Saturday, March 6, 2021

Updated: Poll purporting to show a No lead was conducted in a non-standard way

UPDATE, 1am: I'm not going to delete the analysis below - however, when I wrote it, I was unaware of the following comments on the nature of the poll...

"these figures are not weighted for voter turnout, with further polling expected this week to show a clearer impact of the inquiry on Scottish independence voting intention..these figures on Scottish independence are not directly comparable with previous polls on the subject, due to this and the nature of the poll."

In other words this is not a standard poll, and we have absolutely no idea whether a poll conducted in the normal way would show a Yes lead or a No lead.  Which begs the obvious question: why on earth has this poll been published?

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So this time the sequence really has come to an end - No are back in the lead, at least for now.  That brings to a close a run of twenty-five consecutive polls that had Yes on 50% or above.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Savanta ComRes)

Yes 48%
No 52%

There's no alibi about a No-friendly pollster on this occasion, because ComRes were firmly on the Yes-friendly end of the spectrum at the turn of the year, showing Yes at a peak of 58%.  (Although admittedly their results have been fairly average at other times.)  Is there any silver lining?  There absolutely is.  As recently as two years ago, we'd have been delighted with a figure of 48% from any firm, and the fact that Yes is still that high after a perfect storm of atrocious headlines speaks to an underlying strength.

In any case, we've reached the point in the electoral cycle where we really should be far more interested in party political voting intentions than independence numbers.  I can't remember us continuing to be so fixated with the Yes/No figures in the run-up to any previous Holyrood or Westminster election - in fact there were independence polls during both the 2017 and 2019 campaigns that went literally unnoticed, in spite of there being an enormous No lead in one of them.  Probably the reason for the difference is that independence has seemed like a real possibility of late, and the SNP lead for Holyrood has looked unassailable - but the latter is an illusion.  Neither an SNP majority nor even a pro-independence majority is assured.  This is an election that still needs to be grabbed by the scruff of the neck and won by the Yes parties. Once we've done that, we can work out from a position of strength how to rebuild a sustained Yes lead on the indy question. 

Obviously the first thing I checked when the poll was released was the fieldwork dates - if it had been conducted after Alex Salmond's evidence to the committee but before Nicola Sturgeon's, it would have kept alive the theory believed by many that Nicola Sturgeon's performance was exceptionally well-received, that she had single-handedly rescued the situation and that she had emerged from the session more liked and trusted than ever before.  Sadly, that doesn't appear to be the case - the poll was entirely conducted after her appearance, and it seems that a supplementary question has found that trust in her is sharply down.  That certainly doesn't mean that she should resign, but what it does mean in my view is that the SNP should urgently reconsider any plans they may have had to run a presidential-style "Re-Elect Our Beloved Leader" campaign.  What we need instead is a relentless focus on independence, to motivate and excite the Yes-supporting base, and to put any mandate won beyond doubt.

Back to square one?

Just to return to the subject of a previous post, you may have seen in The National that Mike Russell has denied that the leaked drafts of the SNP manifesto are genuine, whereas Wings has insisted that they are and that his source is impeccable. It's possible that both could be telling the truth as far as they know it - the text seemed too good to be true in some ways, and was written without the tentativeness and excessive caution that is normally associated with the current SNP leadership's approach to securing an independence referendum, so I'm wondering if it was someone else's suggested wording and the Wings source mistook it for a leadership text. In a strange way it doesn't really matter who is telling the truth, though - now that Mike Russell has issued a denial, the eventual manifesto will have to be made different to 'prove' that the leak was fake, and there's a danger that the good things in the draft will be lost. I'm a tad troubled by the mood music emanating from the SNP on social media - early indications suggest they'll be fighting a presidential campaign, inviting voters to show their appreciation for Nicola Sturgeon's handling of the pandemic by giving her another term of office. I can see why that would have seemed seductive as a strategic option and in a narrow sense it may even work, but we should really be entering the independence endgame in this campaign, and a pitch of "back Nicola as the best leader of a devolved Scotland" won't give any confidence that the leadership have got that memo. There's also a danger that independence supporters may not feel they have enough incentive to turn out to vote - in other words we could repeat the mistakes of the 2017 Westminster general election. 

