what about the other 4 million?" It really doesn't do any of us any good to stick our heads in the sand like that and pretend that the basic principles of opinion polling haven't been comprehensively tested and verified over a period of several decades. If you interview a genuinely representative sample of 1000 people and weight the results absolutely perfectly, then on 95 occasions out of 100 you'll get a result that is accurate to within a margin of error of 3%. That is a fact.

But that knowledge certainly doesn't mean that we should go to the other extreme and treat opinion polling as some kind of infallible God. The reason we should always approach polls with a critical eye is that they usually fall at least slightly short of the absolute methodological perfection that I've just described, meaning that on a substantial minority of occasions they'll be outside the standard margin of error. OK, it's very rare in western democracies for election results to vary dramatically from the final polls, but moderate divergences are much more common. The classic example in the UK was the 1992 general election, when an average of the final polls had Labour 1% in the lead, but the Tories ended up winning by 7%. About half of that divergence was caused by genuine methodological errors in the polls (the remainder was a late swing in opinion).

So probably the best attitude to take to any individual poll is : "This is likely to be vaguely in the right ball park, but it also has an entirely indeterminate 'real world' margin of error, because there's no way of knowing for certain how many methodological mistakes are being made, or how great the impact of those blunders are."

Furthermore, we're in a highly unusual position in this particular referendum campaign, because we already know for a fact that some of the polls are getting it wrong by a significant margin. The reason we know that is the huge and sustained divergence between the numbers being produced by different polling organisations. ICM, Survation and Panelbase are currently showing a Yes vote of 45-47% after Don't Knows are excluded, YouGov and TNS-BMRB are showing a Yes vote of 40-42%, and the extreme outliers Ipsos-Mori are showing a Yes vote of just 36%. There is simply no way of reconciling those figures, which means that one of two things must be true - either a) some of the polls are wrong to a substantial degree, or b) all of the polls are wrong to a substantial degree. The first possibility is obviously the more probable of the two, but the second can't be discounted - leaving open a small outside chance that Yes may already be in the lead (or indeed that No have a bigger lead than even Ipsos-Mori are reporting). To understand why, we have to look at the underlying reason for the highly unusual failure of the different pollsters to broadly agree with each other.

The methodology for standard voting intention polls is generally perfected by using the most recent election result as a baseline. If a pollster was out by 2% in that election, they'll ponder the reasons for that small error, and identify the tweaks they could have made that would have produced a totally accurate result. Implementing those tweaks in future polls significantly reduces the likelihood of reporting misleading numbers. But the problem is that the pollsters aren't actually able to go through that process for the referendum, because there is no baseline to work from. At best, we have the devolution referendum of 1997, but that took place in a different world - most of the present-day polling organisations weren't even around back then. So instead they've had to rely on hunches about which methodology will prove most accurate, and to some extent they've all been guessing differently. The chances are that at least one of them has guessed right, but it's just conceivable that none of them have. That's why there's a slightly greater risk of all the polls being substantially wrong in this case than there would be in a regular election. The lazy London-centric assumptions that have informed some of the guesswork don't help either, although that's become slightly less of a problem as time has gone on.

There's also another scenario in which Yes could be in a slight lead without that showing up in any of the polls, and it's one that has nothing really to do with methodological 'errors' as such. If supporters of independence are significantly less likely to reveal their true intentions to pollsters than opponents of independence are, then the Yes vote would be under-reported across the board. Intuitively that seems like a genuine possibility, but nobody really knows if it's going on. Pollsters can't realistically be expected to adjust their methodology to take account of a 'Shy Yes Syndrome' that hasn't yet been conclusively proved to even exist. And in any case, respondents would presumably be less shy in front of a computer screen than they would be when talking to a live interviewer, so the fact that four of the six active pollsters conduct their fieldwork online ought to be counteracting most of the reticence.

In a nutshell, then, although it's theoretically possible that Yes are already in the lead, there are no solid grounds that I know of for assuming that to be the case. The more plausible best-case scenario is that ICM, Panelbase and Survation are right, and that Yes are just a few percentage points behind with a bit of momentum in their favour. With five-and-a-half months still to go, that would be a pretty decent position to be in.

