Shona Craven makes a very good point in her column in today’s National. If Yes voters are significantly more likely to respond to polling than No voters then the polls must be skewed in favour of Yes as a consequence. It is a rather obvious point… once it has been made.

But there are many other reasons why the independence movement should treat these polling results with extreme caution. For example, there is in polling the same problem as can beset a poorly framed referendum. Are people responding to the question asked? Or are they actually answering a different question altogether. By way of illustration, it has been suggested that a significant factor in the 2014 referendum was a dislike of Alex Salmond. Although there is, to my knowledge, no reliable evidence to support the notion that Salmond was particularly unpopular, the theory implies that respondents were not answering the question on the ballot paper about whether Scotland should be an independent country but were, instead responding to the question: Do you like Alex Salmond?

I have long suspected that many of those participating in the 21 polls (so far) indicating a lead for Yes are responding to unasked questions about Brexit and handling of the public health emergency. They are not answering a question about Scotland’s constitutional status. Although even they might think they are.

The point of this is that it makes the polls extra unreliable as indicators of firm support for independence. Even if the effect described above and that described in Shona Craven’s article ar small, they are cumulative.

I don’t know whether polling on the Scottish constitutional issue is especially susceptible to these effects or to what extent they are effects which can be compensated for with some statistical algorithm. But not knowing this only gives me more cause to be cautious about relying on polls.

We must always ask ourselves if what these polls are indicating is solid support for the restoration of Scotland’s independence. We must never simply assume that they do. Or is it at best the development of a statistically significant cohort of ‘soft Yes” voters? If it is not the former then should we really be celebrating them?

My own thoughts are that support for independence hasn’t shifted to any significant degree since 2014. That the present level is fully explained by factors other than support for independence. That Yes should be polling nearer to 60% or perhaps more given the near-ideal circumstances for persuading the ‘soft Noes’. And that we should therefore be worried rather than elated.

Allow me in closing to preempt the inevitable whining about my ‘negativity’ which totally fails to address any of the points made either in the article or in my comment. Being positive is fine. So long as you have good reason to be positive. We must constantly question our reasons for being positive just as we must constantly question all our prejudices and preconceptions. That is all I’m doing here. If we don’t persistently interrogate our attitudes and beliefs then how can we be sure they are valid even in terms of our own values far less in terms of their utility in assessing situations?

People want to believe that the polls are reason enough to be confident of success in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. They may not be. This may be an unfounded belief. Or a belief lack a solid foundation. What this implies is not negativity but a positive incentive to do better. If we even suspect that the current approach to the constitutional issue is not sufficiently effective in persuading people away from the Union and towards independence then it is incumbent on us to demand a rethink of that approach.

10 thoughts on “Shoogly!

  1. Good point Peter. My own gut feeling about the polls and ‘supposed’ increase in support for yes, is that a bunch of people who voted no, and don’t like or feel confident about talking about politics, are now grudgingly prepared to admit, that they always knew the Union was rigged in favour of England.

    It does not mean that they believe Scotland’s political class are any more capable. That’s a separate leap to make.

    With no IndyRef in sight, its easy to express a Protest Indy ‘vote’, in the same way that those polled in Englandshire did for UKIP when there was no way it would take a decent number of seats.

    I fear the polls are there to keep Nicla in power, and keep her supporters enraptured. And even if not correct in motive, that is certainly the results being seen.

    As always, I’d say, what ground needs covered, and if its not being covered, the Yes movement will need to get it done and not wait for the parties to catch up.

    And we really need a plebiscite for Indy vote on the ballot paper.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Very important points, thank you.

    There is a lot of lazy thinking going on within the SNP.

    The assumption that somehow Independence will happen because of the huge ineptitude of a current British Government is very foolish.

    The case and planning for Independence has not been worked on let alone debated, I think that’s mostly because of a fear of members having a say. Certainly we shouldn’t get bogged down in minutiae but the hard work of an outline case is being done by others and ignored. The Growth Commission was an awful exercise in ‘Don’t be scared, we’ll make sure Independence is just like the U.K.’ (I paraphrase but not much).

