An otherwise surprisingly fair piece in the Economist about the prospects for Scottish independence is slightly tarnished at the start with a statement about the current polling situation which is flatly untrue - in fact, it's basically the polar opposite of the truth. We're told that "opinion polls now put support for a 'Scoxit' from the United Kingdom at or below the 45% achieved when the question was formally put in 2014". Rubbish. Every single opinion poll that has asked about independence since the EU referendum has put the Yes vote above 45%. The lowest figure has been 46% (albeit admittedly the most common figure is only a little higher, at 47%). Even if you include the dodgy BMG poll, which was misrepresented in much of the media as an "independence poll" when it clearly wasn't, the lowest figure would be 45%. It is literally impossible to find a poll that can even be misrepresented as showing that Yes support has fallen since September 2014. Even at a stretch, then, the most that the Economist are entitled to say is that "opinion polls now put support for 'Scoxit' from the UK at or above the 45% achieved in 2014".
So how did the word "below" get into the article in the first place? The most likely - and disturbing - answer is that the author didn't even bother to check the numbers, and just assumed that the narrative being pushed by the right-wing London press must have some vague basis in reality. Always a schoolboy error, that. Perhaps the time has come to challenge the misinformation with an update of this blog's Poll of Polls.
SCOT GOES POP POLL OF POLLS
Should Scotland be an independent country?
Yes 47.0% (-3.8)
No 53.0% (+3.8)
The reason for the drop in the Yes vote is that the last update was way back in late July, and all but one of the four polls taken into account at that point had been conducted in the days immediately after the EU referendum, when there appeared to be a sharp pro-Yes swing which later receded. But as you can see, Yes support remains 2.3% higher than its September 2014 level. Given that most firms now weight by recalled indyref vote, we can be pretty confident that's a genuine increase in support.
The methodology for the Poll of Polls remains exactly the same as before - only the most recent poll from each firm is included, and if a firm hasn't reported for more than three months, they are left out altogether. Therefore, the five polls taken into account on this occasion are YouGov from late August (Yes 46%, No 54%), TNS from August/early September (Yes 47%, No 53%), Survation from early September (Yes 47%, No 53%), Ipsos-Mori from early September (Yes 48%, No 52%) and Panelbase from mid-September (Yes 47%, No 53%).
Needless to say, the dodgy poll from BMG has been excluded, because contrary to the bogus claims that were made about it (including disgracefully by the firm themselves), it simply didn't ask a question about independence. It instead asked whether Scotland should "remain a member (sic) of the United Kingdom" or "leave the United Kingdom". For the avoidance of doubt, "leaving the United Kingdom" can in no sense be regarded as a proxy form of words for "independence". There are several potential outcomes to leaving the UK, of which independence is only one. Here are some others -
1) Becoming a self-governing dependency of the UK. (Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man are all in this position - they are all outside the UK, and indeed outside the EU.)
2) Entering into a free association agreement with the UK. (This is a form of 'sovereign non-independence'. The best-known example is perhaps the Cook Islands' relationship with New Zealand. When the Cook Islands were formally decolonised, they freely agreed to allow New Zealand to continue to make decisions for them on foreign affairs and defence.)
3) Becoming part of another existing sovereign state. (An example of this is the decision of northern Schleswig, by referendum in 1920, to leave Germany and become part of Denmark.)
Without specifying what Scotland would be leaving the UK to do, the BMG question was utterly meaningless. I hope we're not going to see any more of that kind of nonsense - and if by any chance we do, I certainly hope that reputable sites like What Scotland Thinks will stop joining in with the pretence that we are somehow dealing with genuine polls on independence.
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NOTE : I've had to make a small adjustment to the numbers originally mentioned in this post. Ironically that's because, for quick reference, I had used the What Scotland Thinks list of polls, which I've since realised contains a little error.