The other significance of the presidential tone is that it strongly suggests that the leadership and associated strategists are confident that Nicola Sturgeon will remain in office even if she's found to have broken the ministerial code. And whatever anyone thinks of her, that's probably just as well, because this is a crucial election for the independence cause and a leadership vacancy a few weeks before polling day could be catastrophic. My theory is that John Swinney would take over on an interim basis as a 'safe pair of hands', because I suspect there would be a feeling that the more adventurous options like Kate Forbes or Humza Yousaf would have to wait until everyone has a chance to draw breath and think the whole thing through. But Mr Swinney has led the SNP into elections before, and the results were underwhelming to say the least. 

Meanwhile there's a suggestion that the new Labour leader Anas Sarwar may take on Ms Sturgeon in the Glasgow Southside constituency ballot. Wings is talking up the possibility that he might beat her and that she might lose her seat altogether, due to her only being placed second on the list as a result of the unhealthily secretive 'reserved places' scheme. Spoiler alert: Nicola Sturgeon is not going to lose Glasgow Southside. If anything she's more popular than she was five years ago, and she has an enormous cushion that will see her home even if Mr Sarwar gets a bit of momentum going and starts attracting Tory tactical votes. The main thing his candidacy would say to me is that Labour accept they have no chance of winning any constituency seats in Glasgow at all, and that instead of trying to get him elected as a constituency MSP, they're going for a publicity stunt.

For the attention of voters: please note that the result of the election is none of your business

So note the extremely careful wording of the above tweet. Mr Campbell thanks SNP members for giving him their votes. That's correct: some people voted him. He says he's proud that he will "top the batting order". That's correct: he will be top of the Lothian list. But what he doesn't do is thank members for voting him to the top of the list, or say that he is proud that they did so. And the reason for that omission is that he almost certainly wasn't the candidate with the most votes. He may not have been even close to being the candidate with the most votes, but the result was artificially altered to move him to top spot due to a rule that members weren't informed of when they cast their votes, and as far as I can see haven't been informed of subsequently. Nor have they been told what position Mr Campbell would have been in if the result hadn't been modified.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Swing to SNP in two North Lanarkshire by-elections

There were two by-elections on my home turf of North Lanarkshire yesterday.  The results are both being billed as "Labour gains from the SNP", but as is so often the case in the wacky world of STV by-elections, things are not quite as they seem - they were both wards in which Labour topped the popular vote last time around, so Labour only needed to stand still to "hold" the seats, whereas the SNP would have needed a sizeable swing to "gain" them.  In the event, there was a net swing to the SNP in both wards, but not big enough to stop Labour.  (The SNP's vote fell in Thorniewood due to an intervention from an independent candidate, but because Labour's vote fell much further, that still counts as a technical swing from Labour to SNP.)

Fortissat by-election result (first preferences):

Labour 38.4% (+1.9) 
SNP 34.6% (+5.5) 
Conservatives 23.5% (+10.2) 
Greens 2.5% (n/a) 
UKIP 1.1% (n/a) 

Thorniewood by-election result (first preferences): 

Labour 36.4% (-13.8) 
SNP 34.5% (-4.2) 
Independent - Budd 18.9% (n/a) 
Conservatives 7.7% (-3.3) 
Greens 1.9% (n/a) 
UKIP 0.5% (n/a)

Although from a psephological point of view the idea that these are "Labour gains" is fairly meaningless, what's very real on the ground is that SNP councillors are being replaced with Labour councillors, and that has rather depressing repercussions for the balance of power on North Lanarkshire Council.  The SNP emerged from the 2017 election as the largest party on the council by a single seat, and Labour only clung on to power by doing a grubby deal with their supposed "enemies" in the Tory party.  However, since then Labour have recovered their traditional position as the largest party with the help of by-election 'gains'.  

It's a bit odd to see that UKIP, who most people would assume are a busted flush, are still persevering by putting up no-hoper candidates, whereas there's no sign at all of Nigel Farage's shiny new Reform UK brand.

