Mr George Eaton's recent musings on Scottish opinion polling are an excellent example of how certain journalists, through either laziness or malice, constantly misrepresent polls to favour their own political agenda. The first YouGov poll on independence to be conducted after the EU referendum showed a small increase in the Yes vote, but according to our George, it actually showed a "fall". How so? Well, presumably he was comparing apples with oranges, and arguing that the Panelbase and Survation polls in the early summer had shown a temporary surge for Yes, which had then receded. But there wasn't the slightest shred of proof for that. It could just as easily have been that the different YouGov methodology had failed to pick up the mini-surge for Yes detected by Panelbase and Survation. For the same reason, the TNS and Ipsos-Mori polls that followed, and that put Yes support just below 50%, did not provide definitive proof of a receding surge. It was certainly plausible that the shock of the EU referendum result had led some people to briefly switch to Yes, before switching back when the complacency of the 'phony Brexit'/'Team GB' period set in. But a plausible theory is not the same thing as evidence. We needed a follow-up Panelbase or Survation poll before we could say anything with confidence, and that arrived earlier this week in the shape of an online poll from Survation.
Should Scotland be an independent country?
That represents a 6% swing back to No since the extraordinary Survation online poll in early summer, and takes us back to the sort of numbers that have been typical over the last couple of years. So it does appear that the theory of a temporary Yes boost in late June was probably correct, which means that if YouGov, TNS or Ipsos-Mori polls had been conducted at that time, they might well have shown an outright Yes lead.
Crucially, though, while it's true that the early summer mini-surge has been reversed, it's absolutely NOT the case that the gains Yes have made since the 2014 independence referendum have been lost. Survation have consistently shown Yes above 45% since the indyref, and continue to do so in this poll. We can be very confident that the increase is real, because Survation weight by recalled indyref vote, which in this case has had a very dramatic effect - 416 No voters in the raw sample have been upweighted to count as 476. That means that the superficial similarity to the high 40s Yes figures that Survation generally reported before the indyref is totally misleading - there has been a significant improvement since then (ie. if there was no weighting by recalled indyref vote, the reported Yes vote would now be above 47%).
Not that you'd be aware of any of this if you listened to the lazy spin that Survation themselves put on the poll. Oh no. According to them, we have a becalmed electorate who never change their minds about independence (the recent extreme volatility in Survation polls is a tad mysterious, then!), and who are more than happy to settle for the "compromise" (!) between independence and union represented by the half-delivered "Vow" (in which case why did the passing of the Scotland Bill not produce a boost for No?).
Back in the real world, support for Yes remains so high that we practically have a statistical tie, and Brexit hasn't even happened yet. Free movement of peoples hasn't ended yet. Visa-free travel to the continent hasn't stopped yet. The economic hit hasn't been felt yet. None of these mini-disasters are even on the horizon for most people, but they soon will be. I used the phrase 'phony Brexit' earlier, because in a very loose sense, the current period can be compared to late 1939/early 1940 when people were still playing rounders and kidding themselves that nothing much was going to happen. But when the realisation dawns, it will dawn with a vengeance - and we know from the early summer surge that there are enough people out there concerned about Brexit to potentially produce an outright Yes majority. The depressing reality for the London establishment is that we can't be distracted with Olympic gold medals every month.
Although I'm abroad at the moment, I'm in close proximity to a Scottish Tory couple who reckon that Ruth Davidson is "brilliant", and that recent polls have shown that both Davidson and Theresa May are more popular than Nicola Sturgeon. So Ms Sturgeon is "not going down well!", apparently. Well, whichever way you cut it, this poll begs to differ. Sturgeon has significantly better personal ratings than either Davidson or May (and every other politician asked about), and indeed May has an outright negative rating. That honeymoon didn't last long.
Curiously, Survation have replicated the counterintuitive finding from TNS that women are now more supportive of independence than men are. It may just be a coincidence that two polls close together are both producing a misleading finding, but who knows? Perhaps Brexit has turned the gender divide on its head.