Saturday, May 28, 2016

Willie Rennie, meet Rationality and Logic. Rationality and Logic, let me present to you the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats...

The third and fifth largest parties in the Scottish Parliament are a source of neverending bafflement to me.  Labour and the Lib Dems have been constantly telling the SNP they need to pull their fingers out in support of the Remain campaign in the EU referendum.  So what happens?  Alex Salmond makes up 50% of the entire Remain side of the panel in the first big UK-wide TV referendum debate, and puts forward a relentlessly positive case for membership of the European Union.  Kezia Dugdale and Willie Rennie then denounce him for being there, and Rennie in particular urges him to quit the Remain campaign before he does any more damage.  Er, what?!  Get the story straight, guys.

Rennie's main complaint seems to be that, by answering an audience member's question on whether a Leave vote would trigger a second independence referendum, Salmond may have indirectly encouraged independence supporters in Scotland to vote Leave.  Let me just gently try to point out the bleedin' obvious here...

1) Rennie and his colleagues are forever telling us that the settled will of Scotland is to oppose independence.  If he really believes that, it surely follows that more people in Scotland will be scared into voting Remain by the prospect of a second indyref than will be encouraged to vote in the opposite direction.

2) This was a UK-wide debate in a UK-wide referendum.   More than 80% of the population of the UK live in England.  As we know from polling during the indyref, there is only limited sympathy for Scottish independence south of the border.  It therefore doesn't take a genius to work out which side will benefit from the prospect of a Leave vote bringing about independence.  That's probably why David Cameron has gone out of his way on a number of occasions to warn English voters about the SNP's plans for a second indyref in the event of Brexit.

3) What Salmond said in no way contradicts his genuine support for the Remain campaign and desire for a Remain victory.  It's perfectly reasonable to say "I hope you take my points on board, but if you don't, you at least need make the decision with your eyes wide open and in full awareness of the consequences.  Because we're determined to make sure Scotland's interests are protected whatever happens."

4) If a political leader is worried about "damage" being done, surely the NUMBER ONE thing you DON'T want to do is castigate one of the two representatives of YOUR OWN CAMPAIGN in the first big TV debate?  Just a thought, Willie.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Alex Salmond seizes the initiative and boosts the chances of a second independence referendum in the event of Brexit

Alex Salmond is certainly a man who knows how to lay down a marker.  When he was asked during tonight's televised EU debate whether Brexit might lead to a second independence referendum, I'm sure many people were expecting him to give a cagey answer.  Instead his message was utterly uncompromising -

* A second referendum would be justified.

* It would happen within two years.

* There would be a mandate for it because a) there is a pro-independence majority in the elected Scottish Parliament (thus liberating us from the fatuous obsession with the questionable results of a single ICM opinion poll), and b) the SNP's share of the vote this month was greater than that received by any other lead party of government in the whole of western Europe.

As always, he made clear that he was expressing a personal view, and we know it's likely that there is a genuine difference of emphasis between himself and the more cautious Nicola Sturgeon.  So there's still wiggle-room for the SNP if Brexit occurs and for some reason they decide not to push for a second indyref.  But it's hard to believe Salmond would have spoken so emphatically unless there was a collective desire within the party to at least keep the option of a post-Brexit referendum firmly open - and that's what has been achieved.

Ultimately, this has always been a question of narrative more than arithmetic.  In the immediate aftermath of the election, the SNP were temporarily on the back foot, and they allowed both unionist politicians and unionist journalists to weave a narrative that the prospect of a second referendum had somehow receded.  That claim never had any rational basis, but it could easily have become a self-fulfilling prophecy if it hadn't been challenged in a telling way.  With perfect timing, Salmond has seized back the initiative and probably repaired pretty much all of the damage at a stroke.  His comments are currently the lead headline on the BBC news website, so they're going to be heard loud and clear.

And yes, I know some of you will be muttering to yourselves that Brexit isn't going to happen and this whole strategy will prove to be a dead end in a few short weeks.  But I don't know of anyone - bookies, academics, pundits - who rates the probability of a Leave vote as lower than 15%.  So it's a non-trivial chance, and we have to be prepared for it.

