Saturday, June 11, 2016

YouGov puts Leave back into the lead - just

This is probably why the Leave campaign were downplaying the ORB poll last night.  The new YouGov figures are actually comparatively good for Leave by the standards of the last three-and-a-half months, but if ORB had been bang on the money, you'd expect more than margin-of-error changes tonight.

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

Remain 42% (-1)
Leave 43% (+1)

Those numbers make it less likely that there has been very recent further movement towards Leave, because the Leave lead is actually three points lower than in the last-but-one poll from YouGov.  It could well be that Leave's 'true' lead (according to the YouGov methodology) has been steady at around 1% or 2% over the last ten days or so, but that sampling variation resulted in Remain being slightly overstated in the last poll, and slightly understated in the last-but-one.

An Opinium poll tonight adds to the sense that nothing much has changed over the last week -

Remain 44% (+1)
Leave 42% (+1)

Although that's an online poll, it's not quite as good for Remain as it appears - Opinium made a methodological adjustment before last week's poll that effectively made their weighted sample much more similar to a phone poll sample.  So it's not surprising that they're now producing the sort of results that you might expect from phone polls, ie. on the more Remain-friendly end of the spectrum.

Having said that, a 2% lead isn't all that great for Remain by normal phone poll standards, so what we need now is a real phone poll to see whether the gap really has narrowed to that extent, or whether the remarkable ICM phone poll of ten days ago was a fluke.  Incredibly, there's only been one other phone poll since then - it was from ORB, and it wasn't much use because the turnout-filtered headline figures showed a completely different trend from the unfiltered figures.

The Telegraph are splashing on a separate YouGov question which supposedly shows huge support for Britain adopting the Norway model, ie. leave the EU, return to EFTA, remain in the EEA, and retain free movement of people and a fair chunk of EU regulation.  However, yet another question produced a directly contradictory result, because the public were split 41-41 on whether a post-Brexit government should prioritise the retention of the single market or a reduction in immigration from the EU.  Only the former option is at all consistent with the Norway model.

* * *



Remain 45.0% (n/c)
Leave 45.5% (-0.3)


Remain 42.9% (n/c)
Leave 44.9% (-0.7)


Remain 47.0% (n/c)
Leave 46.0% (n/c)

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

Is there any case for SNP supporters to vote Leave?

As you may have seen by now (although probably not in The Times itself, as I doubt if many of you cough up your Murdoch levy!), Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson hit a new low today with a bizarre article in which he claimed to be using 'method acting' to work himself into the mindset of an SNP supporter, and then declared himself hopelessly confused about how he should vote in the EU referendum - partly because he can't shake off the nagging doubt that the arguments for a Leave vote are very similar to the arguments for a Yes vote two years ago, and partly because he claims that he is being sent mixed signals by the party leadership about the outcome that would be more likely to hasten a second referendum on independence.

Hmmm.  I think what this tells us more than anything is that a man whose motto is "Devo or Death" is probably never going to be much of an authority on how independence supporters think.  (Which obviously helps put into perspective his endless optimistic tweets along the lines of "many Nats will privately agree with every word in this must-read piece by Euan McColm".)  Just look around you, Kenny - social media is awash with SNP members/voters proudly using the party's "In" twibbon, and most of them aren't riven by doubt in any way at all.  They understand perfectly well the difference between a union of independent nation states, and a union that extinguishes statehood altogether - even if that very simple concept seems mysteriously beyond the grasp of one of this country's leading anti-independence journalists.  They also understand that to the extent Brexit might bring independence closer, that can only happen if there is a substantial vote for Remain in Scotland - meaning there is no contradiction between the SNP leadership's principled support for EU membership and any tactical calculations that are being made behind the scenes.  It's simply not possible to campaign for two different outcomes simultaneously, so even if the leadership are secretly hoping for Brexit (and it's not at all clear to me that they are), they'll know full well that all they can do is campaign for as many Remain votes as possible in Scotland, and pray that doesn't tip the balance towards Remain in the UK as a whole.

However, I can maybe help Kenny out here, because even though his fictional SNP supporter is a rather silly figure who doesn't have any basis in reality, there are a minority of real-life SNP members/supporters out there who do feel somewhat ambivalent about this God-awful referendum - and I'm one of them.  In spite of the fact that I've always been very pro-European and should be a natural Remainer, I haven't finally decided how to vote yet.  So I'm ideally placed to set Kenny straight on where he's gone wrong in his creative endeavour.