Unfortunately, we also have to consider the worst-case scenario, which is that Ipsos-Mori are right and everyone else is wrong. There's no getting away from it - the fact that the one and only telephone pollster in this campaign are producing such lowly figures for Yes is a cause for concern. It may mean that if telephone polling was the norm rather than the exception, the average No lead would be much higher than it currently is. But we simply don't know whether the telephone element of Ipsos-Mori's methodology is what's causing the difference, or whether it's something else entirely (such as the failure to weight by recalled 2011 vote). It's also perfectly possible that Ipsos-Mori are getting it wrong precisely because they are polling by telephone. It may no longer be feasible to reach a fully representative sample of the Scottish population in the way they are attempting. (For example : are they phoning landlines only? No-one seems to know.)

I was reading an interesting article by ICM's Martin Boon recently, about the tendency for UKIP to do much better in online polling than in telephone polling. He didn't offer any definitive answers about which was more likely to be accurate, but based on past experience he did raise the intriguing possibility that the results of different types of polls would "magically converge" when polling day came into view. Could that happen in the independence referendum as well? If so, it would suggest that all of the pollsters are telling us a "form of the truth" in a mysterious way that we don't fully understand, and that all of them are equally important. I don't really believe that, though - my guess is that Panelbase and Ipsos-Mori will still be miles apart in September, meaning that at least one of the two will be proved hopelessly wrong. If one of them is showing a Yes lead and the other is showing a No lead, we really will be in for a terrifying few hours.

But perhaps campaigners' experiences on the ground can provide clues about which pollster is more likely to be correct? To return to the 1992 example, Neil Kinnock famously suspected in advance that he was going to lose, and that foresight didn't come from private polling - it was from looking people in the eye on the campaign trail. So from that point of view, the fact that Yes canvassers seem to be so buoyant at present is certainly a cause for encouragement, but it's scarcely definitive.

OK, let's turn now to the specific points that Auld Acquaintance made in his blogpost -

"Why do I think the polls are wrong too?

The evidence is out there, it is increasingly clear that Better Together cannot get the numbers of people supporting them on the ground, the few poor souls they do get cast very lonely figures on their stalls and they cannot give away their wares, the public do not want to know. Yes stalls are full of support, and people queue up to chat, ignoring Better Together.

People in their droves across the country turn up for Yes events, a mere handful turn up for Better Together."

None of these factors strike me as being proof of anything at all. It may simply be that Yes voters are far more enthused, and that No voters just don't care about the referendum as much (or at least not yet). And perhaps people have more questions for the Yes side than for the No side.

"There are debates regularly taking place in schools, universities, village halls and consistently YES wins, by larger and larger margins, when was the last time you heard of NO winning one?"

Again, the attendees at debates are self-selecting, and if Yes voters are more excited by the referendum you'd expect a skew towards them. What is genuinely encouraging is the swing to Yes that often occurs between the 'before' and 'after' straw polls at the debates. That could be a portent of great things to come when the currently disinterested section of the population is exposed to saturation TV coverage of the referendum in August and September. But it isn't in itself a sound reason for thinking that the polls are wrong right now.

"Yes campaigners and Radical Independence have been doing their own polling, and the results are nearly all positive in the favour of YES."

I presume that simply refers to canvassing, and if so it's a positive sign, but one that has to be treated with extreme caution, because canvassers are sometimes told what they want to hear. At the Cowdenbeath by-election, the SNP claimed that they had found 41% of voters were planning to vote Yes, and 36% were planning to vote No. But Labour claimed that their canvassers had come up with numbers that bore no resemblance to that, with No at around 60% and Yes in the mid-teens. Are Labour lying to us? Or were people lying to Labour because they were embarrassed to tell their traditional party that they took a different view on independence? My gut feeling is that the SNP figures are at least somewhat closer to the truth, but it must be obvious that there's huge scope for uncertainty here.

"The polling companies by taking equal numbers from each of the class bands have this wrong.

If you take the AB’s as being NO, and the DE’s as being YES, on first sight that would seem a fair balance, would you not?

You would be wrong, because in Scottish society the actual numbers of people in class AB, are dwarfed by the numbers of people in classes DE."

The problem with this claim is that I just can't see any evidence that the polling companies are taking equal numbers from each class band. For example, the last YouGov poll had 354 respondents from the DE category after weighting, compared to just 209 from the AB category. We're not dealing with complete imbeciles here - you can be sure that the pollsters will be at least attempting to interview a representative sample of the Scottish population, based on specifically Scottish data from the census and other sources. That doesn't mean that they won't sometimes make mistakes - as I've mentioned several times, Panelbase had to change their methodology a few months ago because they were under-representing older voters. But that particular mistake was actually flattering the Yes campaign.