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I'm currently crowdfunding to run another Scot Goes Pop poll at some point before Holyrood election day - if you'd like to donate, click HERE to find out more.  

The SNP's proposed manifesto commitment to a Plan B doesn't go far enough - but it's undoubtedly a big step forward

I've been having a look at the draft SNP manifesto that's been leaked to Wings (although 'leaked' may be stretching the point if it's been circulated to branches) and I'm actually a lot more positive about it than Stuart and his devotees are.  It certainly doesn't go far enough, because there's no sign of a Plan C to cover the perfectly conceivable scenario in which the UK government not only challenge a referendum in court, but actually win.  Some people say "you have to keep that card up your sleeve" - well, even if that's the theory, there should be a clear undertaking that a court defeat would not be the end of the matter.

However, the strength of the language about the determination to push ahead with legislation for a referendum come what may, and about how the next request for a Section 30 order will be the final one, is much better than I would have thought likely a few months ago, and is important because it gives SNP members something to hold the leadership to.  It isn't vague language that can be conveniently 'explained away' at a later date - the meaning of the pledge is crystal-clear, at least this side of any visit to the Supreme Court.  We no longer have the nightmare scenario, which the likes of Mhairi Hunter used to punt in all apparent seriousness as a viable strategy, of asking for a Section 30 order and then just "campaigning some more for a Section 30 order" every time the request is inevitably rejected.

A couple of Stuart's specific objections are bogus.  He seems to think the language about holding a referendum as soon as it's safe to do so is a delaying tactic, and he points out that if it's already deemed safe to hold an election in May it must by definition be safe to hold a referendum.  Well, that may be technically true, but a parliamentary election is a much more routine event than a referendum on a country's independence, and it's surely undesirable to hold the latter until it's possible to engage in the full range of campaigning options, such as doorstep campaigning.  But the way things are going, that shouldn't be too far off.

Stuart also trots out the silly old myth about how a consultative referendum is essentially impossible because unionist-run councils will refuse to cooperate with it.  In reality, the only way a consultative referendum will take place is if it's the law of the land - ie. if the Scottish Parliament has legislated for a referendum and the Supreme Court has upheld that law.  Unionist councils will obey the law of the land as they do in every other election or referendum.

*  *  *

Yesterday brought some mildly encouraging polling news from YouGov, who appear to be the only firm that structure and weight their Scottish subsamples in GB-wide polls correctly.  Their poll of 3rd-4th March is therefore the first real straw in the wind about the state of public opinion in the wake of Alex Salmond's appearance before the Holyrood committee, and the subsample figures are healthy enough: SNP 50%, Conservatives 21%, Labour 16%, Liberal Democrats 8%, Greens 3%.

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I'm currently crowdfunding to run another Scot Goes Pop poll at some point before Holyrood election day - if you'd like to donate, click HERE to find out more.  

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Crowdfunding for forthcoming Scot Goes Pop polling

Last night there was a flurry of posts on social media from people saying they had just joined the SNP, very much reminiscent of what happened immediately after the independence referendum.  I was puzzled by that, and wondered if everything wasn't entirely as it seemed, but I was assured that many of the sign-ups were genuine.  It was then suggested to me that, as I'd previously organised crowdfunded opinion polls to see if public opinion on independence had changed after a major event, now would be a logical time to do it again.  

Unlike the start of last year, or indeed last June when I commissioned the post-Cummings poll, it's obviously not the case that there won't be any polls at all if I don't step in.  With an election in the offing, there are bound to be polls commissioned by a range of clients over the coming weeks.  Nevertheless, I've been intending all along to commission one more poll at some point before the Holyrood election.  I'm open-minded about timing - if no polls appear over the coming days, there might be some value in going straight ahead.  If polls do appear at the weekend, it could be more logical to wait until the campaign proper in April.  But either way, this might not be a bad moment to make sure sufficient funding is in place so I'm ready to strike at the optimum moment.