Most importantly, although I'm undecided, I'm in no way confused.  The arguments seem crystal-clear to me, it's just that they're fairly finely-balanced.

The elephant in the room is that Brexit would almost certainly lead to an increase in the powers of the Scottish Parliament.  Many SNP supporters tend to roll their eyes to the heavens when this point is raised by the Leave campaign, because they reckon it's obvious that the likes of Tom Harris don't give a monkey's about Scottish self-government.  And that's absolutely true, but it doesn't mean that the actual point is in any way bogus.  Many of the policy areas that are supposedly devolved to the Scottish Parliament are in fact only devolved in a very nominal sense, because they are largely or wholly competences of the European Union.  The Sewel convention prevents Westminster from legislating on devolved matters, but entirely the opposite principle applies in respect of Brussels - EU law is always supreme, no matter how completely it encroaches on the Scottish Parliament's powers.  One obvious example is fisheries, where the Scottish Government's role is basically to implement EU rules.  So if Britain was to withdraw from the EU, at a stroke we'd find that theoretical devolved powers would become actual devolved powers.

Now, in the majority of cases (fisheries is an exception), I and other SNP supporters would tend to think that the EU's curtailment of the powers of national and sub-state parliaments is entirely appropriate - these are policy areas that on the whole are best dealt with at a continent-wide level.  But here's the thing - if we're serious about wanting a much more powerful Scottish Parliament, there's an argument that beggars can't be choosers.  Trying to get the most appropriate powers repatriated from London is like trying to get blood out of a stone, so there's an obvious attraction to getting a different package of powers repatriated from Brussels instead.  That would be an equally effective way of building Holyrood's prestige and demonstrating to the public that if we as a country can cope with such an enormous level of self-government, the final jump to independence is really quite a small one.

In my view, that's the single most compelling argument for a Leave vote from a Scottish pro-independence point of view.  A much more dubious argument (but one that isn't totally without merit) can be summed up in the following dread phrase : "tactical voting".  In spite of Kenny Farquharson's incomprehensible inability to grasp that Brexit can only be a trigger for Indyref 2 if Scotland votes Remain, is there still some way that "tactically" voting Leave could bring a referendum closer?  Well, possibly.  Although it's not possible for the SNP as a party to campaign for two different outcomes simultaneously, it's open to us as individuals to take a more nuanced view if we want to.  Suppose the polling averages in ten days' time look something like this...

Scotland :

Remain 65%
Leave 35%

UK :

Remain 51%
Leave 49%

In that scenario (which is actually pretty plausible based on what we're seeing now), the risk of Scotland not voting Remain will look extremely remote, but the UK result will be on a knife-edge.  If we genuinely want to see a UK Leave coupled with a Scottish Remain, it would be entirely logical to 'lend' votes to Leave in the hope of tipping the balance across the UK.  The problem is not that tactical voting isn't viable (in contrast to the Holyrood election, there aren't too many variables and it should be fairly straightforward), but rather that we should be very careful what we wish for.  If we help to bring about Brexit in this rather frivolous way, it may well trigger an independence referendum - but it won't necessarily lead to independence.  If it doesn't, we won't have an independent Scotland within Europe, we'll instead have the nightmare outcome of a dependent Scotland within the UK but outside the EU - completely the opposite of what the tactical vote was supposed to achieve.  It could mean losing our rights as EU citizens to live and work in any other EU country - not necessarily, because EEA citizens have exactly the same rights, but the trajectory of this campaign doesn't fill me with any great confidence that we'd be staying in the EEA after a Leave vote.  We could lose the much-needed flow of immigration from other EU countries that enriches our society and economy.  We might well suffer all sorts of other reverses on employment rights, and even the most basic human rights.  Yes, we'd have a significantly more powerful Scottish Parliament to sweeten the pill, but would that make it all worthwhile?

I don't know.  Probably not.  But I can't completely shake off the thought that a Leave vote could be a rational 'each-way bet' - ie. it might well lead to independence for one reason or another, but if it doesn't there would at least be partial compensations.  I'm going to think some more about that over the next fortnight.  (And then probably cop out, vote Remain, and feel a lot better for it!)

