Thursday, July 9, 2020

The pro-independence majority has been mostly caused by people changing their minds, and not by 'demographic drift'

A reader emailed me yesterday to ask whether I thought there was any truth in the following comment. I'm not sure what the source of it is - the use of the word "independentista" made me think it might be Jason McCann, but I can't spot anything like this on his blog.

"None of the efforts of we independentistas, or unionists, to persuade others of the merits of our cause, makes any difference. The Brexit, COVID-19 incidents do not affect support for independence. The increase in those supporting independence since the first referendum in 2014, is entirely due to old people, who overwhelmingly support the Union, dying of old age, and young people, who overwhelmingly support independence joining the electoral role (sic)..."

This is just about the easiest question I've ever been asked - the answer is an emphatic "no", the comment is not true. You only need to look at the datasets of all recent polls to see that some people who voted Yes in 2014 are now in the No column, that some people who voted No in 2014 are now in the Yes column, and that significantly more people have moved from No to Yes than vice versa - hence the Yes majority. Last weekend's Panelbase poll suggested that 19% of 2014 No voters are now Yes, and that only 6% of 2014 Yes voters are now No.

There may have been some 'passive demographic drift' towards Yes over and above the direct swing, but people who think the answer to all our problems is just to wait a couple of decades are barking up the wrong tree. Even leaving aside the distasteful nature of the suggestion that we should wait for elderly No voters to die, the fundamental problem is that the passage of time also turns younger voters into older voters, a process that often changes their political views. There's a grain of truth in the suggestion that people become more conservative as they get older - it doesn't happen to everyone by any means, but it does happen to some.

Look at it this way - in 1992, there was a famous opinion poll that put support for independence at exactly 50%. You might remember it was the top headline on News at Ten (those were the days when News at Ten was actually a news programme). The "demographic destiny" brigade would have looked at that number and declared that all we needed to do is wait twenty years and we'd have a Yes vote of 70% - which makes it somewhat mysterious that 55% of people voted No in 2014. Probably some of the young-ish people who were pro-independence in that 1992 poll ended up voting No in 2014 because the Better Together campaign scared them witless about their pensions or whatever.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

If you think a 54% Yes vote 'isn't high enough', then your own support for independence is nominal at best

Are some Conservative voters starting to warm to Scottish independence?

The datasets for last weekend's Panelbase poll were published a couple of days ago.  Regardless of whether Don't Knows are excluded or not, the headline figures on independence are identical to the other very recent Panelbase poll commissioned by Business for Scotland, so unsurprisingly the detailed numbers for different demographic groups haven't changed much either.  But there is one small point that marks the new poll out from all of the previous five Panelbase polls conducted in this calendar year.  Look at how the percentage of Conservative voters who say they support independence has changed over time...

Percentage of Conservative voters who support independence (Panelbase polls in 2020):

2% (28th-31st January)
2% (24th-26th March)
4% (1st-5th May)
3% (1st-5th June)
5% (15th-19th June)
9% (30th June - 3rd July)

Tory voters are the one group who in recent years have been virtually unanimous in their opposition to independence - you don't get anything like such lopsided numbers among other typically anti-indy groups such as Brexit supporters and people who were born in England.  But are things starting to change just slightly?  Not necessarily, because the number of respondents involved is small, and it's possible the unusually high figure of 9% was produced by random sampling variation.  This is well worth keeping an eye on for the future, though.  Remember in the poll that I commissioned a month ago, one of the supplementary questions found that Tory voters were split down the middle on whether the Scottish public would be more safe or less safe if the UK government's powers relating to the lockdown were transferred to the Scottish government, which is not what you'd normally expect at all.  The events of the pandemic may have caused some constitutional soul-searching in some very surprising places.

Monday, July 6, 2020

More on that astonishing Panelbase poll

Just a quick note to let you know I have a piece in The National today, with more analysis of Yes remaining on a heady 54% in the latest Panelbase poll.  In particular, I address the oft-heard claim on social media that "it's a lot higher than 54%!".  You can read the article HERE.

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UPDATE: As I predicted yesterday (it's uncanny!), Stuart Campbell has published a breathless and wildly misleading commentary based on the results of an "Archie Stirling"-type poll question.  As it happens, I entirely agree with Stuart that a new party led by Alex Salmond would have an extremely good chance of winning seats, but this particular type of poll is simply incapable of producing a reliable estimate of the likely percentage support for a party.  You can read a fuller explanation HERE.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

This is the real deal: support for independence stays at record-breaking high of 54% in new Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times

When a poll shows something out of the ordinary, there's always a chance that the change is - either in whole or in part - an illusion caused by the margin of error, and that the next poll will show a reversion to the mean.  So after the highest ever Yes vote in a Panelbase poll last month, I would have happily settled for even the narrowest of Yes leads in the follow-up poll.  What we've ended up with is considerably better than that.

Should Scotland be an independent country?  (Panelbase, 30th June-3rd July 2020):

Yes 54% (n/c)
No 46% (n/c)

This is the moment for unionists to stop deluding themselves that it's some kind of fluke that Yes are in the lead.  You don't get 54% twice in a row by coincidence.  This is also the third poll in a row to show a pro-indy majority, and the fourth in a row to show Yes on 50% or higher.  I would imagine that those still in denial will cling to the fact that all of the recent polls were conducted by the same firm.  But the reality is that YouGov and Survation polls in January were pretty much bang in line with what a Panelbase poll showed at the same time, so there's no particular reason to suspect that other firms would be painting a different picture now.  Of course in an ideal world we'd have polls from a wider range of firms just to be sure, but I very much doubt that would prove to be any sort of get-out-of-jail-free card for the unionists.  It should also be noted that the new Panelbase poll was not, unlike the last three, commissioned by a pro-indy client, so that nonsensical excuse for a low No vote can't be used in this case either.

