I was asked by someone yesterday (or possibly the day before) to cast an eye over the latest propaganda poll conducted by Survation on behalf of anti-independence pressure group Scotland in Union. There's actually a good news story here for the independence movement, or moderately good anyway - not that you'd have noticed that from the reporting of the poll in the mainstream media, which as ever just lazily followed whatever was in Scotland in Union's own press release. However, before I get into that, I must just note yet again my genuine astonishment at the total lack of balance in some of the questions Survation have approved, and the blatant nature of the leading wording used. Survation sometimes give the impression of wanting to be seen as having much stronger standards than other polling firms, but that high-mindedness seems to conveniently go out of the window whenever Scotland in Union pick up the phone - perhaps because these polls are repeat commissions that presumably generate an awful lot of ongoing revenue.
First of all, as ever, we have the "independence question" that quite simply is not an independence question. Instead of asking "Should Scotland be an independent country?", Scotland in Union always get Survation to ask "Should Scotland remain part of the United Kingdom or leave the United Kingdom?", and then present the results as if they are about independence - which they are not, because if Scotland left the United Kingdom, that would not automatically result in independence. Scotland could "leave" to become a crown dependency like Jersey, or to become part of another state. (For example, if Northern Ireland "leaves the United Kingdom", it almost certainly would become part of a united Ireland, rather than an independent country.) Such a hopeless lack of clarity is precisely why the Electoral Commission would never approve the Scotland in Union question for an independence referendum - and yet a question that would never be good enough for the Electoral Commission in a million years is apparently good enough for Survation. I'd gently suggest that's something Survation should reflect on - and if they're not prepared to simply say no to Scotland in Union's requests for an inappropriate wording, they should at least put out a disclaimer on each poll, stating that however interesting the results on this question may be, they do not directly relate to the issue of independence.
The reason that Scotland in Union always insist on such an ambiguously-worded question is, of course, that it almost always produces a "Remain" figure that is several points higher than the "No" vote in genuine independence polls. No-one knows for sure exactly why that happens. It's been speculated that because the question mimics the wording of the EU referendum question, some respondents may not read it properly and assume they're being asked about the EU rather than the UK. That may be happening at the margins, but my own personal view is that the word "kingdom" is making a significant number of people wrongly assume they're being asked about leaving the shared British monarchy.
Anyway, let's get to the good news. In the latest poll, 38% of respondents say they want to "leave" the United Kingdom, and 52% say they want to "remain" - thus a 14-point lead "for "remain". That's a two-point narrowing of the gap from the previous poll in the series, which had "remain" ahead by 16 points. In fact, four of the previous seven polls in the series had a "remain" lead of more than 14 points, and none had a gap smaller than 10 points. That would suggest support for remaining in the UK is a tad on the low side at present - and that's consistent with recent Panelbase and ComRes polling on independence which by recent standards showed a relatively high Yes vote.
Other examples of leading or unbalanced questions in the poll:
"For each of the following please say whether it is or is not a reason for why you have you changed how you would vote in another referendum on Scotland's future - the stability of the UK economy." What "stability"? Yeah, exactly. That's a subjective assessment, and yet it appears to be one that Survation are more than happy to endorse in the question wording.
"For each of the following please say whether it is or is not a reason for why you have you changed how you would vote in another referendum on Scotland's future - Scotland exporting more to the rest of the UK than it does to the rest of the world combined." Seriously, guys? What's next - "the fact that we are better together and our union is so vewy vewy pwecious"?
Last but not least, there's the appallingly sneaky wording of the question on whether a referendum should be held next year, which is deliberately designed to draw supporters of a referendum towards backing an option that is later presented as anti-referendum. "Another referendum on leaving the UK should not be held before the end of next year" - that's literally the only 'anti-referendum' option offered, and yet if you support a referendum in 2024 or 2025, that's the one you'd be forced to pick. Oh, and let's not forget the unbalanced and inaccurate wording about "another referendum on leaving the UK", which implies we've already had a referendum on "leaving the UK". The 2014 referendum was in fact about something far more specific - it was about whether Scotland should become an independent country.