    Unless the plan is to wait for full U.K. collapse into a failed state disintegration, we need something more coherent and inspiring than ‘Johnson is bad’.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Polls are useful as indicators of intentions at a point in time. They do not predict the future. They can change, as opinions change and evolve with the facts. The results are open to interpretation as well.
    In the case of Scottish Independence, for example, there are many possible different reasons causing the increase/decrease in support. The support may be ‘driven’ by these factors or it could just be ‘drifting’ for no apparent reason. If the latter then a change in the wind direction could very easily see support start to move in the opposite direction.

    In general I find surveys of opinion useful – what else do we have to go on to take the pulse of the population at large? But they are some way short of infallible. There is the issue of ‘non-response’ that Shona Craven alludes to. There are technical issues of weighting factors used to adjust the ‘raw’ results e.g. likelihood to vote, demographic representation etc. And so on and so forth.

    However, what is most disturbing is how these results are reported and represented in The National.

    Or misreported and misrepresented.

    How many times have we heard that these results are sensationally described as ‘stunning’ or ‘soaring’? Too many times to remember. The reality is that support for Independence has stalled in the last few months, as a brief comparison by polling organisation of the latest and prior surveys show:

    Panelbase (-4%), Yougov (-2%), Survation (-2%), Savanta (-4%) and Ipsos/Mori (-2%).

    There should be less hyperbole, hubris, back-slapping, triumphalism and complacency from those who preach blind faith.

    And more questioning as to why these polls have hit a plateau or are even declining.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think I can offer at least a partial explanation as to why the polls have stalled. As I’ve been saying since 2015 we’ve already won that part of the electorate that could be won by the happy-clappy positive case for independence strategy. The likes of Pete Wishart insist that we only need to keep plugging away at the same strategy, work a bit harder, perfect the ‘message’ and that will do the job. As you will have immediately recognised, this is pish. Total pish.

      If we think of the electorate as a battlefield, the ground closest to us is easiest to take getting progressively more difficult as we meet the resistance of the ‘enemy;. Or if you know a wee bit about stock control than you’ll be aware that the first 90% of a variance is pretty easy to account for. the last 10% is the hard part. And by the time you get to the final 1% or 2% its just not cost effective to try and find it. Although if you’re an obsessive like me you’ll probably pursue it anyway.

      The point is that the Wishart ‘strategy’ assumes the electorate is a homogeneous mass. But in reality your strategy has to change as you move through the electorate encountering more resistance.

      I’ve more to say on this but my wife’s nippin’ ma heid about me going for a shower so she can get dinner out of the way. Real life is so fucking intrusive!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. As you say, those convinced by the positive case for Scotland breaking free from the suffocating embrace of the Union and striking out on our own are already in the bag.

        I agree especially with the bit about it getting increasingly difficult to convert those not converted to date.

        That’s the mistake that so many of the happy-clappy bunch make when they assume that the taking Yes support from an estimated 25% or thereabouts in the opinion polls to an actual 45% in the 2014 referendum in the space of 2/3 years will be continue on the same linear upward trajectory when another proper campaign begins.

        It won’t! Or at least it won’t without having more than one string in your bow. Those unconvinced even after the UK government’s bungled BREXIT and the catastrophic COVID handling will need to be confronted by the negative cost of remaining in the Union. That argument should scare the waste matter out of them.

        But at the outset we have to be realistic and recognise that there remains a core of the unconvertible. Mostly they vote Tory but not all. They are probably ~20% of the people of Scotland. We should not waste our time with them.

        We need to identify different segments of the remaining undecided among the electorate then target them relentlessly with tailored messaging: To those concerned with Democracy, Decency and Self-Respect – use it (via our own directly elected government) or lose it (to an increasingly right-wing and hostile foreign government). To those concerned with Trade – free movement of goods has gone and Scottish exporters are suffering smothering bureaucracy and are reliant on getting our produce to market via the overwhelmed English ports. To those who require migrant workers – we’ll not be able to access their skills and labour as part of this grotesquely asymmetric and isolationist Union. And so on.