It's slightly tricky, though.  There's some money left over from the last poll crowdfunder, but not enough.  I'm currently running a general fundraiser to keep the blog going for another year, but I had intended that to be a slowburner over a few months.  So to make up the shortfall, there are two options: either a) run two fundraisers simultaneously, or b) increase the target figure on the general fundraiser and set aside a portion for polling.  I've decided to go for the latter option, because the idea of promoting two fundraisers at the same time made me feel slightly queasy.

The way it will work is this: any money donated to the general fundraiser over the next week or so, up to a total of £5000, will be set aside for future polling - one for the run-up to the Holyrood election, with hopefully some funds left over to put towards a subsequent poll later in the year.  

Obviously there are divisions within the pro-indy camp at present, and I've made no secret of where I stand on the various points of controversy.  However, I think anyone who has followed the four polls I've run since January 2020 will know that I always try to act in the best interests of the whole movement, and the poll questions I've asked have always reflected that.  To give an obvious example, I was a vociferous opponent of the idea of a Wings party, but I deliberately never asked about that subject in any of the polls, because I knew that many Wings readers had contributed to the funding.

My intention this time would be to ask for independence voting intentions, Holyrood (and possibly Westminster) voting intentions, with a range of supplementary questions designed to put the anti-independence parties on the spot as election day approaches.  As always, though, I'd be open to any suggestions.

If you'd like to ensure there's one more Scot Goes Pop poll before election day, please click here to go straight to the general fundraiser page.

Yes retains a substantial lead with 53% backing in latest Savanta ComRes poll - although the fieldwork preceded the 50-50 Survation poll

When we talk about the extraordinary run of Yes-majority polls that was finally broken (hopefully only a temporary blip) by a 50-50 Survation poll at the weekend, we'll now have to say it was twenty-three in a row rather than twenty-two, because it turns out that Savanta ComRes ran another independence poll just before Survation.  It was commissioned by ITV.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Savanta ComRes / ITV, 18th-22nd February 2021)

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

So no change at all from the previous ComRes poll for the Scotsman, which was conducted around two weeks earlier.  That suggests the position stabilised after the 4% drop for Yes in that previous poll, and lends more weight to my suspicion that the 1% drop in the Survation poll (from 51% to 50%) was merely margin of error noise, in spite of the hysterical reporting in both the Sunday Mail and the Express.  However, neither Survation nor ComRes will have captured the impact of the evidence given to the Holyrood inquiry by Alex Salmond and then Nicola Sturgeon.

ComRes also conducted parallel polls for ITV in other countries of the UK.  The most startling finding of all is in Wales...

Should Wales be an independent country? (Exact question to be confirmed)

Yes 39%
No 61%

That appears to be an all-time high for Welsh independence.  It's difficult to make an exact comparison, because most previous polls on the subject were conducted by YouGov, but nevertheless it's a remarkable finding if you bear in mind that support for independence was literally in single figures until a few years ago.

I've been fascinated by the burgeoning indy movement in Wales because it's hard to see what the destination is.  An outright majority for Welsh independence would appear to be almost impossible for demographic reasons - there are a large number of English people in Wales who have no affinity at all with the country (that partly explains Wales voting for Brexit, and UKIP winning seats in the last devolved election), and some specific regions of Wales are very thoroughly Anglicised in a way that simply isn't the case in Scotland.  Perhaps independence supporters might eventually find themselves negotiating from a position of strength for a 'grand compromise' of maximum devolution.

Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland there is 43% support for a united Ireland.  The ITV article doesn't make clear whether that's with Don't Knows stripped out - but if it is, that means 57% are opposed, which would be mildly disappointing in the light of recent polls from other firms.  Who'd have thought that Welsh independence would one day become almost as popular as a united Ireland?

I'm currently crowdfunding to run another Scot Goes Pop poll at some point before Holyrood election day - if you'd like to donate, click HERE to find out more.  

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Scot Goes Popcast Episode 3: Denise Findlay

For Episode 3 of the Scot Goes Popcast, I was joined by Denise Findlay, a former member of the SNP's Conduct Committee, and one of the tactical masterminds behind the 'quiet revolution' at the SNP conference in the autumn, when many of the old guard on the NEC were displaced.  We discussed the supposedly 'bombshell' Survation independence poll, Nicola Sturgeon's evidence to the Holyrood inquiry today, the highly controversial new definition of transphobia, the 'reserved places' scheme for the SNP regional list rankings, various other aspects of SNP internal politics, and why Gerry Fisher is always right about everything.