Friday, June 10, 2016

Indyref 2 could be moving closer, as stupefying ORB poll puts Leave 10% ahead

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

Remain 45% (-4)
Leave 55% (+4)

The first thing to say is that it's astonishing that the official Leave campaign have immediately tried to discredit this poll, and have claimed that their own data shows the race to be closer to 50/50.  Regardless of whether that's true or not, their eagerness to say it out loud is telling - it seems eerily similar to the Yes campaign's counterintuitive horror in 2014 when the famous YouGov poll was published putting Yes ahead.  (If you recall, the SNP's reaction was to hurriedly release a private poll showing No slightly ahead.)

Presumably the fear is that as soon as the perception takes root that the 'change' option is actually winning (as opposed to merely being in with a shout), the forces of hell will be unleashed, and all the scrutiny will be applied to one side only.  That's exactly what happened to the Yes campaign, although I do have the impression that people aren't quite as susceptible to scare tactics as they were two years ago - partly because, rightly or wrongly, they don't feel that quite as much is at stake.

Leaving aside the highly unusual health warning slapped on this poll by Leave themselves, the more general caveat is that not too much weight should ever be given to 'just one poll'.  But is this 'just one poll'?  The trend is very much in line with the findings of recent ICM phone and online polls, and also with the most recent Opinium online poll.  It's hard to say whether the last ORB phone poll (tonight's poll is an online poll from the same firm) showed the same trend or not, because the turnout-filtered headline figures and the unfiltered figures reported swings in opposite directions.  But the YouGov poll a few days ago did flatly contradict what we're seeing tonight.  So while the new poll isn't a complete departure from what we've seen before, the evidence isn't totally consistent.  The most that can be said is that it now looks somewhat more probable than it did a few hours ago that there has been really significant movement towards Leave.

For what it's worth, the small and unreliable Scottish subsample in the new poll puts Remain ahead by 60% to 40% - which of course full-scale Scottish polls suggest may be a conservative estimate.  So as of this moment there does seem to be a very real chance of the scenario that we've long thought might trigger a second independence referendum - ie. a Leave vote across the UK coupled with a clear Remain vote in Scotland.  The unionist ascendancy within the official Remain campaign have been playing a high stakes game by "warning" English voters about the likelihood of Brexit triggering Indyref 2 - that's fine if the warnings are heeded, but if not, it's going to be hard for the same people to argue later on that it would be illegitimate for the SNP to push for Indyref 2.  In that sense, I'm inclined to say that the interventions of John Major and Tony Blair are of much greater significance than the recent ICM and TNS polls showing narrow majorities against the idea of holding a second referendum in the event of Brexit.  (In any case, both polls showed a statistical tie - ie. even if the methodology was completely sound, the standard 3% margin of error makes it impossible to know whether there is a narrow majority for or against a second referendum.  Essentially the polls suggest that public opinion is split down the middle, which puts the ball firmly in the court of our elected representatives in the Scottish Parliament - and most of them are pro-independence.)

* * *



Remain 45.0% (+0.7)
Leave 45.8% (+1.9)


Remain 42.9% (+0.6)
Leave 45.6% (+1.9)


Remain 47.0% (+0.7)
Leave 46.0% (+2.0)

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

Monday, June 6, 2016

Landmark ICM poll confirms the trend : Scotland is now at severe risk of being dragged out of the EU against its will

Unfortunately there's no ICM phone poll this week to help us work out whether the Leave lead last week was a complete fluke - so it may be a ComRes or Ipsos-Mori phone poll that eventually solves the mystery.  But as usual ICM do have an online poll, and it shows further movement towards Leave.

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

Remain 43% (-1)
Leave 48% (+1)

On the face of it the changes are not statistically significant.  But last week's online poll showed a swing towards Leave that was much more modest than the one reported by the simultaneous phone poll, and if today's numbers had shown a reversion to the mean we might have concluded that nothing had really changed at all, at least as far as online polling is concerned.  So the significance of today's poll is that it instead reports a second consecutive swing to Leave, which can probably be taken as being more meaningful, especially as the 5% Leave lead is outside ICM's normal range - they've never previously shown Leave ahead by quite this much.  That seems even more important when you bear in mind that ICM recently made a Remain-friendly methodological adjustment to take account of the fact that Leave supporters are quicker to respond to survey invitations.  Without that tweak, it's possible that Leave would now be reported as being closer to 10 points ahead.