        The negative case of remaining in Union must be wedded to the positive case for restoring the full powers of self-government to Scotland

        Enjoy your dinner.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Usual bollocks…2014 went from @23% to 45% because of the message . The message from the uk was loss of eu, pensions, no currency, massive debt and the best federalism just short of independence ( The Vow). The message from the snp was hope for a better future and their % almost doubled even with all the doom that was thrown at them . Just think. All that was said against and 45% of the people that voted said ok il take a chance on that. What will be on offer from better together this time ? . In my opinion people are not interested in politics just now so the 53% is amazing when covid is over that’s when people will look to the future . IF and when a referendem is called the 10 to 15% will turn out .


  5. I think you are very wise to be urging caution about the polls. I have quite a number of friends who voted ‘No’. They often express their anger over Brexit, contempt for Boris and his cabinet but don’t seem to make a leap from that to voting for independence any time soon and some of my friends who did vote ‘Yes’ are now doubtful about doing so because of what they perceive would be a further very disruptive process on top of Brexit and Covid. I am not at all optimistic that I will see independence in my lifetime but part of me still goes on hoping.


  6. In the six weeks runup to the ref in 2014, Yes was around 44% and No also around 44%. On the day while Yes was the same, No jumped to 55%. It appears to me that when push comes to shove, any doubts that people have tend to make them vote for the status quo. I think that’s a real risk again. The utter chaos of Brexit and abysmal UK handling of Covid, results in polls for Yes at mid 50’s? Not exactly a strong show of confidence in the current SNP’s ‘plans’ for independence. With decent leadership in the SNP and the groundwork for independence clearly made, I suspect the polls would be well into the 60’s and beyond doubt. Yes in the 50’s in polls is a coin toss on the day.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree that the polls should be well in the 60s by now. However the SNP has done nothing to push the message of the benefits of Independence for the country. It is depressing to hear that Kate Forbes at a meeting of indy supporters expressed the view that GERS made the economic case for independence (the majority would need that explained to them) and there was therefore no need to make an economic case. The situation is made worse by the SNP’s complete blanking for those groups who HAVE done work on it. This is no way to encourage people who are already risk adverse, to step outside of their comfort zone and vote YES. They give the impression of being a party happy to simply continue to use indepence supporters’ votes to kep them in power.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Fully agree Peter. Under The Sainted One support for independence has sky-rocketed from 45% to…er, 47%. It’s support for the Union that’s fallen from 55% to about 42%. Of course it has; Britain has been exposed as a giant clusterf**k and is led by a giant baby. But on polling day, what are that undecided 11% really going to do? I know people who went into the polling booth in 2014 wearing Yes badges and came out saying, “I just couldn’t do it”.

    Even this polling increase can only really be traced to Johnson’s becoming PM. Sturgeon has simply not made the case for independence, and expecting those with property and investments to lose, or those who, rightly or wrongly, were brought up with notions of Britishness and “loyalty”, to just vote for independence because of a year of (supposedly) good press conferences is hubristic. I think this strategy will provide a definition of the phrase “a mile wide and an inch deep”.

    An assumption that “the future is ours” is no use, remember the Parti Québécois is now a fringe party, nothing is certain in history or politics.

    I have a friend who I went all the way through school with (now in our fifties) who is a doctor who voted No in 2014. If I discuss politics with him he says that he’s now Yes because of Brexit and because it’s the only way to protect the NHS. Or so he tells me and maybe so he tells himself. But I’ve known him since we were boys in shorts and I know he’s not going to do it. It’s always “oh yeah, I’m probably going to vote for independence”. “You know, I’m seriously thinking independence might be a good idea”. Always qualified. Never quite certain. That doubt remains. And he has an awfully big house and an awfully nice car and an awfully nice lifestyle and his wife is English so visiting her family would perhaps be a problem…

    As Patsy says above- and thanks for writing it this way as I’d never thought of it in these terms- they’ve accepted Britain is a joke but they’ve not made the leap to wanting independence.


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