Friday, July 20, 2018

Yes vote stands at 46% in Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls

It's been ages since I last calculated a polling average on independence, so I thought it might be time to give it a spin.  For those who don't remember, the Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls takes into account only the most recent poll from each firm that has asked the independence question at some point in the last six months.  Back during the indyref, I had an exchange with a pollster (I think it was someone from Ipsos-Mori) who was insistent that my method didn't make sense, and that a Poll of Polls should take into account all of the most recent handful of polls regardless of which firms had conducted them.  I pointed out to him that the 'house effects' in indyref polls were so extreme that his preferred method would generate crazily misleading trends - if you went from one average that was mostly based on polls from No-friendly firms (such as YouGov) to another average that was mostly based on polls from Yes-friendly firms (such as Panelbase), you'd get the firm impression there had been a sharp swing to Yes even if no such thing had actually happened.

The gap between pollsters is no longer as extreme these days, but there are still differences.  Panelbase has moved to the other end of the spectrum and is now a No-friendly pollster, usually reporting a Yes vote that is a little lower than one or two other firms such as Survation.  Needless to say YouGov remain a firmly No-friendly outfit, and as you know I've always been a bit cynical about them.  It's hard to escape the conclusion sometimes that they start from the assumption that the Yes vote should be on the low side and work backwards to find a methodology that will produce that outcome.  During the indyref, when they were still under the control of Labour supporter Peter Kellner, they used the notorious "Kellner Correction" to split SNP voters into two distinct categories and weight them separately, which magically produced figures that were much more No-friendly than other online firms - until the closing weeks of the campaign, when the small SNP group that they were artificially upweighting showed an enormous swing to Yes.  That was why Damian Lyons-Lowe of Survation argued on the evening of September 18th that the campaign had not had much impact on voting intentions, while Peter Kellner standing right next to him was equally insistent that the swing during the campaign had been dramatic.  It's impossible to know who was right, although I do suspect that if YouGov had been picking up a pro-Yes swing several months before polling day rather than a couple of weeks before, they might have changed their methodology again to make that swing look less significant.  Not because they were consciously trying to 'rig' anything, but because Kellner was bringing unionist preconceptions to the table and was much more likely to search for reasons why Yes was being overestimated, rather than the reverse.

Anyway, for today's update of the Poll of Polls, four polls are taken into account: very recent polls from Panelbase and Survation, a poll from YouGov that was conducted in early June, and a poll from Ipsos-Mori that was conducted in early March.  Obviously March is quite a while ago now, but that probably doesn't make too much difference - polling numbers on independence have been relatively stable of late.


Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 46.0%
No 54.0%

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If you haven't seen it yet, here is the second edition of Phantom Power's groundbreaking Nation documentary series starring Lesley Riddoch.  This time the focus is on Iceland.  Incidentally, did you know that more people speak Welsh than Icelandic?  And yet try telling the people of Iceland that their national language is "useless" and that they should just get on with speaking English like normal people do...

Thursday, July 19, 2018

If an outright mandate for independence is sought at a parliamentary election, it should be done at Holyrood 2021, not Westminster 2022

You may have seen that Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp's column in The National today sets out what he believes is the most likely timetable for seeking a mandate on independence.  As you know, I entirely agree with him that the mandate must and will be sought in the near future, and it's great to see that point being made unapologetically by such an influential figure.  However, I do disagree with him about a number of the specifics.

First of all, he thinks Nicola Sturgeon may not renew her request for a Section 30 order until April or May of next year - by which time, of course, Scotland will already have been dragged out of the EU.  (That will be the case unless the exit date is extended by mutual consent, which is theoretically allowed under Article 50 but seems unlikely at the moment.)  I believe it would be a great mistake to let Brexit become an established fact on the ground before any action at all is taken.  The referendum itself may or may not have to wait until after Brexit, but the public should certainly know long before 29th March that an alternative choice is coming.  In any case, Nicola Sturgeon has been consistently saying for the last year that she will make her judgement this autumn, and if she were to backtrack on that, it would play into the London media's preferred (bogus) narrative that a referendum is to all intents and purposes off the table for the foreseeable future.  I do expect the announcement could be delayed until the tail-end of autumn, though, and I would just note in passing that Scotland's national day happens to be 30th November - the final day of meteorological autumn.  (Mind you, that choice of date might be just a little too obvious!)