On the debate more broadly, I'm not sure whether the official campaigns were allowed to nominate their own representatives, but I presume that's unlikely (would Remain really have risked alienating Tory England by nominating Salmond, for example?).  If it was actually the BBC who made the selections, I can imagine that the Leave campaign may have been pretty unhappy with the line-up - it essentially framed the choice as being between pro-EU progressives and hard right Europhobes.  They could really have done with Kate Hoey being there in place of Diane James.  Even Tom Harris would have been better - we political obsessives may know all too well what he's really like, but most people don't, and he's just about capable of passing himself off as a progressive with a bit of effort.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Nats for AV

Sometimes a mischievous thought won't let you go, and you just need to get it out of your system, even though you have a horrible feeling that not everyone will get/appreciate the joke...

So who's with me in the Nats For AV campaign? At least it'll save us the embarrassment of being on the same side as either David Cameron or Michael Gove.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Leave campaign holds narrow lead in BMG online poll

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Remain 44% (+1)
Leave 45% (n/c)

Not a huge amount to say about this one, other than that it adds even further to the weight of evidence that online polling is not picking up the swing to Remain reported by the ORB and Ipsos-Mori phone polls.  There have now been seven online polls published over the last ten days or so, and six of them have failed to show a meaningful swing to Remain (once methodological tweaks are allowed for).

The fact that Leave's support is proving resilient this week of all weeks is absolutely critical - because postal voting is about to get underway in earnest.  It would be the worst possible moment for either side to suffer a collapse.

Drama as Survation reports that Remain's lead has dropped to just SIX points - unusually low for a telephone poll

It's beginning to look like the signs over the weekend and Monday that Remain were pulling clear in the EU referendum may have been illusory.  Hot on the heels of YouGov and ICM polls suggesting that Remain have made no progress at all in online polling (and have possibly gone backwards), we have a new Survation telephone poll that puts the Remain lead at just 6%.  As far as I can see from the records, that's the third worst showing for Remain in any phone poll from any firm - the only worse ones were a freakish ORB poll in March, and YouGov's rather artificial experiment earlier this month that was intended to illustrate that phone polls are inaccurate.

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Remain 44% (-1)
Leave 38% (n/c)

The change from the last Survation poll may look insignificant, but it has to be remembered that the previous poll was already the worst for Remain in the series by some distance - Survation were showing a gap of eleven points in March, and fifteen points in February.  Perhaps more to the point, if Ipsos-Mori and ORB were correct that the Remain lead has dramatically surged recently, you wouldn't expect Leave to be narrowing the gap in any other phone poll - even by the smallest of amounts.  So in spite of the claims from Downing Street that private polling corroborates the Remain-friendly findings from ORB, the evidence from public polls now looks very shaky - three out of five telephone firms (ICM, ComRes and Survation) are failing to support that narrative, as are three out of four online firms (YouGov, ICM and TNS).

It's also worth emphasising just how bad yesterday's ICM poll was for Remain, once you take account of the methodological tweaks.  ICM have noticed that the earliest responders to their online polls are disproportionately likely to be Leave supporters, so they've introduced two changes to resolve that problem - they're downweighting early responders, and are also staggering survey invitations in the hope of attracting a more representative sample in the first place.  Crucially, we're told that the weighting changes alone were responsible for the equivalent of a 2% swing to Remain - meaning that without them Leave would have had a 4% lead in the poll.  But it's surely logical to assume that the staggering of the survey invitations also worked in Remain's favour, which may well mean that without any methodological changes at all, the Leave lead would have been even higher than 4% - and that would have been the best ICM poll for Leave to date.  So in terms of the trend, ICM, YouGov, ComRes and Survation all seem to be singing from the same hymn-sheet - either no real change, or minor progress for Leave.

One thing that's got on my nerves during this campaign is the succession of smug articles from pollsters along the following lines : "Hmmm, yes, it does look like phone/online (delete as applicable) polls are turning out to be more accurate.  But what's interesting is why that should be the case.  Let's have a discussion about why online/phone (delete as applicable) polls are so useless at the moment."  YouGov are at it today (arguing that online polls are best), and their ex-President Peter Kellner was at it a few days ago (ironically he took the side of phone polls).  Seriously, chaps, what you're doing is putting forward speculative theories.  It won't "turn out" or even "look like" one side or another is more accurate until we see the actual referendum results.  Then the side that got it right can gloat to its heart's content, but it really is the height of arrogance to do it now when nobody actually has a sodding clue how things are going to play out on June 23rd.