If you have any problems with the embedded player below, the direct link to the podcast is HERE.

You can also listen to past episodes of the podcast... 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

An election in which the voters weren't allowed to know the rules

Chris McEleny, who has been seeking a place on the SNP's regional list for the West of Scotland, has published the questionnaire he was required to fill out when putting his name forward.  It reads as follows:

"Reserved place for a BAME candidate

The National Executive Committee have decided that there will be a reserved place for a BAME candidate in your region.

BAME means Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic.

We use the term as meaning all classifications other than the 'White' classification in the census."

Compare and contrast that absolute clarity with the email that I and tens of thousands of other SNP members received when we were invited to cast our votes - 

"Dear James 

In the autumn we asked you to help us select the SNP's constituency candidates for this year's Scottish elections. 
It's now time to rank the SNP's candidates for the regional list election. 

Nominees for your regional list have come forward. 

It's now for you to decide the order in which you'd like to see the SNP candidates ranked on the regional list. 

Your role is important. It is the regional list vote which decides the overall balance of power at Holyrood. And therefore, which party forms the Scottish Government. So, we need to maximise the SNP vote to re-elect Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister and secure a new independence referendum. 

You can help ensure we select the very best team of candidates. 

Please play your part. You'll find full candidate information once you have clicked on the Vote button below."

That wording is very carefully chosen to be consistent with the reserved places scheme, while giving the false impression that the selection is occurring by the normal process.  Note that members merely have a "role" and are merely "playing their part" and are merely "helping" to choose the right candidates - those are the only real clues that members' votes will not actually determine who is at the top of the list, which in most cases is likely to be the only position on the list that actually matters.  The members are being 'protected from the truth' - essentially treated like children.  Why?

I had initially thought the reason was that the powers-that-be weren't really sure whether they would be able to press ahead with their decision to stitch up the selection (they had been given clear advice that to do so would be illegal), so they were leaving some creative ambiguity in case they ended up backing down.  But judging from the questionnaire sent to prospective candidates, the decision was already set in stone from the start of the process, and yet members were deliberately kept in the dark anyway.

It's very difficult to think of many examples of an election in which the voters aren't informed of the rules until after they cast their votes.  I mean, you don't ask people to vote in a general election, and then say the day afterwards "oh by the way, that was a first-past-the-post election", or "oh by the way, that was proportional representation", or "oh by the way, the election was just consultative and we'll be making the final choice for you".  What it reminds me of a bit is voting in reality TV shows where the producers reserve the right to make up the rules as they go on if they don't think they're going to get the 'right' result.  (For example, it would suddenly be announced after the vote is already underway that two people are going to be 'evicted' rather than the expected one.)

Does any of this matter?  Most people will just vote for their favourite party on the list, regardless of the ranking of candidates or how that ranking was determined.  Ironically, the people most likely to be alienated are those closest to the process, ie. SNP members themselves.  That's still potentially a problem - a few hundred or even a few dozen misplaced votes could potentially make a difference in some cases.  For my own part, I'm extremely relieved not to live in the Lothian region, because if, as seems entirely possible, Graham Campbell is placed at Number 1 on the Lothian list against members' wishes, I'd have found it hard for personal reasons to vote for a candidate who falsely accused me of racism a few weeks ago.  (He did it "without a shred of evidence", to use the buzz phrase of the epoch.) It's a hell of a lot easier to swallow your pride in those circumstances if you know the candidate you have an issue with has been selected by a free and fair process. 

Clues in the Survation poll that a Salmond-led party could win list seats

There's been a bit of a pattern on social media in recent weeks that anyone who says anything complimentary about Alex Salmond, or suggests he might have a future in politics or in public life, finds themselves presented with a graphic (a rather tacky graphic, it has to be said) comparing Mr Salmond's net personal rating with those of Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson.   This is done with a "game over" sort of implication.  To which the obvious reply is "haven't you heard of proportional representation?", ie. "don't you know that only 6% of the vote in any region is enough to become an MSP?"  It doesn't matter if only a relatively small minority of the population have a favourable view of a politician or a party, as long as that minority feel strongly enough to actually come out and vote for the said politician or party.  

