Friday, July 7, 2023

A few months ago, the press regulator IPSO also upheld a complaint against the Sun on Sunday for lying about the results of a Scottish independence poll

You might remember that a few weeks ago, the "press regulator" IPSO (in reality a self-regulator set up by the press themselves in an attempt to head off calls for proper statutory regulation) upheld my complaint against the Scottish Daily Express for lying about the results of a Scottish independence poll.  However, they perversely allowed the Express to publish a bogus "correction" containing a slightly modified version of the same lie.  I had battled unsuccessfully for months to persuade IPSO to instruct the Express to publish a genuine correction, and the subtext of the responses I received was basically: "But can't you see that the severity of the lie has been reduced a bit?  What more do you expect from us?  Golden elephants?"  Instead of calling themselves a press regulator, IPSO should perhaps be billed as a "Lie Severity Reduction Body (but only if we happen to be in the mood, you understand)".

The reason I had to lodge that complaint myself was that a few weeks earlier I had suggested that Scot Goes Pop readers might want to complain about the Sun on Sunday's lies about another independence poll.  Several readers took up that suggestion, and I think the stress of the complaints process meant that they understandably didn't want to rush into a second complaint when I made a similar suggestion about the Express!  Because the complaints about the Sun on Sunday and the Express were running on a similar timetable, I had intended to write a single blogpost covering the outcome of both complaints - but in the end, the story of my own complaint against the Express was so complex and lengthy that I didn't have space for both.  So here, belatedly, is the story of what happened with the Sun on Sunday complaint.

The lie published by the Sun on Sunday was that support for independence had "plummeted" as a result of the Queen's death.  The drop in support quoted to justify the word "plummet" was seven percentage points from 49% in an earlier Panelbase poll to 42% in a newer Deltapoll survey.  That was a wholly bogus claim, because the two numbers weren't comparable - the 49% from Panelbase was after Don't Knows were excluded, and the 42% from Deltapoll was before Don't Knows were excluded.  A like-for-like comparison between the two polls showed only a statistically insignificant two-point drop, far lower than the Sun on Sunday were suggesting, and not enough to credibly support the word "plummet".  (Of course technically the publication shouldn't even have been making a comparison with a Panelbase poll which used a completely different methodology from the Deltapoll survey - the only meaningful comparison would have been with a previous poll from Deltapoll.)

Now, you might think this is an open and shut case of IPSO's code being breached on the "accuracy" clause.  But I was genuinely unsure whether the complaints would even get over the first hurdle, because IPSO have a track record of heroically "interpreting" their code in such a way as to allow newspapers to say whatever the hell they like about poll results, no matter how misleading.  There was an earlier incident in which a Scot Goes Pop reader had complained about the Daily Record falsely claiming that a poll had shown a drop in support for independence.  To make that claim, the Record were basing their comparison on an earlier poll that they had cherry-picked to suit themselves - it wasn't the most recent poll from the same firm, and it wasn't the most recent poll from any other firm either.  But IPSO's "bouncers" refused to allow the complaint to proceed, on the grounds that the Record were entitled to make a comparison between any two polls they liked.  Just think about the implications of that logic for a moment.  Suppose there was a poll which showed Yes support dropping like a stone from 48% to 39%.  What IPSO are saying, what IPSO are literally saying, is that it would be perfectly OK - and not a breach of the accuracy clause of the code - for The National to report that as a big surge in independence support because there was a previous poll in 2013 showing Yes on 34%.  That's the absurdity of what passes for "press regulation" in the UK.

So I was half-expecting IPSO to dismiss the complaints about the Sun on Sunday on the grounds that newspapers are perfectly entitled, if they wish, to make a bogus comparison between figures including Don't Knows and figures excluding Don't Knows.  But amazingly, it turned out that the Sun on Sunday's lie was a step too far even for IPSO, and the complaints were allowed to proceed.  Because there were multiple complainants, IPSO invoked a procedure whereby one person is selected as the 'lead complainant' and effectively makes decisions on behalf of all complainants from that point on.  It's far from clear how that person is selected.  Is it a random choice?  Is it whoever happened to complain first?  In this case, Stephen Duncan - who occasionally posts here as "Duncanio" - was chosen, which was a good outcome from our point of view because he proved to be a determined complainant who argued his points extremely intelligently.

The Sun on Sunday's initial response to the complaint was to delete the online version of the article and to offer to publish a correction of sorts.  This made it highly likely that the complaint would at least be nominally upheld if Stephen pursued it to the end of the process - but in the Kafkaesque world of IPSO complaints, the whole aim of the Sun on Sunday's concession was to ensure that the complaint was *not* upheld, because if Stephen was coaxed into saying he agreed that the complaint had been resolved to his satisfaction, IPSO would then mark the complaint as closed and effectively treat it as if it had never existed.  There would be no public record of an upheld complaint, or that the Sun on Sunday had been found to be lying.

