Thursday, March 9, 2023

"Neutrality" is in the eye of the beholder

(No, the title of this blogpost isn't about the BBC and Gary Lineker, but it easily could be.)

I received something very unusual about an hour ago - it was a private message via the Blogger platform, a facility that I wasn't even aware existed.  It was warning me that the Redfield & Wilton poll that I covered last night was not as methodologically robust as it should be, and as evidence linked me to an article in The National entitled "Redfield & Wilton poll needs tightening up after errors, expert says".  Now, without wanting to sound too cynical, I genuinely deduced two things from the title of the article before even clicking the link - a) The National's "expert" would be Mark McGeoghegan, because it always is, almost without exception, and b) he would be hostile to the poll because it shows Kate Forbes is the public's preference for First Minister.  I don't literally know for a fact that Mr McGeoghegan is a Humza Yousaf supporter, because I long ago "removed him from my social media experience" (as the jargon goes) to get some peace from his incessant and infantile trolling.  However, everything I've seen of him in the past suggests that the Yousaf campaign is his only possible home, because his main political motivation is hardcore identity politics zealotry.

My guesses were all but confirmed by the text of the article.  Although he doesn't explicitly identify himself as a Yousaf supporter, he sounds very emotionally engaged with the fact that Redfield & Wilton misspelled Yousaf's name "in every tweet and graphic, every time he's mentioned in their blogpost, and throughout the tables".  The obsession with identity politics isn't far away either, because he blasts Redfield & Wilton for using the word "transgenderism" which he says is "pejorative" and "non-neutral".

Hmmm.  Let me tell you a little story.  Eighteen months ago, I crowdfunded a poll that was partly about independence-related issues and partly about GRA reform.  Although I hadn't raised enough funds to commission Panelbase to conduct the poll, I eventually turned to them in desperation, and plugged the shortfall in the funds with my own money.  Do you know why I went to those lengths?  Because other pollsters I had previously been in touch with had tried to make the GRA-related questions I submitted more "neutral" and "balanced", and one of the ways they did that was by inserting the word "cis" - which 95% of the population do not even know the meaning of, and most of the remaining 5% find deeply offensive.  I was practically in tears trying to explain that the people who had crowdfunded the poll were trusting me to come up with a fairer and more balanced poll than had previously been managed on the subject, and that if I allowed their money to be used to ask questions with ideologically-loaded words like "cis", they would be quite simply flabbergasted.  It would genuinely have been a betrayal and they would never have forgiven me.  

Now, I don't doubt the sincerity of pollsters who truly believe that inserting words like "cis" somehow makes poll questions more "neutral" - but I would just note that the fact they do hold that belief demonstrates powerfully that the concept of neutrality is very much in the eye of the beholder, particularly on the trans issue.

As far as I can see, none of Mr McGeoghegan's quibbles actually cast doubt on the reliability of Redfield & Wilton's results.  I drew attention myself last night to the sloppiness of misspelling the names of both Humza Yousaf and Alister Jack, but it's hard to see how that would make any difference to the way respondents answered the questions.  The absence of a Yes / No crossbreak in the data tables is an unfortunate oversight, but again, that wouldn't actually affect the results of the poll.  The "transgenderism" question was peripheral, and had no impact on the results about leadership preference or voting intentions - although, let's be honest, even if it was possible to come up with a universally-accepted "neutral" word to summarise what the Scottish Government have been doing on the trans issue, it's highly unlikely that respondents would have reacted any more positively than they did.


  1. It simply isn't possible to adopt a neutral position on the GRA. Even complete ignorance or ambivalence will trigger one group or other to the point of seething hatred.
    The whole sorry saga is in the latter stages of destroying the SNP entirely. If Forbes / Regan can triumph in this leadership contest the extreme left will hopefully leave the party and then it can be rebuilt.
    If Yousaf wins it's all over.

    1. I’m no supporter of GRR but I agreed when I read the piece that “transgenderism” is a loaded term, and for the narrative that this particular pollster were being cavalier if not naïve. Misspelling names (again and again) is definitely not a sign of professionalism as James noted!

