Saturday, July 30, 2016

Majority for independence in new Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls

We've now had enough post-EU referendum polls on independence to make it worthwhile reintroducing the Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls.  I'm going to tweak the rules slightly, though.  As before, the headline figures will be based on an average of the most recent poll from each polling firm, but only firms that have reported since the EU referendum (and thereafter within the last three months) will be included.  If a firm has recently conducted both telephone and online polls, the midway point between those two polls' results will be used (in effect each of the two polls will count as a 'half-poll').

Today's figures are based on an online poll from Panelbase, an online poll from YouGov, and both an online and telephone poll from Survation.  I'm excluding the ScotPulse poll showing an enormous Yes lead because I don't think it was an entirely credible poll (and ScotPulse aren't a BPC firm in any case).

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 50.8%
No 49.2%

Journey into the bizarre as Herald describes an increase in support for independence as "the reversal of a surge"

A new YouGov poll on independence has been released, and in line with the other three credible polls to be published since the EU referendum, it shows an increase in support for Yes...

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 47% (+1)
No 53% (-1)

I regret to say that the Herald's reporting of this poll warrants yet another caution from the psephology police.  They've made a determined attempt to compare apples with oranges by claiming that the surge in support for independence in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote has been "reversed".  To state the bleedin' obvious, the polls that put Yes in the outright lead in late June were Panelbase and Survation polls - and tonight's poll was not conducted by Panelbase or Survation, but by a different firm with its own distinct methods.

It is quite possible that a Panelbase or Survation poll conducted now would show the Yes vote holding steady in the low 50s.  It is also quite possible that a YouGov poll conducted in late June would have produced an identical result to tonight's.  There is absolutely no hard evidence in this poll of a surge being reversed - and that is not an opinion, it is a fact.  The new numbers can only be compared with the last YouGov independence poll from well before the EU referendum - since when there has been a small 1% swing towards Yes. 

UPDATE : The datasets are now out, and the big question that immediately forms in my mind is whether the results have been weighted by EU referendum vote.  At first glance it looks like they have been, because 553 Remain voters in the unweighted sample have been reduced to 500.  But the note at the bottom of the datasets doesn't mention EU referendum vote as one of the factors that have been weighted for. 

The reason this matters is that there have been signs in other polls that some Leave voters falsely say they voted Remain, possibly because of embarrassment - meaning that there will generally appear to be too many Remain voters in unweighted samples.  As there is a strong correlation between voting Remain and supporting independence, any misguided downweighting of Remain voters could potentially lead to support for independence being underestimated.

I would also strongly urge people to pay only limited heed to supplementary questions that appear to show slightly worse results for Yes.  Respondents are already factoring in Brexit when they answer the headline question on independence, so that's the result that matters.  Questions with more exotic wordings will always produce slightly different results.

Nevertheless, as has been pointed out in the comments section below, it's striking that a significantly bigger minority of SNP voters seem to oppose independence when the question is posed as a straight choice between the UK and the EU.  That illustrates the potential danger of making retention of EU membership the lead campaign pitch in Indyref 2 - because it may alienate Yes voters from 2014 who have since voted Leave.  My own view is that we have to draw a distinction here - the issue of being dragged out of the EU against our will matters enormously, because it's the casus belli for calling a second referendum.  But once that referendum is actually underway, we'll need a more inclusive campaign that appeals to both Remain and Leave voters.

UPDATE II : I'll just quickly run through some of the other concerns that have been raised about the poll in the comments section.  Yes, absolutely, it's extremely reprehensible that YouGov haven't interviewed 16 and 17 year olds, given that it seems almost inevitable that the voting age for Indyref 2 will be 16 rather than 18.  The Yes lead among 18-24 year olds is a whopping 26%, so if you assume that 16 and 17 year olds would break in a similar way, it's perfectly possible that the headline result of this poll should really be Yes 48%, No 52%.  That's just speculation, obviously, but it's scarcely unwarranted.

In theory, there's no reason why the poll should be missing a pro-Yes surge among citizens of other EU countries.  YouGov weight by country of birth, and the 'born outside the UK' group is weighted to make up roughly 9% of the sample.  However, there's no way of knowing whether that group contains the correct proportion of EU and non-EU citizens.

It's true that the recalled EU referendum vote is slightly skewed in favour of Leave in the weighted sample - it's Remain 59%, Leave 41%, whereas it should be Remain 62%, Leave 38%.  For the reasons given above, I'm not sure that weighting by EU referendum vote is a good idea - but all the same, you'd expect to see too many Remain voters in the sample (because of the problem of false recall), not too few.  So there may be a small issue there - and if so, the poll may be slightly underestimating the Yes vote.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Three simple reasons why the Labour plotters will be more responsible than Corbyn for a heavy general election defeat

1) Even in southern England, there is one factor that is a far bigger voter-repellent than a radical left party leader - and that's disunity.  According to YouGov, Labour went from enjoying a 3% lead in late April to being 11% behind by mid-July.  Corbyn was leader in both the 'before' and 'after' photos, so self-evidently he's unlikely to be responsible for the slump.  The only things that have changed since April are that Theresa May is enjoying a honeymoon period, and the right-wing of the Labour party have needlessly started a civil war.