If you think the independence numbers are extraordinary, wait until you see the party political voting intention numbers...

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 55% (+2)
Conservatives 20% (-1)
Labour 15% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)
Greens 3% (n/c)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 50% (+2)
Conservatives 18% (-1)
Labour 15% (-1)
Greens 8% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-2)

Seats projection: SNP 74, Conservatives 24, Labour 17, Greens 9, Liberal Democrats 5

This means pro-independence parties would have 64% of the seats at Holyrood - I'm struggling to remember ever seeing such a high projected total.

The SNP have been riding at an exceptionally high level of support in recent months, but this takes it to a whole new plane - they haven't been as high as 55% on the constituency ballot or 50% on the list in any poll from any firm since the 2016 election.  Part of the explanation seems to be the space that has opened up as a result of collapsing support for the Conservative Party.  A substantial drop for the Tories was reported in the previous Panelbase poll (commissioned by Scot Goes Pop), and they've now slipped a touch further.  It's hard not to conclude that the change of political weather can be mostly explained by Boris Johnson's catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic, and by Nicola Sturgeon's assured response to the crisis.  Respondents were asked to express approval or disapproval for various leaders' performance - Ms Sturgeon has a positive net rating of +60, and Mr Johnson has a negative net rating of -39.  That yawning chasm pretty much says it all.

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Just to avoid it getting lost - a couple of hours ago I posted an analysis of the pros and cons of Alex Salmond fronting a new pro-indy party.  You can read it HERE.  

The pros and cons of Alex Salmond fronting a new pro-indy party

As I mentioned a few days ago, a reader very kindly sent me screenshots of the questions in the latest Scottish poll from Panelbase that has been in the field over the last week. It looked to me like another multi-client survey - some of the questions had Wings written all over them (yes, there's yet another trans question coming), but others were on subjects that it was hard to imagine RevStu asking about. Part of that theory has been proved right, because the first of the results has now been published on Wings - a very useful question that found overwhelming support for border restrictions between Scotland and England if they become necessary due to higher infection rates south of the border. However, it remains to be seen whether the results on the standard independence question, and also on the Westminster and Holyrood voting intention questions, will appear on Wings or elsewhere. One obvious possibility is the Scottish edition of the Sunday Times, which has been commissioning polls from Panelbase for many years. However, there was no sign of any results at midnight, which is often when they've appeared in the past.

But while we're waiting, let's take a look at the wording of one the other questions that probably come from the Wings section of the poll -

We'd like you to imagine a new pro-independence party was formed for the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, contesting seats ONLY on the regional list, and that party was led by Alex Salmond. Do you think you might vote for the new party with your list vote?


* Yes, definitely
* More likely than not
* Possible but unlikely
* Definitely not

This is the "Archie Stirling"-type question that I've been warning about for the best part of a year -

"What is an Archie Stirling-type question? Just weeks before the 2007 Holyrood election, the wealthy businessman Archie Stirling (ex-husband of Diana Rigg and father of Rachael Stirling) commissioned a YouGov poll which asked respondents whether they would consider voting for his new centre-right political party, Scottish Voice, on the regional list ballot. 21% said they would. Mr Stirling sent the results to the newspapers, which breathlessly reported that Scottish Voice could be on course to win dozens of list seats and to hold the balance of power. But a few weeks later when the actual results came in, the party received only 0.3% of the list vote and didn't come remotely close to winning a single seat. It had won just one-seventieth (!) of the number of votes that the YouGov poll had implied was possible."

To get a meaningful sense of the likely support for a new party, you have to present it as merely one of a menu of options, alongside the established parties.  If you instead ask about it in isolation, as Stirling did, you're likely to get a massive overestimate.  So be on your guard for any breathless commentary in the coming days that suggests a new list party is on course for 20% or 30% or 40% or 50% of the vote, because that is the total number who tell Panelbase they would "definitely" or "more likely than not" vote for it.  Any such result cannot be considered reliable, simply because of the way the question was posed.

That said, the shortcomings of this particular polling exercise don't change what is already obvious - that a party led by Alex Salmond would stand a realistic chance of winning seats.  Is that a prospect we should be excited about?  Here are the pros and cons as I see them...

Pros: Any Salmond-led party would, almost by definition, be a lot bolder in its pursuit of independence than the current SNP leadership.  That could help to break the impasse on adopting a  Plan B in the absence of a Section 30 order.  If the new party held the balance of power, it could make Plan B a condition for supporting an SNP government.  And even if it didn't hold the balance of power, its success could still shock the SNP into becoming more daring.

Cons: There would be the whole psychodrama of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon being in direct competition with each other.  My guess is that Mr Salmond would play that aspect down and would portray his party as a complement to the SNP rather than a competitor.  But our unionist-dominated media would still have a field-day, and there would be a danger of the broader independence movement being damaged.  The broadcasters might also be tempted to bend their already flexible "rules" on who qualifies for TV debates in the hope of getting sparks flying between the former colleagues.  An additional concern is that some senior SNP parliamentarians foolishly launched thinly-veiled attacks on Mr Salmond in the wake of his acquittal.  That could make it psychologically harder for the two parties to work together if the parliamentary arithmetic makes cooperation necessary.

Looked at that way, it might appear that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.  But it really just depends on whether you think the current SNP leadership will ever take the steps necessary to give the people of Scotland a choice on their future.  If you genuinely don't think they will, then accepting the risks (and those risks are substantial) becomes much more logical.

I've no idea whether Mr Salmond is actively considering the possibility of fronting a new party.  But if he is, I don't envy him the choice, because it's very hard to judge the right course of action, and the future of Scotland could hinge on his decision.