Congratulations are due to The National for managing to eschew purple prose of the ‘soaring’ variety in its latest report on polling for Scottish independence. The article continues to peddle the SNP/Scottish Government line that support for Yes is increasing. But on this occasion The National only goes as far as describing the polling results as a ‘boost’. I’m unsure if there is anything significant about this toning-down of the rhetoric. Could it possibly indicate a new caution about overstating the significance of favourable fluctuations in the polls? Is it perhaps the case that The National has realised there’s increasing critical attention being paid to both the polling and the SNP/Scottish Government’s efforts to generate the impression of steadily rising support for independence?
As regular readers will be aware, my habit and practice is to treat polls with cautious respect and media reports of polling with great suspicion. Opinion polling is useful mainly as a means of plotting trends. Individual Yes/No polls are all but devoid of useful information. A single poll tells us nothing about how well or badly Scotland’s cause is currently faring. Therefore, it tells us nothing about how well or badly the self-styled ‘party of independence’ is performing. Individual polls are little better as a diagnostic tool than a single heartbeat. If you want to know how healthy or otherwise a heart is then you need a decent sample size and longitudinal comparisons.
The image at the top of the page is informative. It shows the Yes/No/Undecided trends based on standardised data points. The chart is information-rich. The fluctuations prompt questions about associated events and developments. But probably the most obvious thing from just a first glance is the fact that support for Yes ends at almost exactly the same level it began. Precisely the same level if one takes into account the margin of error. Far from ‘soaring’, support for Yes has flatlined since the first independence referendum.
A simple calculation confirms this. The average of the first 10 polls following the 2014 vote is 41.3%. The average of the most recent 10 polls is 44.5%.* Again, bear in mind that the margin of error is ±3%. The change is negligible. The SNP/Scottish Government’s performance in promoting Scotland’s cause is at best mediocre. Take into account what by its own acknowledgement have been near-ideal circumstances for increasing support for independence and their record looks abysmal.
Despite this clear evidence of poor performance, a very large part of what used to be the Yes movement continues to believe the version of the polling story which has support for independence increasing under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership. This is because there is so little dispassionate, objective scrutiny of the SNP and the de facto leader of the independence movement. There is only one pro-independence newspaper in Scotland and no pro-independence broadcast media other than a few online channels. I don’t know exactly how that works out as a percentage. But it has to be a fraction of one percent. That’s <1% of the media pro-independence in a country where around 45% of voters support the ending of the Union.
It’s not as if the other 99+% of the media is neutral. Most of it is actively anti-independence ─ overtly or otherwise. A goodly portion of that 99+% is fervently pro-Union and/or rabidly anti-independence. That’s 99+% of the media feeding messages to Scotland’s people that cannot be relied upon to offer dispassionate analysis. Given that The National tends to take its lead from the SNP/Scottish Government ─ for good reason ─ that makes 100% of Scotland’s media that cannot be depended on to objectively scrutinise the SNP/Scottish Government. There is no proper media scrutiny of Nicola Sturgeon or her approach to the constitutional issue. None whatever! Which is why blogs like this are so important, even if they are mere minnows in the media pond. At least we try to provide some coldly critical analysis of the state of Scotland’s cause ─ even if from a pro-independence perspective.
The evident failure of the SNP/Scottish Government (together with the bits of the independence movement not preoccupied with tribal squabbling) to increase support for a Yes vote in the event of us ever getting a proper constitutional referendum needs to be explained. If we don’t discover why Yes support has flatlined for eight years, what hope is there that we can find a way of turning the situation around? The YouGov poll referred to by The National might be helpful in this regard on account of the fact that it goes beyond merely measuring levels of Yes/No/Undecided support to look at the reasoning that informs choices. An excerpt from the article should be sufficient to illustrate this.
Some 14% of the No-voting respondents said they would support backing independence if it offered a route to joining the EU, while 11% said they’d move to Yes if the cost-of-living crisis was eased as a result.
However on the flipside, some 27% of Yes voters said they would oppose independence if it led to a rise in the cost of living, and 16% would back No if it led to new border checks.