2) Some of the plotters claim that they have no problem with Corbyn's policies, but only with the man himself.  If that's genuinely the case, an obvious deal was available that probably would have been acceptable to all sides - a change in the leadership nomination rules to allow Corbyn to step down (perhaps in a year or two) safe in the knowledge that a more charismatic alternative left candidate like John McDonnell or Clive Lewis would have no difficulty getting on the ballot paper, and would probably become leader.  The fact that none of the plotters seem to have even seriously contemplated that possibility tells you all you need to know - this isn't about electability, it's a destructive ideological crusade against the radical left.

3) For all the mythology surrounding the 1983 election, the Labour right actually have a much longer and more ignominious track record of losing elections than the radical left.  It was the right, not the left, that lost the 2010 and 2015 elections.  The right were also responsible for the landmark defeats in 1979 and 1992, and arguably also in 1987 (Neil Kinnock was midway on his journey from the soft left to the right by then, although admittedly he was still nominally in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament).  And the right can't entirely escape responsibility for the 1983 calamity either - it seems undeniable that the Tory majority would have been much more modest had the SDP split not taken place.

*  *  *

It takes a strong Westminster Bubble angle before Mike "can't be arsed" Smithson will pay the slightest attention to a Scottish poll, and sure enough he's beside himself with excitement about a new full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov showing that Jeremy Corbyn has worse personal ratings among people who voted Labour in 2015 than among the electorate at large.  But for my money, this poll tells us far more about the character of Labour's rump support in Scotland than it does about Jeremy Corbyn's prospects.  Corbyn actually has comparatively good ratings among people who voted SNP in 2015, which is perfectly logical, because that group contains many traditional Labour voters who had switched to the SNP for the first time ever.  It's clear that Corbyn's leadership hasn't been sufficient to bring them back into the fold, but the idea that they're more likely to be won over by a New Labour-type leader is fanciful in the extreme.

It's also telling that Ruth Davidson has much, much better personal ratings among 2015 Labour voters than Nicola Sturgeon does, in spite of Sturgeon's impeccable social democratic credentials, and the fact that she's more popular than Davidson among the general population.  That makes no sense at all unless the legacy of "Jackanory" Jim Murphy's leadership has been to transform Labour's support into a narrowly-based, centre-right, hard-line unionist sect.  (I hesitate to use the word 'cult', but...)

Theresa May's showing in this poll is being portrayed as reasonably good, but you have to be very cautious about polls conducted during a political honeymoon.  For example, an early Scottish poll after John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher showed Tory support back above 30% for the first time in many years, leading Bernard Ingham to obnoxiously claim that everything was back to normal and that the only reason for the Scottish Tories' travails had been the sexism of voters north of the border (including female voters, presumably).

You don't have to look far to spot the warning signs for May - even at the height of her honeymoon, more Scottish voters say she is dislikeable than say she is likeable.  Perhaps the most significant finding is that 54% of respondents say she will either be a worse Prime Minister than Cameron, or no better.  When you bear in mind how awful Cameron's personal ratings in Scotland have been, that may be a clue as to where she is headed in the not-too-distant future.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

How "Devo or Death" became "Brexit or Bust"

Heads up pol peeps : those of you of a nostalgic bent really should be keeping an eye on the Twitter account of Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson, who is currently doing an extended one-man indyref tribute act.  As you'll recall, he spent an inordinate amount of time in 2014 trying to convince both himself and the rest of us that a No vote was somehow a vote for Devo Max.  Whenever the implausibility of that claim was pointed out, he would gaze mysteriously into the distance, and whisper "no, I can see it, it's out there, it's shining, just waiting for us, it's...the most beautiful, perfectly-formed Devo Super Max, and all we have to do is vote No.  Oh thank you, David Cameron!  May the heavens bless you, George Galloway!"  The much more logical conclusion that the only way to get a powerhouse parliament was to vote Yes had to be denied, because independence was not Devo, and independence was therefore Death.

That logic has got Kenny into even more of a bind over the last few weeks, because the rest of the UK has only gone and voted for something that makes independence pretty likely.  He knows that the Leave vote can't simply be ignored, so instead he's become an overnight enthusiast for the endless wonders of Brexit-Lite, and is currently tying himself up in knots trying to convince himself that there is a magic formula out there that will somehow get Nicola Sturgeon on board and avert Death/Independence.

"OK, OK, but if we stay in the single market and introduce an Australian-style points system that's particularly favourable to Scotland's needs, what does Sturgeon do then?"

You can't stay in the single market and introduce an Australian-style points system, Kenny.  Oh, and freedom of movement is one of the Scottish Government's red lines anyway.

"Yeah, yeah, but if we stay in the single market, introduce an Australian-style points system AND throw in a free chocolate hobnob, Sturgeon has got nowhere left to go, yeah?"

It's all rather sweet.  He shall henceforth be known as Kenny "Brexit or Bust" Farquharson.

Mind you, he maybe did have cause for some minor excitement yesterday, because it was reported that the EU may be considering allowing the UK an "emergency brake" on free movement of as long as seven or ten years, while remaining in the single market.  That's the first indication that the EU is perhaps having second thoughts about making an example of the UK as a deterrent to others.  The snag, though, is that Theresa May has a parliamentary majority of just 12 seats, and it's very hard to see how she's going to keep her government intact if she agrees to merely a temporary suspension of free movement, followed by a resumption of normal service thereafter.  I doubt if that's a runner, unless May is the sort who would sacrifice her premiership in the national interest - and that's certainly not how she comes across.