The Salmond bashers have a shiny new toy to play with as a result of the new Survation poll (which, don't forget, was mostly conducted before Friday's evidence session).

Which of the following would make the best First Minister?

Alex Salmond: 12%
Nicola Sturgeon: 60%

The response to this is the same: 12% of the vote would be more than enough to win a considerable number of list seats.  However, we have to be cautious about that 12% figure, because some of it may be unionist respondents who are trying to give the most problematical answers for the SNP on every question.  So let's have a look at what 2014 Yes voters have to say...

Yes voters only:

Alex Salmond: 14%
Nicola Sturgeon: 74%

Because 45% of the electorate voted Yes in 2014, the 14% of Yes voters who would prefer Alex Salmond to be FM ought to comprise 6% of the electorate.  In practice it's not as simple as that, because the electorate has changed due to deaths, migrations, young people turning 16, etc, etc.  And of course a minority of people who voted Yes seven years ago are now in the No column.  But as a ballpark figure, let's suppose that 6% of the total electorate are both pro-independence and actively favour Alex Salmond over Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister.  That strikes me as a pretty obvious recipe for a Salmond-led party winning seats.  It's also, incidentally, a clue as to why a Yes list-only party without the involvement of a big name politician would be unlikely to succeed, because I very much doubt that a poll would find that 14% of Yes voters prefer Dave Thompson, Colette Walker or Stuart Campbell over Nicola Sturgeon (not because of any personal faults of those individuals, but simply because most people don't know who they are).

To reiterate, I've no idea if Mr Salmond will get involved in the coming election, and he's cutting it a bit fine if he intends to do so.  But the opportunity would certainly appear to be there.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Survation datasets confirm a genuine 50-50 result on the independence question, SNP remain on course for overall majority, and pro-indy parties are projected to win 60% of the seats in Holyrood

Some more details have been released from the supposedly "bombshell" Survation poll, and the first thing to say is that this is a genuine 50-50 poll.  Not only is the headline result 50-50, but on the raw numbers it's as close as it can be - after weighting, 380 respondents said they would vote Yes and 382 said they would vote No, which works out as Yes 49.9%, No 50.1%.  Some people are placing huge significance on the fact that, if Don't Knows are left in, the percentages appear to show No ahead by 1%, but a) that's just a random quirk of the rounding, and b) those aren't the headline results anyway (although for some strange reason they're the ones used on Wikipedia's list of polls).  This is a dead heat, and it shouldn't be treated any other way.  The somewhat less good news, though, is that the fieldwork was conducted on both Thursday and Friday, which means the impact of Friday's explosive events will not have been fully factored in.

There are also Scottish Parliament voting intention numbers, which remain exceptionally good for the SNP - 

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot voting intentions:

SNP 50% (-1) 
Conservatives 21% (+2) 
Labour 20% (+1) 
Liberal Democrats 7% (-2) 

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot voting intentions:

SNP 38% (-2) 
Conservatives 21% (+4) 
Labour 20% (-1)
Greens 11% (- )
Liberal Democrats 8% (-) 

Seats projection (with changes from 2016 election): SNP 67 (+4), Labour 24 (-), Conservatives 21 (-10), Greens 11 (+5), Liberal Democrats 6 (+1)

SNP: 67 seats (51.9%)
All others: 62 seats (48.1%)


Pro-independence parties: 78 seats (60.5%)
Anti-independence parties: 51 seats (39.5%)


It's curious that Labour are still projected to be in second place in terms of seats, even though they've slipped back into third place in the popular vote on both ballots.  That would obviously be a huge symbolic and psychological blow to Douglas Ross, who wouldn't be able to pose as 'leader of the opposition' or get the first shot every week at First Minister's Questions - but whether the voting system really would give Labour a little bonus in that way is hard to know.  As ever, I think it's likely that Survation are slightly underestimating the SNP on the list vote and slightly overestimating the Greens, simply because of the way the question was asked.