*  *  *



Remain 45.9% (-0.6)
Leave 40.6% (-0.3)


Remain 42.1% (-0.3)
Leave 42.2% (-0.5)


Remain 49.6% (-0.9)
Leave 38.9% (-0.1)

(The Poll of Polls takes account of all polls that were conducted at least partly within the last three weeks. The online average is based on nine polls - four from YouGov, three from ICM, one from TNS and one from Opinium. The telephone average is based on seven polls - two from ORB, one from ICM, one from YouGov, one from Ipsos-Mori, one from ComRes and one from Survation.)

Leave campaign draws level in startling new YouGov EU poll

There's been conflicting evidence over the last week on whether telephone polling is picking up a significant swing towards Remain, but we can now say with a fair bit of confidence that online polling is failing to do so.  Of the last six online polls, only Opinium at the weekend showed any sort of meaningful gains for Remain, and that now looks firmly like an aberration.  Here is YouGov's latest bang-up-to-date estimate, based on interviews conducted yesterday and the day before -

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Remain 41% (-3)
Leave 41% (+1)

*  *  *

UPDATE : A new Survation telephone poll is also out today, showing an unusually small lead for Remain.  More details can be found HERE.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

ICM online poll suggests the EU referendum race is absolutely level

This may help to steady the ship slightly for the Leave campaign, after a couple of recent polls that made some commentators wonder if the referendum was gradually ceasing to be competitive.

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Remain 45% (+2)
Leave 45% (-2)

In spite of the tie for the lead, the percentage changes in this poll look perfectly consistent with the modest movement to Remain suggested by the Opinium poll at the weekend.  They're quite hard to interpret, though, because the last ICM poll was unusually good for Leave, so even if the underlying state of play had remained static over the last week, we might have expected some kind of reversion to the mean in the new poll.  Certainly if the wheels were coming off for Leave to quite the extent reported by the ORB series of phone polls, it's likely that ICM would have shown a clear Remain lead today.  Perhaps the ICM online methodology is just proving slow in picking up a pro-Remain trend that will eventually become apparent in all polls, but at least for the time being there are grounds for the Leave camp to feel somewhat reassured.

(UPDATE : It turns out that ICM have made an important methodological change, which entirely explains the small swing to Remain - without it, Leave would still have been 4% ahead.  That's incredible - it suggests that ICM haven't picked up any sort of movement over the last week at all, in spite of the hype over the Remain surge in the Ipsos-Mori and ORB phone polls, and to a lesser extent in the Opinium online poll.)

In the wake of the ORB poll yesterday, there was a lot of talk about the supposedly decisive shifts in opinion among pensioners and Tory voters.  Well, you wouldn't know that from the ICM poll, which gives Leave a more than 2-to-1 lead among over-65s, a slender lead among people who would currently vote Tory, and a healthy 9% lead among people who actually voted Tory in the general election last year.  The reason for the conflicting results is of course the well-established divergence between online and phone polls, which if anything may be growing wider.  The trouble for the Leave campaign, though, is that it's beginning to look like they may need online polls to be completely right and phone polls to be completely wrong - somewhere in the middle probably isn't going to be enough.  And even if online polls are bang-on accurate, Remain would still have at least a 50% chance of winning.

*  *  *



Remain 46.5% (+1.0)
Leave 40.9% (-0.1)


Remain 42.4% (+0.5)
Leave 42.7% (n/c)


Remain 50.5% (+1.5)
Leave 39.0% (-0.2)

(The Poll of Polls takes account of all polls that were conducted at least partly within the last three weeks. The online average is based on nine polls - four from ICM, three from YouGov, one from TNS and one from Opinium. The telephone average is based on six polls - two from ORB, one from ICM, one from YouGov, one from Ipsos-Mori and one from ComRes.)