Fortunately, Stephen didn't play along with that game, and pressed on with his complaint on the basis that the proposed correction was inadequate.  He felt it should have contained an apology, that its offered location was not prominent enough, that it should have made explicitly clear that the comparison was bogus because of the different treatment of Don't Knows, and that it should have made clear that the polls were also not comparable because one of them included 16 and 17 year olds in the sample, and the other did not.  Personally, I also felt that the proposed correction was inaccurate because it claimed that in reality there was a drop in Yes support of between two and four percentage points "depending on assumed variables in the polling".  In fact, the true figure is incalculable because no-one knows what the effect of one of the variables was, ie. the decision of Deltapoll not to interview 16 and 17 year olds.

In a distinct echo of my own complaint against the Express, IPSO's Complaints Committee upheld Stephen's complaint (or "partially upheld" it) but refused to impose any sanction on the publication beyond what had already been done and/or offered.  The need for the correction to refer to the point about 16 and 17 year olds was dismissed with two of the most jaw-dropping sentences you'll ever have the misfortune to read.  Effectively they agreed in every particular with Stephen's line of argument, but then rather optimistically tried to weaponise it against him - 

"It was therefore unclear as to the precise impact that this particular age group, which had been allowed to vote in the Scottish Independence in 2014, had upon the poll’s findings and by extension the accuracy of its comparison to the second poll. Taken in this context, and where readers would understand that a comparison between two different polls, undertaken by two separate organisations, at separate times, under different conditions and employing different methodologies, would have their own limitations, the Committee did not consider that this rendered the article inaccurate or misleading."

The whole point, of course, is that the vast majority of readers would NOT have understood - or not without having it explained to them - that the two polls were conducted by two separate organisations using different methodologies, or the serious implications of that fact.  They would have wrongly assumed that they were being presented with a like-for-like comparison and that the drop in the Yes support being reported was meaningful and accurately measured.  That's precisely WHY the Sun on Sunday's article was so seriously in breach of IPSO's own code (which forbids "misleading" claims as well as outright inaccurate ones), and that's why any Complaints Committee acting in good faith would have instructed the publication to amend their proposed correction accordingly.

You can read the IPSO ruling in its full dismalness HERE.

So we've now had two (or at least two) complaints upheld by IPSO in recent months about newspapers telling lies on Scottish independence polling.  Those might only seem like partial successes, given that IPSO allowed the papers in question to get away with murder in their published corrections (and in one case the Express were even allowed to tell a further lie in their "correction"), but the important point is that those upheld complaints are now a matter of public record.  They demonstrate that it's not some kind of tinfoil hat conspiracy theory to point out that the mainstream media are lying to the public on this topic for partisan reasons.  And if upheld complaints against certain publications become an established pattern, that can begin to seriously detract from the credibility of those publications' reporting.  To give an example, it's well-known that there have been a disproportionately high number of complaints upheld by IPSO against the Jewish Chronicle, and that has undoubtedly led to people taking the Jewish Chronicle's output less seriously.

So I would certainly urge Scot Goes Pop readers to continue complaining to IPSO about the misreporting of independence polls, especially if they spot a lie that is blatant enough that they think there's a chance a complaint will get past IPSO's "bouncers".  I can attest to the fact that seeing a complaint through to its final - and almost inevitably unsatisfactory - conclusion can be very stressful, but it may well pay useful dividends in the long run.

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I launched the Scot Goes Pop fundraiser for 2023 a few weeks ago, and the running total has now passed £2000.  The target figure is £8500, however, so there's still quite some distance to travel.  If you'd like to help Scot Goes Pop continue by making a donation, please click HERE.  Many thanks to everyone who has donated so far.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Westminster REELS IN SHOCK as support for independence SURGES in new BOMBSHELL Redfield & Wilton poll - but Humza Yousaf's personal popularity slumps again, and the SNP are clinging on to a barely-there lead

Should Scotland be an independent country?  (Redfield & Wilton Strategies, 1st-2nd July 2023)

Yes 48% (+3)
No 52% (-3)

To some extent that's a reversion to the mean, because the 45% in the previous poll for Yes was unusually low, but a three-point jump does give me the opportunity to use the word "surges" in the headline in almost a non-ironic way.  The evidence that independence support is holding up irrespective of what happens to the SNP is now overwhelming - no matter how far the SNP slip, the Yes vote seems to remain in the familiar range, and that's a pattern across all polling firms.  Perhaps even more importantly, this is the second Redfield & Wilton poll in a row to show that a plurality of voters (41% to 40% in this case) want an independence referendum to be held within the next twelve months, providing a timely reminder that the likes of Alex Massie have no factual basis for their repeated claims that Scotland does not want a referendum.