Talking of questions, looking through the list of supplementary questions in the tables, it's not hard to see what agenda the Record/Mail were pushing and what results they were hoping to be able to report.  For example, respondents were asked to choose between "the SNP have been in government for too long" and "the SNP have not been in government for too long".  If you think about it, unless you're a dyed-in-the-wool SNP partisan, it's quite difficult to give the "not" answer to that question, because you feel you're being tugged towards a 'correct' response.  I was also intrigued to hear that the Express were apparently able to report the poll on their front page, which suggests that the Record/Mail were less interested in having their own exclusive than they were in circulating the results as widely as possible to cause the maximum discomfort for the SNP and the independence movement.  Does this mean the Record have been 'enlisted' once again?

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Yes lead maintained in latest update of Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls

One reason I started the Poll of Polls on this blog in 2013 was to counter hysterical reporting of individual polls that were better than usual for No, and to put them in their correct wider context.  Today would therefore seem to be an excellent moment for an update.  Just as a reminder, the Poll of Polls consists of an average of the most recent poll from each firm.  In this case that means an average of five polls - one from Survation, one from Ipsos-Mori, one from Savanta ComRes, one from Panelbase, and one from YouGov.  I've removed JL Partners from the sample, because their sole poll (which was exceptionally good for Yes) was six long months ago.


Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 51.6% 
No 48.4%

That gives a much more meaningful sense of the state of play than a single poll from a firm that in recent times has been on the No-friendly end of the spectrum. 

Nevertheless, the Yes lead has undoubtedly contracted somewhat.  There are times when setbacks can prove to be blessings in disguise - for instance, the 2004 European election turned out to be a good election for the SNP to lose, because it shocked the party into a realisation that John Swinney's leadership wasn't working out, and led to a change at the top that paved the way for the Holyrood win in 2007.  Hopefully the disappointment of a 50/50 poll will lead, not to a change of leader, but to an urgent reordering of priorities and to a greater focus on what is actually important.

Voters quite rightly want and expect the SNP to prioritise the pandemic over independence.  They do not want or expect the SNP to be obsessing, especially at a time like this, over "transphobia", "misgendering" or "deadnaming".  That is a fixation shared by only a tiny minority of the public, and to the extent that people know what's been going on, they must be utterly bewildered by it.  So from now on, the pandemic, independence, and reversing the harm of Brexit must come before identity politics.  I'm not remotely impressed by the suggestion from some quarters that the SNP must take a hardline pro-self-ID stance or risk losing the enthusiasm of young people.  The idea that this is the number one priority for young voters is very much a social media 'bubble' illusion - in reality young people have a broad range of political passions, not least poverty, the climate emergency, and independence itself.

When harm has been done, the most important thing is to do no more harm.  So no more divisive frontbench purges on the eve of a crucial election.  No using the new definition of 'transphobia' to suspend or expel good people from the party.  No more illegitimate uses of coronavirus briefings to try to tarnish the reputation of a former First Minister and SNP leader.  Unfortunately we'll have to wait patiently for the ongoing inquiries to play out to their conclusion, but when they do conclude, the necessary corrective actions should be taken immediately so we can all wipe the slate clean and get on with winning an election that is make or break for this country's hopes of an independent future.  That will mean the departure, at a minimum, of Leslie Evans and Peter Murrell.  No more sticking of heads in sand and pretending that they somehow acted properly.  Mr Murrell's defence for having tried to pressurise the police, ie. that it should be taken as a sign of how "upset" he was, is essentially the Cole-Hamilton defence of "look what you made me do", and cannot be taken seriously by anyone.

As for Alex Salmond himself, I suspect the plaudits he won for his evidence to the committee on Friday may embolden him to seriously consider some kind of involvement in the election.  That's just speculation, but I think it might.  I know people keep saying that any new party would be timed out by the Electoral Commission, but there are other options open to him - he could join forces with a party that is already registered, or he could stand as an independent in the north-east and endorse independent candidates in the other seven regions.  It might be no bad thing if he does stand, because it will give a constructive focus for the energies of people who are disillusioned with the SNP leadership.  We need all Yes supporters to spend the next two months enthusiastically campaigning and voting for their favourite pro-indy party - not spreading weariness and cynicism and urging abstention.  One thing we can be sure of from past history is that any Salmond-led party will be relentlessly positive and will have a laser-like focus on maximising the number of pro-indy seats.