So all in all I think there's probably a fair bit of wishful thinking at play in Auld Acquaintance's post. It's true that I've been just as critical of the polls over the last couple of years, but that's been for completely different reasons, mainly relating to lack of transparency, biased preambles, and weighting by recalled vote from 2010 rather than 2011. Most but not all of those issues have now been resolved. I'm still troubled by Ipsos-Mori's extreme secrecy, by YouGov's bizarre practice of splitting 2011 SNP voters into two categories and weighting them separately, by TNS-BMRB's apparent presumption of a 100% turnout, and by the possibility that Panelbase may yet revert to their subtly biased preamble in future polls.

Whether we think the polls are right or wrong, though, one thing there isn't any doubt over is the trend. Just lately that's proved to be a relentlessly good news story for Yes.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Brit Nat Tomkins isn't quite the king of the castle

Not for the first time, Professor Adam Tomkins took part in a discussion on Newsnight Scotland last night without having his hard-line anti-independence views sufficiently flagged up by the presenter. (He was described as an "adviser" to Better Together, but really it should have been "anti-independence lawyer", or more realistically "member of the No campaign".) In a characteristically ill-mannered and pompous display, Tomkins evidently thought he was comprehensively wiping the floor with uppity Yes-supporting non-lawyer Andy Myles, and at least one journalist on Twitter appeared to agree with that verdict. But I suspect he significantly over-reached himself at one point.

"And what those negotiations will be about is the distribution, the equitable apportionment as we lawyers call it {pause for self-satisfied micro-smirk}, of the United Kingdom's assets and liabilities. But not the United Kingdom's institutions. The UK would have no greater share of Edinburgh Castle than an independent Scotland would have of the Westminster Parliament or of the Bank of England."

Now wait just a cotton-pickin' minute here. As far as I can see, the sole basis on which an independent Scotland would have a greater claim than the rest of the UK to the state-owned Edinburgh Castle is the building's geographical location. That certainly seems to be the 'common sense' logic that Tomkins was appealing to. Therefore, the only conclusion it is possible to draw is that he was implying that the state-owned Bank of England would exclusively become an institution of the continuing United Kingdom due to the simple fact that it is located in England rather than Scotland. But there is nothing inevitable about a key institution of the state being physically located outside any specific geographical part of that state - and if there is something inevitable about it in the imperially-organised United Kingdom, that's something Tomkins and his ilk ought to be reflecting on at considerable length.

So let's imagine for a moment that we live in a parallel universe where the UK's central bank is located in Scotland rather than London. If the Edinburgh Castle analogy holds true, that means Scotland would inherit both the bank and the currency after independence, and the rest of the UK would (absurdly) be completely frozen out in spite of its supposedly all-important status as the successor state.

And there really is no point in whinging about this surprise development - Adam Tomkins has spoken. THAT'S THE LAW, don't-cha-know.

With that, he devoured the entire logic of his own argument without even noticing.

Celebrity 'love-bombing' campaign gets serious as Better Together unveils its latest recruit : a boom microphone operator who worked on 1980s soap Howards' Way

Many thanks to occasional commenter Cordon Blah for sending me this utterly jaw-dropping article from the Southampton-based Southern Daily Echo. From the outset of reading it I was already giggling at the thought of a minor actor from a 1980s soap "intervening" in the referendum, but I well and truly lost my composure when I got to the bit about the boom microphone operator.

Even back in the eighties, as a star of hit BBC soap Howards' Way, Henry Gradwell wasn't accustomed to the limelight. His character Trevor Beaston was foreman of the fictional Mermaid Boatyard, and tended only to pop up a few times in each episode to report hitches in boat repairs.

But a quarter of a century after the show sailed off into the sunset for the last time, Gradwell has decided to take centre-stage - to join the fight against Scottish separation.

"I was horrified when I heard about what was going on up there," the veteran actor explains. "At first I thought it couldn't possibly be serious, and then I realised, you know what, this could be serious, and all of us who have some kind of following up in those parts have a duty to do something, however uncomfortable it may be to stick our heads above the parapet, so to speak."