Voters are almost split down the middle on what they think the result of an early independence referendum would be - 38% think Yes would win, and 42% think No would win.  That's potentially significant, because people will be basing their expectations on the views of their friends and families.  There's clearly still a lot of enthusiasm for independence out there, and not just among the members of volunteer online polling panels.

And now to the bad news - away from the independence numbers, this poll makes grim reading for the SNP in general and Humza Yousaf in particular.  The leadership will doubtless point out that the SNP are in the lead on all three ballots (Westminster, Holyrood constituency and Holyrood list) but as in yesterday's Survation poll, that lead is now barely there in all three cases.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election:

SNP 35% (-2)
Labour 32% (+4)
Conservatives 21% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 7% (-2)
Greens 2% (-1)
Reform UK 2% (-1)

Seats projection (with changes from 2019 election): SNP 24 (-24), Labour 22 (+21), Conservatives 8 (+2), Liberal Democrats 5 (+1)

Among the predicted carnage here, Alison Thewliss, Anne McLaughlin, Stewart McDonald, Patrick Grady, David Linden, Tommy Sheppard and Deidre Brock would all be losing their seats, and ironically a big part of the reason for that is the unpopularity of the man most of them pressurised SNP members to install as leader, even though Kate Forbes was clearly far more liked by the public.  Humza Yousaf's net personal rating has slipped back to -10 in this poll, putting him well behind Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar (+4) and also behind UK Labour leader Keir Starmer (-1). And although he's ahead of Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross (-19), it's not exactly the gap of light-years you would customarily expect.

The leadership were clearly thinking on the right strategic lines when they reversed course to some extent by saying they will allow people to vote directly for independence at the general election.  With independence now so much more popular than the SNP (a gap that appears to be growing even further), it plainly makes sense to make a big offer to independence supporters who have drifted off to Labour, and who quite simply have little interest in the SNP unless independence is back on the table.  But it does look like the leadership problem is going to have to be addressed too if the SNP are to have any chance of averting electoral disaster next year.  Either Yousaf will have to go, or he'll have to belatedly swallow his pride and bring Kate Forbes, Ash Regan, and one or two key Forbes supporters into senior positions in a Unity Cabinet with essentially a collective leadership.

One glimmer of light for the SNP is that the net rating for the whole party is -2, which is only very slightly behind Labour's +1.  So there isn't necessarily a mountain to climb if only the leadership problem can be sorted out before the general election.

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot: 

SNP 33% (-3)
Labour 30% (+1)
Conservatives 21% (-)
Liberal Democrats 10% (+2)
Greens 2% (-)
Reform UK 2% (-)
Alba 1% (-)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot: 

SNP 28% (+3)
Labour 26% (-1)
Conservatives 19% (-)
Liberal Democrats 12% (+2)
Greens 8% (-5)
Reform UK 4% (+2)
Alba 2% (-)

Seats projection (with changes from 2021 election): SNP 40 (-24), Labour 38 (+16), Conservatives 26 (-5), Liberal Democrats 15 (+11), Greens 10 (+2)

Off the top of my head, I can't recall a worse projection than that for the SNP in well over a decade.  40 seats is seven lower than they had when they first took power under Alex Salmond by the slenderest of margins in 2007.  It's possible that they could repeat the trick given that on these numbers they would remain two seats ahead of Labour, but I'm not at all convinced.  The momentum against the SNP would be such that Labour might feel justified in using external support from the Tories to install a Labour-Lib Dem minority coalition government.  An additional problem here is the five-point slump for the Greens on the list vote - we'll have to wait to see whether that's a freak result or the start of a trend caused by the public losing patience with the key role played by Green ministers in some of the Scottish Government's most high-profile failures.  The SNP and Greens in combination are projected to have just 50 seats, far behind the combined total of 79 for unionist parties.

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I launched the Scot Goes Pop fundraiser for 2023 a few weeks ago, and the running total has now passed £2000.  The target figure is £8500, however, so there's still quite some distance to travel.  If you'd like to help Scot Goes Pop continue by making a donation, please click HERE.  Many thanks to everyone who has donated so far.