      My best attempt at a neutral term for the question would be “Gender Recognition Reform”, as the bill itself is titled. It’s imperfect, too, but has been broadcast enough by the media that the public has a good chance to know it for what it is.

      “Transgenderism” sounds like some daft alt New Age nonsense the Ayn Rand likes of Elon Musk would ascribe to, for the lulz.

    2. Forbes is the only hope. Humza: it should go without saying now what his many, many inadequacies are. But if Regan wins it's over too. I had high hopes for her at the start, seeing who was backing her. Now having watched her over the past few weeks, I'm at a loss what Salmond and Cherry saw in her. Talk about a rabbit in the headlights. She seems to have an undefined action plan for everything besides winning the leadership election.

    3. Looks all over all ways to be honest.

      Humza is hopeless, isn't going to deliver competent government, want to keep the Greens tightly bound to the SNP for no real reason, doesn't really sound like he wants independence and has no idea how to achieve it.

      Forbes may well deliver competent government and sounds like she wants independence, but also has no idea how to achieve it, and if she wins she's likely to annoy a considerable fraction of the MPs/MSPs (the ones who've already withdrawn support etc.).

      Regan sounds most like she wants independence and has any vague idea about what to do differently to achieve it, and isn't that fussed on the Greens to boot, but she's not going to win (partly because for whatever reason much of the party doesn't seem to want independence all that much), and to be honest on everything else she doesn't sound particularly clued up. She also rather butchered the question about hypocrisy on the Tories leadership contest and the SNP wanting a subsequent GE - which was bizarre as she should have been saying "bring on any subsequent election because under my approach it's a de facto independence referendum".

      Under all 3 of them it's going to be moot anyway, because even if the indy numbers hold up (which they won't in this kind of black mood environment), I can't see the SNP voting intention numbers doing much but go backwards. And after this long and this much SNP gradualism it's no longer enough for them to just win by a bit: if they're not winning with something close to an absolute majority then they might as well have lost, frankly. Even if they can somehow still form a government with a narrow win they're not going to get much opportunity to do much with it.

      To be honest I can't help but wonder if Regan might ultimately be more effective in ultimately gathering what few SNP MSPs agree with her and defecting to set up an Alba Holyrood group.

    4. Listen I said here the other day that we're realistically not achieving independence this side of a Labour government. So you'll find no disagreement from me that who wins is likely a moot point for independence in the immediate term.

      I do still think it's important Forbes wins though. Because who the leader is may determine how far the SNP/indy tide recedes. And how quickly it can return.

      From where I'm standing, a razor sharp, competent, no nonsense leader like Forbes could well be the difference between a few years refocussing minds, and a generation in the wilderness for indy.

    5. Robert, Regan is not proposing a de facto referendum if you are going to critique try and get the facts right.

    6. "An election that winning would be seen as a mandate for independence" then. Pretty sure you knew what I meant.

    7. To me, that's a de facto referendum. It's a distinction without a difference.

    8. Robert - A de facto referendum using an election is a single manifesto item - namely Scottish independence. Regan says the manifesto will include independence but also many other policies. Both may have the intended result of a mandate for Scottish independence but are not the same. Also a de facto referendum is generally seen as an irregular event but Regan wants it at every Westminster and Holyrood election even though the voting franchises will differ as will the accompanying policies .
      I did understand what you mean but it is not winning the election it is getting >50% of the vote for independence from parties who have this statement in their manifesto.
      If you think the same as James then it should at least surely be de facto referendums or neverendums as Britnats would say.
      Pedantic? 😂 I say accurate.

      I always find it laughable when Britnats talk about neverendums when there has only been one in 316 years and they are now saying you ain't getting another one. There has been never ending TALK about referendums but not actually any happening.

  2. As I have watched each hustings/TV debate I have grown to detest Yousaf. Previously I thought he was a plonker promoted way beyond his capabilities but I now see more of his less appealing characteristics. Yousaf epitomises everything that is wrong with the SNP. A phoney like his boss Sturgeon.

