Saturday, June 6, 2020

Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll: Sensation as Scottish voters, by a 3-1 margin, say that the Scottish Government's handling of the pandemic makes them "more confident" that Scotland will be well-governed as an independent country, and that the UK government's response to the crisis makes them "less convinced" that Scotland is safer as part of the UK

The primary responsibility of any government is to keep its citizens safe.  One of the reasons the Dominic Cummings scandal was so damaging for the UK government is that it was blindingly obvious that ministers were sacrificing public safety to protect the power of one man.  If the lockdown legislation had to be hastily 'reinterpreted' to make what Cummings did OK, they had absolutely no problem with that, even if they knew a laxer regime would cost lives.

It's one thing to put the public at risk because of policy misjudgements, but to do it intentionally and with so little subtlety...well, that's a whole different ball-game.  This poses a particular problem for those who want Scotland to remain part of the UK, because one of the main arguments against independence has always been that Scotland is "safer" with London rule.  You don't want to take any chances with your livelihoods, your pensions, etc, etc.  But if people start to feel that Westminster is actually putting them at direct risk, where else is there for the anti-indy campaign to go?  I decided to use the new Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll to find out how severe the damage is.

Does the handling of the coronavirus crisis by Boris Johnson and the UK Government make you more convinced or less convinced that Scotland is safer if it remains part of the UK?

More convinced: 20%
Less convinced: 59%

That's an ouch with a capital OUCH.  And no-one should be under any illusions that it's only people who already believe in independence who are reflexively saying they are less convinced.  Let's look, for example, at the figures for those who actually voted No in 2014...

2014 No voters:

More convinced: 29%
Less convinced: 41%

Or how about people who voted Labour in the 2019 general election?

2019 Labour voters:

More convinced: 18%
Less convinced: 63%

Or people who wanted Britain to leave the European Union?

2016 Leave voters:

More convinced: 33%
Less convinced: 43%

Of course none of this would matter very much if there was a similar lack of confidence in Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government.  If you think all governments are as bad as each other, you're not going to bother with a major constitutional change.  So I also used the poll to ask a very similar question about the Scottish Government.  The results are nothing short of breathtaking - the polar opposite of the verdict on the UK government.

Does the handling of the coronavirus crisis by Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government make you feel more confident or less confident that Scotland will be well-governed if it becomes an independent country?

More confident: 59%
Less confident: 22%

Once again, you might be surprised by some of the groups who say they are more confident about the good governance of an independent Scotland.  Take, for example, people who were born in England...

English-born voters resident in Scotland:

More confident: 43%
Less confident: 26%

Or No voters from 2014...

2014 No voters:

More confident: 39%
Less confident: 36%

Incidentally, even 25% of people who say they would vote No in a new referendum are more confident.  Last but not least, let's take a look at people who voted Labour in December, and who Richard Leonard probably thinks are the last people who would have any "appetite" for independence...

2019 Labour voters: 

More confident: 56%
Less confident: 26%

So you're probably starting to see why I said yesterday that I strongly suspected that the 2% boost in the headline Yes vote, relatively modest though it may be, is a genuine increase and not a quirk caused by normal sampling variation - and also why I think there's scope for further progress.

* * *

There are several more questions to come from the poll, so follow me on Twitter if you'd like to stay updated. You can also read my piece in The National about the headline independence results.

VIDEO: Preview of tonight's second installment of the Scot Goes Pop poll on independence

Friday, June 5, 2020

Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll on independence: Yes storms back into the lead in wake of Dominic Cummings episode

For the second time this year, Scot Goes Pop asked for your help to commission an opinion poll on independence, just to check whether a landmark recent event had boosted support for Yes.  The first time around in January, we got the result we wanted - Yes had jumped into the lead with 52% of the vote.  I did worry that it was too much to hope that lightning would strike twice, but what do you know?  It has.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll, 1st-5th June 2020):

Yes 52% (+2)
No 48% (-2)

As always, the headline results exclude Don't Knows.  With Don't Knows left in, the results are Yes 48% (+2), No 45% (-1).  Percentage changes are measured from the last Panelbase poll, which was conducted on behalf of Wings Over Scotland early last month.