New Survation poll shows independence support continuing to hold up impressively, while the SNP under Yousaf cling on to a precariously slender lead at both Westminster and Holyrood

So let's start with the customary good news - in common with all other recent polls, the new Survation poll shows support for independence holding up well, apparently unaffected by the trials and tribulations of the SNP.  There's a small decrease in the Yes vote from the previous Survation poll, but it's statistically insignificant.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Survation, 23rd-28th June 2023)

Yes 47% (-1)
No 53% (+1)

As far as party political voting intentions are concerned, I'm not sure this poll really takes us forward on the questions we want answered.  After the recent Panelbase poll showing the SNP level-pegging with Labour on the Westminster ballot, Team Humza must have feared that the next poll would show an outright Labour lead.  That hasn't happened, but the snag is that Survation's results have recently been more favourable to the SNP than we've seen from other firms, and a 3-point SNP lead is in fact the worst result for the SNP in a Survation poll since Yousaf became leader.  So it's perfectly consistent with the trend shown by Panelbase, suggesting that the SNP vote has drifted further downwards over Yousaf's three months in charge.  That could conceivably mean that if other pollsters tested opinion right now, they'd find a small Labour lead or a dead heat.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election:

SNP 37% (-1)
Labour 34% (+3)
Conservatives 17% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 9% (-)

Seats projection (with changes from 2019 election): SNP 26 (-22), Labour 22 (+21), Conservatives 6 (-), Liberal Democrats 5 (+1)

Of course there's the endless argument over whether the SNP are suffering because of Humza Yousaf's unpopularity with the public or because of the police investigation into people associated with the former Sturgeon leadership, but those two concepts are not hermetically sealed from each other.  Part of the problem Yousaf has with the public is that he is seen as Sturgeon's placeman, and so for as long as there is a cloud over her, it's a problem for him and for the SNP as a whole.  That problem can only be solved by fresh leadership, or by a unity team which puts an end to faction-only rule by Team Humza and brings Yousaf's rivals (who in many cases are also Sturgeon-sceptics) into senior positions, thus challenging the public perception that the current leadership is Continuity Sturgeon in all but name.

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 38% (-1)
Labour 33% (+3)
Conservatives 16% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 10% (+1)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 30% (-2)
Labour 29% (+3)
Conservatives 17% (-2)
Greens 10% (-)
Liberal Democrats 9% (+2)
Reform UK 2% (-)
UKIP 1% (+1)

Seats projection (with changes from 2021 election): SNP 49 (-15), Labour 37 (+15), Conservatives 23 (-8), Greens 10 (+2), Liberal Democrats 10 (+6)

Once again, this poll shows the SNP practically being reduced to the same seat tally they had when they first took power by the skin of their teeth in 2007.  The pro-independence majority at Holyrood would be lost by some distance on these numbers - the SNP and Greens in combination would have 59 seats, and the unionist parties would have 70.

I must just note the weirdness and inconsistency of Survation's treatment of Alba.  In their previous poll in May, they included Alba as an option on both the Westminster and Holyrood list ballots, but this time Alba seem to have been totally excluded across the board - in spite of the fact that Alba took a decent 3% of the list vote in the previous poll, and also in spite of the fact that the obviously less popular UKIP are still being included as an option.  It literally makes no sense, except from a London-centric perspective in which Scotland-only parties are lazily assumed to be of less interest to poll respondents than UK-wide parties, however tiny.

I raised an eyebrow or two yesterday at the claim from one of Somerset's most-read Tory-voting bloggers that Mhairi Black was standing down because she knew she was going to get pumped at the general election, and because she also knew that if she switched to the Scottish Parliament, she would probably get in on the list.  The latter suggestion is curious due to Campbell's repeated vehement claims when he was floating the idea of a "Wings Party" that the SNP couldn't win list seats no matter how many list votes they took.  It's intriguing that he's now tacitly acknowledging that he led people up the garden path on that point.  And his other claim is innumerate, because Mhairi Black's seat is actually one of the 26 the SNP would hold on the above projections.  It would be a close-run thing, within a few percentage points, and any further worsening of the SNP's national position (which is entirely possible) could put the seat in the Labour column.  But the idea that the SNP aren't even in contention in the seat at this stage doesn't stand up to the remotest scrutiny.  The paradox of the claims that Black is deserting a sinking ship is that the SNP would have had a much better chance of holding her seat if she had been the candidate, because she presumably carries with her a small but important personal vote as an unusually well-known incumbent MP.

The criticism that I think can be fairly levelled at Black is over her claim that Westminster is a toxic work environment.  If you believe that, the logical response is to move the SNP decisively into the endgame for independence so that no-one in Scotland has to work in that environment ever again.  Instead, Black is planning a personal solution for herself only by (if the rumours are true) seeking to switch parliaments.  It seems she finds the ongoing prospect of Scotland's involvement in Westminster toxicity perfectly acceptable provided she isn't personally at the heart of it.

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I launched the Scot Goes Pop fundraiser for 2023 a few weeks ago, and the running total has now passed £2000.  The target figure is £8500, however, so there's still quite some distance to travel.  If you'd like to help Scot Goes Pop continue by making a donation, please click HERE.  Many thanks to everyone who has donated so far.