To summarise what the three online firms that have conducted fieldwork recently are showing -

* All three suggest a swing to Leave.

* ICM have Leave doing better than ever before.

* YouGov have Leave ahead by a bigger amount than since February, although the numbers wouldn't have looked out of the ordinary prior to that.

* Opinium (on their old methodology) have a Leave lead that is within the normal range, but at the upper end of it.

Taking all of that together with the ICM and ORB phone polls from last week, the evidence for a recent Leave breakthrough is reasonably convincing, but still not 100% conclusive.

An unnamed Leave source was quoted the other day as saying he wouldn't be confident of victory until his side were ahead by around 7 points, because none of the polls take into account Gibraltar and ex-pat Britons (they have a right to vote if they've been away for less than 15 years), and most of the polls (bizarrely) still don't take into account Northern Ireland.  Unless the result is a Wales 1997-style cliffhanger, it's probably safe to say that Gibraltar isn't going to make that much difference, because although it's likely to vote Remain by a massive margin, it has a population smaller than Dumfries.

Northern Ireland is more significant because it has 3% of the UK's population, but it's still unlikely to reduce the Leave lead (or increase the Remain lead) by more than around 1%.  It's ironic that we do expect NI to be such a strong region for Remain, because it's the one part of the UK where the head of government (Arlene Foster of the DUP) backs a Leave vote.  But the nationalist community will be overwhelmingly for Remain and the unionist community will be split - thus leading to a decent overall Remain advantage.

The ex-pat Brits are the real wild card.  They're impossible to poll, although it does seem reasonable to assume that many of them will be highly motivated to vote Remain, given that they arguably have more at stake than their compatriots at home.

Someone asked on an earlier thread whether the Scottish subsamples of Britain-wide polls still show a handsome Remain lead.  The answer is yes - the ICM subsample puts Remain ahead by 56% to 34%.  That's entirely typical of other subsamples and of the occasional full-scale Scottish polls we've seen.  We know this year of all years that nothing can be taken for granted (I'm looking at you, Kevin Williamson) but it has to be said the Scottish result does look reasonably predictable at the moment.  It's the UK part of the equation that's in the balance, and a few cynical souls might suggest that offers us some opportunities for tactical voting.  But of course I would never recommend such a thing, not so much because tactical voting isn't viable (in this particular case it probably is) but because the stakes are too high for all of us.

*  *  *

Our old friend "TSE" had a monumentally silly piece on Stormfront Lite earlier today, claiming that pro-European MPs were planning to "ignore the result of the referendum" (and moreover "set a precedent" for the SNP to ignore the result of a referendum!) because they want to keep Britain in the European single market in the event of Brexit.  I'm not sure TSE actually understands the referendum question we're about to vote on (or in many cases have already voted on by post) - it's solely about membership of the European Union, and doesn't even mention the single market.  It's perfectly possible to be part of the single market without being an EU member, and several countries are in exactly that position.  All that these MPs are doing (as I predicted they would in a blogpost on Saturday) is interpreting the referendum question literally - the notion that they're "reminding the electorate that referendums are advisory and not binding on parliament" is completely ludicrous.  If the British people vote to leave the European Union, the UK will leave the European Union, and I doubt if there's a single MP from any party who disputes that.

*  *  *

UPDATE (11pm) : We have a new phone poll from ORB, but if anything it's just muddied the waters further.  The headline numbers show the Remain lead effectively being wiped out...

Remain 48% (-3)
Leave 47% (+1)

...but those are the turnout-filtered numbers.  The unfiltered numbers actually show Remain bouncing back to a healthy 12-point lead (although admittedly even that is still well down on the 20-point gap ORB reported two weeks ago).