This is the fourth Panelbase poll on independence in 2020 so far.  The sequence of results for Yes has been 52 - 49 - 50 - 52.  All of those results are theoretically within the margin of error, so there are a couple of ways of interpreting what we've seen - it could be that the Yes vote has been holding steady over the last few months after an initial post-election surge, and that the differing results have been caused by random sampling variation.  Or it could be that the surge subsided just slightly in late winter and early spring as attention turned away from Brexit and towards the coronavirus crisis, and that there has now been a bounce back for Yes as a result of the Dominic Cummings episode and the UK government's mishandling of the pandemic.  I must say that looking at the results of the supplementary questions from this poll (which I'll release over the coming days), I'm inclined much more towards the latter theory.

The datasets show a now-familiar pattern.  A large minority (35%) of people who voted Labour in the general election would vote Yes.  Significantly more No voters from the first indyref (18%) have changed sides than Yes voters (8%).  That's different from polls a few years ago that showed post-2014 progress for Yes without any net movement at all from No voters - back then it was 2014 non-voters who were making the difference.  That suggests to me that the current Yes lead is built on much more solid foundations.

Naturally, most Yes voters are Remainers.  56% of people who voted to stay in the EU would now back independence.  But in fairness a healthy minority of Leave voters (34%) are on the Yes side too.

The results of the poll were, in line with standard practice, weighted by both 2019 Westminster vote and 2014 indyref vote.  The latter led to Yes voters being downweighted somewhat, although nowhere near as drastically as is sometimes the case.  (Among those likely to vote in a new referendum, 387 Yes voters were reduced to 371 in the weighted sample.)  It's worth making the point that 2014 is now six years ago, and there may come a point in the coming years where pollsters will conclude that weighting by the indyref result is no longer sensible, simply due to the sheer passage of time and the increasing danger of false recall.  If and when that happens, it will probably result in at least a slight average boost for the reported Yes vote share.

There are several more questions to come from this poll - I'll be releasing the details bit by bit.  If you'd like to be the first to know every step of the way, you can follow me on Twitter HERE.

Video teaser for the Scot Goes Pop poll on independence, which will be released later today...

You can follow me on Twitter for updates relating to the poll.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Back when the MP for the Western Isles held the fate of the UK government in his hands

In the unlikely event that you have two-and-a-half hours to spare this morning or this afternoon, I can recommend that you grab the last chance to watch the National Theatre recording of This House - the story of the 1974-79 Labour government from the vantage point of the whips' office.  I went to see it in Edinburgh in March 2018 - which given the current circumstances is a rather unsettling memory, because two days later I came down with just about the most horrendous dose of the flu I've ever had.  Just goes to show how easily respiratory infection can be passed on in large indoor gatherings (although admittedly I've no idea whether I caught it in the theatre or on the train).

There was a debate in the press recently (in relation to Braveheart) about whether historical inaccuracies detract from artistic merit.  It must be hoped that isn't the case as far as This House is concerned, because it's not hard to spot the errors and misrepresentations.  You'll wince at the portrayal of the SNP's Westminster leader Donald Stewart, but even worse is the depiction of the SDLP's Gerry Fitt as some sort of romantic Irish nationalist who helped bring down the British government for no other reason than that it was the British government.  The reality is that if Fitt was a romantic anything, he was a romantic socialist.  He was horrified when his successor as SDLP leader, John Hume, turned the party into an out-and-out nationalist party.  He actually had a very specific reason for refusing to back Callaghan on the vote of no confidence:  he wanted rid of Roy Mason as Northern Ireland Secretary.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Welcome to the wacky world of Mark Smith (twinned with Planet Daisley)

If you're starting to feel like you've taken out a subscription to the Daily Telegraph by mistake, it may be because you've been reading a few too many Herald columns from Mark Smith, who seems to have emerged from nowhere to fill the gap left by an earlier wave of militant Nat-bashers such as David Torrance.  I asked around last night to see if anyone knows who he is, but nobody seems to have the faintest idea - apart from a scurillous rumour that he might have been cloned from Mr Torrance's beard-clippings.  Judging from his profile photo he's a relatively young guy, which makes sense, because the person his writing most reminds me of is not Mr Torrance - it's Stephen Daisley.  You get the same sense of a youthful writer who incongruously yearns to be viewed as a worldly-wise sage, and who has enough flair for prose to think it's worth bluffing it.  But a bluff is most certainly what it is.  He's made a series of distinctly odd pronouncements in recent months, including some that are downright daft and offensive.