So just how much of a following does Henry actually have in Scotland? He smiles as he recalls a game he used to play in his eighties heyday. "Because I maybe wasn't quite as well known as some of the other actors, I liked to prove to my family that people did recognise me, even though they thought they didn't, so to speak. So if I ever caught someone looking at me with even the slightest flicker of recognition, I would put on my best Trevor Beaston voice and say something like, 'I don't like these new-fangled plastic boats any more than you do, Jack, but that's the way of the world, I suppose.' And 90% of the time they would instantly know who I was and shout back, 'but it's not the way of the Mermaid Yard!' That was one of the catchphrases from the show. It was always such a hoot! I never got the chance to try that in Scotland, but I'm sure it would have worked there as well. The show was phenomenally popular everywhere."

In order to harness the cult of Howards' Way for the campaign to save the union, Gradwell has helped set up "Tarrant Says No", named after the soap's fictional setting. He attended the group's launch on Sunday in the iconic Jolly Sailor pub, where he was joined by Portsmouth couple Pam and Jeff Wheatley, who appeared as background extras in several episodes of Series 3, and Peter Sootham, who operated a boom microphone during the filming of almost every episode of the show.

"Obviously we'd have liked to have some of the bigger stars here with us today," Gradwell admits. "But this is a fantastic start, and I'm hopeful that others will join us soon. I can understand why people are wary of making their views known, though. Look at what happened to Simon Cowell - he begs Scotland to remain part of a big happy family, and ten seconds later he gets called orange on Twitter. It's disgraceful."

Intrigued as to whether this relatively C-list grouping should be considered an official part of the anti-independence campaign, the Southern Daily Echo contacted the headquarters of "Better Together" in Edinburgh. A spokeswoman was non-committal about the exact status of Tarrant Says No, but claimed that the group's emergence was a classic example of the spontaneous desire of celebrities from throughout the British Isles to declare their love for a strong Scotland within a strong United Kingdom. When asked what the most unusual offer of support had been so far, she laughed, and admitted that it would be hard to beat the psychic 'horse medium' who offered the services of Shergar. "But we turned him down," she hastily added. Was that because it would have turned the campaign into a laughing-stock? "Well, only partly. I mean, we've used Jimmy Krankie and Kermit the Frog, so obviously we're open to all offers. But Shergar was under the influence of the IRA for a very, very long time, and there was just no way of being sure what would happen if we put him in front of a camera."

So in the absence of long-lost racehorses, it's left to the foreman of the Mermaid Yard to speak up for the country he loves. What does Henry think Trevor Beaston would say to Scottish separatist chief Alex Salmond, given half a chance?

"I think he'd say, you know what, this divorce malarkey may well be the way of the world. But it's sure as hell not the way of the Mermaid Yard."

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Why did Alistair Carmichael tell a direct lie about the polls on today's Sunday Politics?

I'd heard that Alistair Carmichael made a questionable comment about the recent TNS-BMRB poll on today's edition of the Sunday Politics, but until I watched the interview on iplayer a few minutes ago I didn't realise that the comment contained a flat-out untruth -

"Yes, there was a couple of polls last week that said that the gap was narrowing a bit, but in fact the most recent poll of all, the poll on Wednesday from TNS...showed that only 28% of people in Scotland were prepared to say that they were voting Yes, as opposed to the 42% who were on our side of the argument."

OK, here are the facts -

1) The TNS poll was published on Tuesday, not Wednesday.

2) The fieldwork for the TNS poll entirely predated two of the four recent polls that showed the gap narrowing, and partially predated the other two.

3)  Even the publication of the TNS poll preceded the publication of Wednesday's YouGov poll by 24 hours.

So I'm afraid there is no get-out clause for Carmichael here - it is simply not possible for him to truthfully claim that the TNS poll is "the most recent one of all".  By any definition, the most recent poll that we know of at present is the landmark YouGov poll that showed the Yes vote rising from 40% to 42%.

Just a quick warning

If you happen to see any offensive anti-English remarks in the comments section of this blog (or any other pro-independence blog) over the coming days, the chances are that they come from our new resident troll MartyP. He's an Englishman who indulged in some "reverse astroturfing" yesterday on both of the previous threads, in an attempt to "prove" his claim that the SNP is blighted by Anglophobia. When challenged, he indignantly denied leaving the bogus comments, but I've since checked my stats and I'm 99.99% certain that he was responsible for them - a user at his IP address clicked the comments link at exactly the right moments on each and every occasion.

You can read the exchange HERE.