*  *  *

UPDATE II : And confusingly, yet another new YouGov poll tonight contradicts ICM by giving Remain their best result since three weeks ago -

Remain 43% (+2)
Leave 42% (-3)

So which is the misleading poll - this one, or the previous YouGov poll putting Leave 4 points ahead?  It could be that sampling variation is fooling us here, and that the truth is somewhere in the middle (ie. a Leave lead of one or two points).  Given what ICM are showing, it's hard to take the YouGov trend at face value and conclude that there has been genuine movement back to Remain - but you never know, of course.

*  *  *



Remain 44.3% (+0.4)
Leave 43.9% (+0.7)


Remain 42.3% (+0.2)
Leave 43.7% (+0.4)


Remain 46.3% (+0.6)
Leave 44.0% (+1.0)

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

Leave open up 4-point lead in dramatic YouGov poll

The psychology of the EU referendum race has certainly shifted rapidly.  It seems like no time at all since we were looking at opinion poll evidence of a potentially decisive swing to Remain, and weighing it up against other poll evidence suggesting that nothing much had changed.  Now the only realistic question is the opposite one - has there been a sizeable swing to Leave?  The biggest reason for thinking there may well have been is the most recent ICM telephone poll, which showed a completely unprecedented outright lead for Leave.  But there hasn't been any other phone poll since then to corroborate or undermine that finding, and the ORB phone poll that was conducted at more or less the same time was murderously difficult to interpret (mainly because the trend in the ORB phone series has been as mad as a bucket of frogs from the word go).

We've had a few recent online polls, which weren't particularly conclusive either.  ICM's own online poll and last night's Opinium poll both reported a swing to Leave, but not on the same scale as the phone poll, and in neither case were the headline figures outside the 'normal range'.  Last week's YouGov poll showed no movement in either direction, although that wasn't necessarily inconsistent with a swing to Leave, especially given that the previous poll from the same firm had shown a pro-Leave shift.  The standard margin of error can conceal a swing that is actually happening just as easily as it can generate a false impression of movement when everything is static.  Tonight's new YouGov poll would tend to support that interpretation, because it comes into line with ICM and Opinium by showing a 4-point boost for Leave.

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

Remain 41% (n/c)
Leave 45% (+4)

So just how good is that for Leave?  It's quite hard to say whether a 4% lead is within the 'normal range' for YouGov, because they certainly haven't reported a Leave advantage as big as that for several months, and yet if you travelled back in time to the winter or autumn, tonight's result would seem reasonably routine.  Strangely, the sudden boost for Remain that occurred towards the end of February appeared to be a YouGov 'house effect' - other firms weren't picking it up, so it's impossible to know for sure whether the fact that it's now being reversed is directly linked to the Leave surge that's been reported by other firms.  But it's hard to escape the impression that a pattern is emerging.

The case for the defence as far as Remain is concerned is that tonight's TNS poll doesn't show any movement to Leave (although it does show a modest Leave lead).  However, the fieldwork is ancient, so in reality it doesn't contradict other firms' findings at all.

I had a sort of epiphany tonight when I saw Doug Daniel's reaction to the YouGov poll.  This is what he said on Twitter -

"I remember back during the proper referendum when we would've thought this meant we were winning. 14% undecided."

"folk will s**** it just like they did in 2014."

It suddenly struck me that the outcome of this referendum is going to affect the chances of a second indyref in more ways than one.  As of this moment, there's a very strong assumption that there's always bound to be a substantial late swing against the change option in any constitutional referendum.  So if that myth is proved to be false over the coming weeks (I firmly believe it is false, but if it's very visibly proved to be false), it's going to affect people's thinking quite profoundly.  It's certainly going to be pretty hard to sustain the ultra-cautious line that we need an implausibly huge opinion poll lead for independence over a sustained period of time before we can even think of going to the people again.  On the other hand, if the Leave vote does collapse as polling day approaches, the Caution Faction will feel further emboldened (if that isn't a contradiction in terms).

*  *  *


We've reached a stage in the campaign where a three-week time-frame for the Poll of Polls seems far too long - polls are coming thick and fast, and public opinion may be changing very quickly.  To keep the sample as up-to-date as possible, from now on I'm only going to include polls that were at least partly conducted within the last two weeks.


Remain 43.9% (-1.7)
Leave 43.2% (+1.6)


Remain 42.1% (-0.2)
Leave 43.3% (+0.4)


Remain 45.7% (-3.2)
Leave 43.0% (+2.7)

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