  3. I think that we all should get ready for a Scottish General Election in late April or early May.


    Having watched tonight's Ch4 News debate and having listened to the chat and buzz from the other night's debate it seems very likely that Kate Forbes is going to win this contest. At this point the Scottish Green Party are not going to back her First Minister and they will vote against her with the Unionist parties.

    That will create a state of limbo and a 28 day clock will start ticking.

    A divided SNP will face a likeable (by polls, not to me) Labour leader and the Greens may fancy their chances in the list vote. The Lib Dems and Tories may fancy their chances to maintain or increase their numbers of MSP in relation to a contest in 2025/6 with a sitting UK Labour Govt.

    The SNP doesn't have a plan, doesn't have any money, is being investigated by the polis, and is as fragmented as you will ever find it. What it needs is a bit of time 12-15mo from April 2023 but it won't get that.

    A loss of an Indy majority will be seen as the objective of the Unionists. In such a position the SNP leader will have to step down and there'll be wailing and further division and possibly Angus Robertson (uggh!) as leader.

    There is no one of vision, philosophy, strategy, knowledge or intellect left.

    The people who are responsible for this position are of course Peter Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon - not Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes or Ash Regan.

    @James - are there odds on a Scottish GE this year?

    1. Well, the Greens can't stop her if Douglas Ross or Anas Sarwar stand against her, because in a contested election an absolute majority of votes is not required. If there's only one candidate, I believe there's an affirmative ballot. In the scenario you describe, it would be a 64-64 tie. But in any case, I think it's pretty fantastical to imagine the Greens would try to bring down the government altogether.

    2. Good. I’m sick to the back teeth of the Greens. There’s not much green about them (I really do wish they were massive environmentalists, for all our sakes) - they’re just a nasty extreme left party who disproportionately use the SNP’s massive electoral base to push through their minority bampot policies/views.

  4. If Yousaf wins this scenario could play out.

    Yousaf is a disaster as FM and loses seats at Westminster. Yousaf resigns. Robertson is then anointed as the saviour riding to the rescue. Robertson says my children are older now. His wife says Bute House is lovely, plenty of room for the children to play and run about. Robertson says 2050 for independence is a bit optimistic we need to slowly build up support.

  5. Whoever wins the snp will split. Alba will gain from it, especially if it becomes radical, ie declaring in its Westminster election manifesto that Alba candidates if elected will not take their seats in the Westminster cesspit.

  6. I dont agree with Robert that Forbes has no idea how to achieve independence,Her Irrespective of whether you agree with her her strategy is very clear.It involves several aims.These are:
    1) Good governance to develop trust
    2) A costed economic view of what an independent Scotland would look like 10 years after indepence.
    3) link the abstract constitutional issue to what is important to voters,such as eradication of poverty,Cost of living,pensions,health,education,infrastructure and the environment).
    I consider her plan to be to be innovative,since the biggest barrier to
    maximising the Yes vote is confidence in the economy.That is the key
    battleground in driving the YES vote beyond 50 per cent.The underlying
    premise is that as the YES vote starts to increase,pressure increase on the
    UK government.
    e UK government.Kate proposes that every election will iseek a mandate for independence,so voters will know what they are being asked to vote for.

    1. The latter certainly isn't true. That's Ash Regan's position and Forbes has rejected it. As ever, don't get me wrong, if it boils down to Forbes v Yousaf, I want Forbes to win. But I've been very dismayed by the fact that, like Yousaf, she doesn't offer a credible path to independence.

    2. She might have to tone down both 1. Reaching out to broader indy movement -alba etc (and SNP wm big hitters moving to holyrood) 2. Holyrood elect pleb 2026 (earliest realistic timetable now at correct venue) bizarrely to get elected.