Secondly, Gordon argues that when the Section 30 request is made, there is only a 50% chance that Theresa May will refuse it.  I would say the chances are more like 99% or higher.  The Tories have put all their eggs in the "now is not the time" basket, and nothing will change on that front until one of two things happen: either a) they suffer the shock of losing a significant number of seats in a Holyrood or Westminster election, or b) Nicola Sturgeon sidesteps the Section 30 problem altogether by calling a vote against Westminster's wishes.  That does not mean, however, that a Section 30 request should not be made - quite the reverse.  But when the moment comes, it should be made abundantly clear to Theresa May that "now is not the time" is not an acceptable answer - we will require either a "yes" or a "no", and if no such answer is received by a specific date, a "no" will be assumed and we will move on to other options.

Thirdly, Gordon believes that if a Section 30 order is refused, the alternative option should not be a consultative referendum.  He thinks there would be a danger of a unionist boycott which would remove legitimacy from the vote.  As I've said before, I don't understand that argument, because a consultative referendum would be an each-way bet - the unionist parties might not boycott it, in which case it becomes binding to all intents and purposes, but if they do, a Yes vote becomes inevitable and the anti-independence mandate of September 2014 will no longer be uncontested.  Either way, it's a major step forward.

Nevertheless, there is of course the possibility that a consultative referendum may not be possible if the Supreme Court strikes the legislation down, in which case we would need the Plan C of using a scheduled election as a de facto referendum.  Which brings me to the fourth of Gordon's points that I disagree with.  He thinks that the Westminster election of 2022 should be used as the mandate vote, and that the 2021 Holyrood election should merely be used to establish a mandate for using the Westminster vote to seek a mandate.  There are all sorts of problems with that idea, not least the fact that we don't even know whether the next general election will take place before or after the Holyrood vote - it could be any time up to 2022, including even this autumn.  But the biggest issue is that a Westminster election will be a British contest in which media coverage will be dominated by British issues, and in which the independence issue will be treated as a colourful sideshow.  It's plainly far more appropriate (and more strategically promising for that matter) to seek a mandate in a Scotland-only election.  Given the first-past-the-post voting system, a Westminster election also carries the significant risk of a contradictory mandate - one where pro-independence parties win the majority of seats but anti-independence parties win a majority of the vote, as happened last year.  The proportional representation system used at Holyrood doesn't eliminate that risk altogether, but it does reduce the risk significantly.  There's no way, for example, that either pro-independence or anti-independence parties could win a majority of seats at Holyrood on less than 40% of the vote.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

An independence referendum looks ever more inevitable tonight as Tory rebels FAIL to vote down a hard Brexit

As I understand it, the SNP's strategy on an independence referendum since last summer's "reset" has been to focus all their energies on full-bloodedly and sincerely attempting to secure a soft Brexit for the whole UK, knowing that if they failed, they could then look the public in the eye and say with total honesty: "Every conceivable avenue for remaining in the single market and the customs union as part of the UK has now been exhausted.  Independence is the only game in town from now on."

That means, paradoxically, that their honest endeavours could have been moving them a little further away from their primary political objective.  Both last night and tonight, SNP MPs have taken part in knife-edge votes on the Trade Bill.  If they had been on the winning side in those votes, a softer Brexit would have looked much more likely, and the case for an early independence referendum would have looked considerably less clear-cut.  But courtesy of the very small and eccentric band of hard-core Labour Brexiteers, the most important votes were all lost.  Theresa May's astonishing capitulation to the Rees-Mogg faction yesterday has been confirmed by the Commons, we are hurtling towards either a Hard Brexit or a no deal Brexit, and it looks increasingly hard to see how Nicola Sturgeon will be able to justify to herself (let alone to anyone else) a decision to let the current mandate for an independence referendum expire.