Heartbreak for Sunday Mail as they commission Survation poll expecting a No lead - and instead end up with the TWENTY-FOURTH consecutive poll to show Yes on 50% or higher

"Bombshell poll" screamed the traditionally Labour-supporting Sunday Mail, and I just knew that had to mean they were gloating that the run of twenty-two consecutive Yes majorities had come to an end, and that they had probably commissioned one of the two least Yes-friendly firms (either Survation or YouGov) in the hope of producing exactly that effect.  But here's the odd thing: there isn't a No lead.  They must be genuinely gutted about that, because both of the last two Survation polls showed only a two-point Yes lead if Don't Knows were left in.  If the Sturgeon-Salmond controversy had produced a really significant effect on public opinion, you'd certainly expect a swing bigger than the trivial one required to take us to 50/50.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Survation)

Yes 50% (-1)
No 50% (+1)

That's potentially just margin of error noise, and suggests that public opinion has remained fairly static since the Survation poll of early December.  There's no particular reason, therefore, to assume that a poll produced right now by one of the more Yes-friendly firms (Ipsos-Mori, Panelbase, Savanta ComRes or perhaps JL Partners) would no longer show a Yes lead.

The reality is that the sequence of Yes-majority polls was always going to be broken at some point - unless there was a further swing to Yes.  Why?  Because previous polls by several firms had put Yes on either 51% or 52%, which made it statistically inevitable, due to the margin of error, that an individual poll would eventually produce a figure of 49% or 50% even if public opinion remained static.  So in a sense we're just getting the inevitable out of the way today, and we can now look forward to future polls which still have a very decent chance of showing a Yes lead.

And in one sense the unbroken run for Yes actually continues - because this is the twenty-fourth consecutive poll to show Yes on 50% or higher, ie. either ahead or level.  That sequence stretches all the way back to a Panelbase poll commissioned by Wings last May which also showed a 50/50 split.

UPDATE:  I was chatting to my mum a few minutes ago, and I happened to mention the poll to her.  She said: "Well, in a way it's not that surprising, because even Alex Salmond said Scotland is not ready for..."  And I practically screamed: "WHAT?!  HE NEVER SAID THAT!"  She looked at me incredulously as if she knew for a fact that Alex Salmond had said Scotland wasn't ready for independence.  It was as if I was trying to convince her the sky is green.  "HE DIDN'T SAY THAT!" I repeated.  "Who did say it, then?" she asked me.  "NOBODY!  IT WAS A LIE!  THEY JUST MADE IT UP!"  She couldn't believe it.

If even my independence-supporting mum truly believed that Alex Salmond had said something he didn't, then this is a particularly dark episode for what passes for 'journalism' in this country.  This goes way, way beyond the usual sailing close to the wind - a downright lie has been told in the service of a sinister political agenda, and clearly members of the public have been successfully duped.  I trust there will be complaints lodged with the newspaper regulator IPSO about the Express front page, and in spite of IPSO's reputation, I see no reason why those complaints won't be upheld.  Given the seriousness and sheer cynicism of the intentional lie, the Express may even be forced to make a front page correction.

I gather also that one or two BBC journalists have given viewers the impression that Mr Salmond made the fictitious statement - if so, there may also be a case for complaints to the BBC, and then to Ofcom after the standard fobbing-off arrives in a thousand inboxes.

UPDATE II: I see that the Sunday Mail's report on the poll falsely claims that the Yes vote has fallen to 50% from 58% in October.  I suppose they can technically claim that isn't a direct lie, because there were polls from Ipsos-Mori and ComRes putting Yes at 58%.  However, it's deliberately misleading, because trends can only be measured by looking at polls from the same firm, and the highest Yes vote Survation have reported is 54%.  So in fact there's only been a four-point drop from the peak.