A few weeks ago he indignantly informed us that Nicola Sturgeon had made a terrible mistake by urging people to wear face coverings.  His reason for worrying (and I'm not making this up) is that he thought she would probably succeed in persuading people to wear face coverings, which he just knew would be harmful because he, Mark Smith, world-renowned armchair expert on respiratory infections and behavioural psychology, couldn't see the point of a scarf over the mouth and thought it would probably give people a false sense of security.  He also fatuously added that: "As a result of the First Minster’s pronouncement, more people are going to start wearing masks. At best, it will be a waste of time; at worst, it could increase the spread of the virus."

Hmmm.  Alternatively, Mark, the best-case scenario is that the scientific advice heeded by the First Minister is right and that face coverings will slow the spread of infection.  I've heard of journalistic conceit, but it really takes the biscuit for a columnist to completely exclude the possibility, even as a best-case scenario, that his own hunches are wrong and that the expert science is right.

Then there was Smith's reaction to the controversy over remarks on BBC evening news programmes by his namesake Sarah Smith - 

"She is expressing an opinion. And perhaps, when she hears the opinion, the First Minister could try to be a little less touchy."

You see, Mark, personal opinions are things that newspaper columnists like yourself are allowed to express.  Not so much BBC correspondents when they're speaking to millions of viewers live on air.  Sarah Smith's role is to report facts and offer politically impartial analysis.  Characterising what she said as an "opinion" means, whether you realise it or not, that you're saying the criticisms of Ms Smith were extremely well-founded.  As for the First Minister being "touchy", I'd suggest most reasonable people would conclude that her riposte was remarkably restrained given that the "opinion" was illegitimately expressed and impugned her own integrity.  She also magnanimously declared the matter closed after a grudging apology that was only made on social media, where it received a fraction of the audience of the original remark.

But it's not just Nicola Sturgeon that Mr Smith feels the need to periodically admonish (in sorrow more than in anger, you understand).  Earlier in the crisis, he had this rebuke for the "nationalist" hordes - 

"A message for nationalists: do not make the virus about Scotland v England - it demeans you."

Quite so.  By contrast, British nationalists who make the virus about "one United Kingdom moving forward together" are doubtless elevating themselves to a higher plane of existence.

Which brings me neatly onto Smith's already notorious new column that outrageously claims "nationalists" and lefties are "in love with lockdown".  He moronically portrays left-wingers as authoritarians who revel in strong-man leadership (you can tell he's just dying to trot out the stock Fox News line of "remember Hitler was a National Socialist, folks!"), and right-wingers as lovers of liberty.  As I've noted before, this is a faux libertarianism - or rather it's libertarianism for pathogens rather than people.  There's no 'personal freedom' in pointlessly ending up in an intensive care unit.  

There's a trademark Smith moment of unintended comedy midway through the column when he notes that right-wingers who flout the lockdown are putting themselves at risk, and claims that this proves that they cannot possibly be motivated by selfishness.  Yes, of course, Mark, they're nobly sacrificing themselves for the good of the economy.  Alternatively, it might just be that as 'rugged individualists' they have no sense of social responsibility whatsoever (there's "no such thing as society", after all), and don't much care who they infect as long as they're convinced - perhaps wrongly - that their own personal risk is reasonably low.

Curiously, Smith once again lambasts Cybernats for playing up differences between Scotland and England which he says don't really exist.  That would have been a much better line three months ago, because the divergence between the two nations is now demonstrably enormous.  England is opening up schools and non-essential shops, Scotland isn't.  England allows unlimited travel, Scotland is urging people to stay within five miles of home.  England has relaxed the shielding of vulnerable people, Scotland has not.

Smith thinks it was absurd that "nationalists" criticised Boris Johnson in early May for the first steps towards easing lockdown, when Scotland took similar steps only a "little later".  Seriously?  Three weeks is a "little"?  In a pandemic, three weeks is an eternity.