The London media may still be in a state of absolute denial about it, but with a decision about a referendum still promised by the autumn, the day of reckoning cannot be far off now.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Heartbreak for the mainstream media as "Operation Hush-up" fails - Survation poll reveals widespread public awareness of the power-grab

It's actually been quite difficult to get to grips with the new Survation poll that has been gradually released by Cleggy and the Vow-Meisters over the last few days, because as far I can see only the datasets for the questions on independence have been published so far.  Survation's website isn't the most user-friendly, though, so it's difficult to be 100% sure.  The latest figures to be released today relate to the removal of powers from the Scottish Parliament, and on the face of it would seem to confirm that the issue has now cut through - in spite of the heroic efforts by the BBC and other parts of the mainstream media over the last few months to mention it as little as possible and to downplay its importance whenever they do mention it.  41% of respondents agree that Westminster grabbing back 24 of Holyrood's existing powers amounts to a "power-grab" (logical enough, you'd think), while 34% disagree.  Perhaps the closeness of that result may seem a little disappointing, but when you consider that the SNP have been fighting against a virtual news blackout on this subject, I'd suggest we should look upon the glass as being very much half-full in this case.

The only caveat I'd add is that in the absence of the datasets it's not clear exactly what question Survation asked.  As we all know, people are very hostile towards the Tories and suspicious of the UK government's intentions (with good reason), and so it could be that if they were asked "the Tories are doing X, but say it doesn't mean anything, do you believe them?", that could have generated the 41% result without there necessarily having been as much pre-knowledge of the power-grab as we'd like to believe.  But we'll find out more when the wording of the question is eventually published.

I've been a bit tied up over recent days writing articles for The National and iScot (and yeah, OK, watching the World Cup and Wimbledon may have had something to do with it as well), so I didn't get round to adding some analysis of Survation's voting intention numbers for Holyrood and Westminster.  Here are a few belated thoughts.  I speculated in my piece in The National that the SNP's best poll showing since before the June 2017 election might be due to the walkout from the Commons a few weeks ago.  Of course the other potential game-changer was the Chequers "deal" and the subsequent spate of ministerial resignations, which took place in the middle of Survation's fieldwork period.  We should certainly take that seriously as a possible explanation, because there's plenty of polling evidence that it's shifted public opinion at Britain-wide level - there's been a swing from Tory to Labour that essentially reverses the trend of the last few months.  The odd thing, though, is that the Scottish Tory vote is not substantially down in the Survation poll - they've remained static in the Westminster vote, and have only dropped one point on the Scottish Parliament constituency ballot, which can easily be explained away as margin of error 'noise'.  (They're down four points on the list ballot, but I'd be inclined to take that less seriously given the apparent tendency of some respondents to treat the list as a second preference vote.)  Weirdly, it's Labour that appears to be suffering the most - the opposite of what is happening at Britain-wide level.  How do we explain that?  Perhaps pro-European voters are looking for the best available option, and in England that's Labour, but in Scotland it's the SNP?

Both UKIP and the Liberal Democrats - parties that are on opposite extremes of the Brexit debate - are doing unusually well in the Survation poll, which would tend to confirm that Europe is on voters' minds to a greater extent than usual, and might suggest that other changes in the poll have a similar explanation.  In case you've been wondering why the seats projection for Holyrood gave the pro-independence parties a majority of seats on a minority of the vote, part of the explanation is that UKIP's 5% list vote is effectively 'wasting' a significant chunk of unionist votes, because it's just short of what would be required to actually win any seats.  If UKIP's list vote was to continue to rise, or if all the UKIP votes were to go to the Tories, the seats projection would look somewhat less favourable from a pro-independence point of view.

In relation to Survation's inexplicable decision to suddenly stop including 16 and 17 year olds in their independence polling, someone asked on an earlier thread whether that meant they were also excluding EU nationals.  The answer is that I don't know, because that information simply isn't available in the datasets.  If Survation are now using the Westminster franchise rather than the Holyrood/local government/indyref franchise as the basis for their sampling, it would seem logical that they would be excluding EU nationals as well as 16 and 17 year olds, which might theoretically be leading to a marginal underestimation of the Yes vote.  But that's just speculation at this stage.