      Dunno. But she's not establishment choice and greens hate her...which in itself opens the door to Alba on I'll take her now even though I'd prefer Regan (but she won't win)

    3. Both Forbes and Yousaf are for getting the polls higher consistently and then they believe Westminster will cave in to Scottish democracy and grant a sec 30 referendum. The error here is that it is not Scottish democracy it is polls they are talking about and polls are not a vote. Forbes seems to think she can deliver this reasonably early ( whatever that means ) and Yousaf no timescale. It's similar to what Sturgeon and Blackford droned on about for years but Forbes and Yousaf think they can get it to work. Yousaf being particularly stupid as he claimed Sturgeon was more intelligent and brilliant than anyone in the SNP. Of course Sturgeon actually had multiple mandates (votes) for a referendum and Westminster ignored them but Forbes and Yousaf think polls will do the trick. Fantasyland. The whole fantasy is based on Westminster granting a sec30 referendum that they are guaranteed to lose. Fantasyland.
      My only remaining hope, if Forbes wins, is she changes her stance on independence. Yousaf will not change on independence because Sturgeons gang definately do not want it, never have.

    4. If Forbes wins, and I think it's highly likely with STV, I'd expect at least some of her more prominent critics within the SNP to defect to the Greens. That would be no bad thing imo.
      Actually, I'd be disappointed in them if they didn't. That would demonstrate that their apparently highly valued principles are flexible if it threatens their ride on the big SNP gravy train.
      As you suggest, we must hope that Forbes develops more zeal for indy once she becomes leader.

    5. A lot of unexamined assumptions in some of the comments.For example that certain people in the SNP dont want independence.As an SNP member since 1974,I have seen all of this before,especially before the devolved parliament was created.It has always been the case that different ideas about how to achieve independence existed.It is not important that we disagree,only that we listen ,think and discuss all views.Differences about the way to go does not mean that you dont want independence.Differences are healthy since it can stimulate creative thinking,from which solutions can emerge.In that respect I like Kate Forbes suggestion that there is a need to harness the rich experience and talent across the whole independence movement.Additionally she has identified the economy as the key battleground that we must win. Newsnet
      Scotland has just reported that among voters key priorities is the
      economy and the NHS.I thought that in last nights debate Kate Forbes was excellent,and I am convinced that she is the candidate that the unionists fear most.The reports in the mainstream media about last nights debate illustrate that.

  7. The debate here about the prospects of the three is interesting and probably identifies correctly the pressures at work in this context. If I still had a vote I'd go, Regan, Forbes end of.
    Under all this complication and shades of grey it seems to me lies a simple, fundamental fact - the independence movement, via the SNP, has built our electoral support base on a completely false premise - that a revolutionary act (achieving independence) can be achieved by reformist means (casting votes) alone.The SNP has taken a 'knife' to a 'gunfight' and collapsed into the abject swamp of the Sturgeon years and the present leadership lack of answers as a result.
    Democracy backed up by mass direct action may be the only way to beat the British state. No one in the heirarchy says it because they know that we have not done anything to help people understand our situation under a vampire state which has no intention of ever repeating Cameron's moment of madness in agreeing to a referendum.
    We are 'hamstrung' by our ideological failure to recognise the reality of where we are.
    Do the people of Scotland want independence sufficiently strongly to deal with this ? At present 'no', hopefully because the implications have never been unpacked properly. Change is going to have to go very deep and that is, because of previous failures, going to take time - certainly more than I've got.

  8. WGD numpty Skintybroko makes a bid to take Hamish's crown as top WGD thicko with this post:- " Starting to enjoy the hustings on YouTube though why Ash is still standing is beyond me."
    Well it would be beyond you Skintybroko because you are a WGD numpty.

  9. If you don't think WGD below the line is populated by numpties then consider this.
    Only a few weeks ago (not long before Sturgeon resigned) poster Alex Clark said that the blocking of GRR was all part of Sturgeons secret plan for independence. Just as they postulated that the London court refusal of Indyref2 in November last year was also part of Sturgeon's secret plan for independence. A great example of blind faith and rank stupidity overriding facts and evidence.
    If Sturgeon had a secret plan it was to prevent Scottish independence.

  10. Most of the WGD lot clearly backing Forbes now. If Yousaf wins, at least it'll be fun to watch whether the commenters there fall in line.