Friday, February 14, 2020

"It's within the margin of error, Joanna, let's be clear about that"

Just a quick post about last night's Question Time from Dundee (a pro-independence city that mysteriously always seems to do an impersonation of Buckinghamshire whenever the BBC pay a visit).  When Joanna Cherry pointed out that the last three opinion polls had shown a majority for independence, the host Fiona Bruce made two forceful interruptions -

"It's within - it's within the margin of error, Joanna, let's be clear about that."

"They're within the margin of error, so they can't - they're not as strong as you'd like them to be, I'm sure."

You'd think Ms Bruce might be a bit wary about making interventions on the subject of opinion polls, given that she had to issue a humiliating apology a year ago after she "corrected" (in rather mocking fashion) a comment Diane Abbott made about the polls, only for it to turn out that the "correction" was inaccurate and that Ms Abbott's original claim had been entirely right all along.  But was Ms Bruce on stronger ground last night?

Well...up to a point, Lord Copper.  It's true that, on an individual basis, all three of the recent polls show a Yes lead that is within the margin of error.  But when several polls all show the same thing, the equation changes somewhat.  If, for example, there were eight or ten polls that all showed Yes in the low 50s, the margin of error would no longer be an alibi, because that wouldn't be happening by chance.  (It would still be possible that there was a systemic methodological error across the polling industry causing Yes to be overestimated, but the point is that it wouldn't be happening due to random sampling variation.)  With only three polls, it's a bit less clear-cut - it's less likely that the margin of error is causing an illusory Yes lead than would be the case if there was only one poll, but it's still possible.  So, yes, Ms Bruce technically had a valid point, albeit a weaker one than she probably thought.

But the wider issue here is the double-standard.  There have been long spells over the last few years when the No vote in the polls was averaging out at around 53%, or 52%, or 51%.  And it's scarcely been unusual for unionist politicians on Question Time and other programmes to make the point that "polls show the people of Scotland are still opposed to independence".  Can you ever remember, even once, a host or interviewer jumping in to say "but it's within the margin of error"?  Nope, me neither.

I gather Jackson Carlaw has been all over the airwaves today falsely claiming that the overwhelming majority of Scots don't want a second independence referendum.  Did any interviewer correct him by pointing out that the YouGov poll shows that most Scots in fact want a referendum within five years, and that the Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll shows that most Scots think Brexit is a big enough change of circumstances to justify a referendum, and that Holyrood should legislate for one even without a Section 30 order?  Probably not.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

IndyLive Radio interview

Just a quick note to let you know that I was on IndyLive Radio yesterday for quite a lengthy interview about last week's Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll, and also about polling more generally.  I don't think there's any catch-up option, but I gather the interview will be streamed again at around 8pm tonight.  So if you happen to be around, the link to the website is HERE.

Monday, February 10, 2020

No, "consultative referendum" is not a euphemism for "UDI"

I'm rather touched that Peter A Bell keeps posting such flattering photos of me on his blog, but just on a point of clarification, he's wholly wrong to suggest that I've "changed my tune" on Scotland declaring UDI - something which I basically think is a bad idea, although I've always stressed I wouldn't totally rule it out in extreme circumstances where absolutely every other possible remedy has been completely and genuinely exhausted.  Peter is implying that my support for the principle of a consultative referendum is tantamount to support for UDI, but of course it isn't - the point of a consultative referendum would be to reverse the 2014 result, establish a mandate for independence, and use that as leverage to bring the UK government to the negotiating table.  Ideally, the negotiation would be over an independence settlement, but less ideally it could result in a further agreed referendum to put the mandate beyond dispute.

As I understand it, Peter's own position is to passionately advocate for UDI while pretending to oppose it vociferously.  The wheeze is to rebrand UDI as "dissolving the union", and to make out that if you call it that, it somehow becomes an entirely different concept.  But of course any attempt to dissolve the union without Westminster's agreement is by definition a unilateral declaration of independence.  I remain baffled as to what the point of all the semantic game-playing is.