Overall, 18% of 2014 Yes voters said they now back No and 17% of No voters now back Yes, roughly evening each other out.Boost for Scottish independence as new poll puts Yes up four points
Two things can be deduced from this with a reasonable degree of confidence. Firstly, there are far more people moving from Yes to No than I would have expected. That the movement in both directions cancel one another is yet further confirmation of the flatlining mentioned earlier. If the approach to the constitutional issue adopted by the SNP/Scottish Government was being effective then there would be a discernible trend towards Yes. The approach is obviously failing.
The other thing to note is the conditionality of much of the support for Yes. It is this that gives us our strongest clue as to the reason for the evident failure of the ‘Sturgeon strategy’. It is because so much of the approach is focused on matters other than the restoration of independence. The approach is almost entirely devoted to matters of policy and/or ‘visions’ of independence and/or grievance against the UK government. Look again at the swing back and forth between Yes and No. What does this suggest? It strongly suggests that the policy/vision/grievance approach alienates as much as it attracts. The favourable and unfavourable responses to policy statements and ‘visions’ of independence cancel each other out. Highly significant is the indication that the grievance element of the approach has not been sufficient to tip the balance towards Yes. That alone is indicative of serious failure given the number and severity of legitimate grievances the SNP/Scottish Government has had to work with.
[Look at the core support for independence. It is not conditional (I purposefully eschew the term ‘unconditional’ as it has some unfortunate and inapplicable connotations). Why is that? It’s because the people who make up that core support recognise that ending a dysfunctional political union and restoring independence is a matter of democratic justice. I advocate independence, not for any material or social benefit, but because the Union is bad for Scotland. It is very bad for Scotland. The Union is wrong. Independence is right.
That is the message the independence campaign has to get across if support for independence is to be grown. And if that support is to be reliable and not subject to perceptions of a detailed policy agenda or reaction to a particular ‘vision’.]**
Am I being ‘negative’? Of course I’m being bloody negative! I’m being negative because that is the direction in which dispassionate analysis of the evidence leads me. I really, really wish I had some reason to be positive about our hopes of restoring Scotland’s independence. But positivity just is not warranted by the evidence.
* Opinion polling on Scottish independence
** Section added because I forgot. It happens a lot.
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10 thoughts on “Reasons to be cheerless”
Like you I have been measuring opinion polls over time.
In my case I have taken the survey results of the 4 major firms that have been polling on the constitution since the 2014 referendum and weighted the Yes% by volume on a cumulative basis. The results of the earliest and latest in each case are:
Panelbase: 51%; 49%
Survation: 47%, 48%
Yougov: 52%, 47%
Ipsos: 55%, 52%
So YES has been soaring like a crow at best … in a straight-line. Or maybe just soaring like a stone.
Now, at a number of points in each time-series there have been spikes in, and even prolonged periods of majority, support. Moments of opportunity. Moments which could and should have been captured to create … momentum. But what did we get from the de facto leader and the various high-profile members of the political wing of the Yes movement? We got this:
May 2015 – June 2017 British General Elections:
‘A vote for the SNP is not a vote for Independence’
‘We will be good British parliamentarians’
‘Let’s have a reset’
2016-2020 EU Referendum Withdrawal:
‘Let’s wait till the fog of Brexit clears/till the terms of Brexit are known/till Brexit happens/till after the 2019 General Election’
2020 – 2022 COVID Pandemic:
‘Cease and desist all Independence campaigning’
2022 – date Cost of Living crisis
‘Let the UK Supreme Court decide whether or not the Scottish people are sovereign’.
These were all moments of opportunity with ‘goal!’ written all over them.
And here we are, 5 minutes into overtime, playing against a team of junior amateurs who have had 3 of their team sent off with a couple of others limping along and a few over the hill retirees brought back to make up their numbers, wondering whether we’re going to grab an equaliser at the death in order to force extra time and, maybe if we’re lucky, get lucky on penalty kicks lottery.
It’s a shambles.
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I must pick you up on one point. The UK Supreme Court cannot decide “whether or not the Scottish people are sovereign”. We are sovereign. That is the end of the matter.
In fact, by even asking the UKSC to rule ─ just as by begging for a Section 30 order ─ Nicola Sturgeon is compromising the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. If you maintain that the people of Scotland are sovereign then you don’t ask permission from anybody other than the people of Scotland to do those things that all sovereign peoples have the absolute and inalienable right to do.
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On the sovereignty point I was stating it from the point of view of what is implied by the Scottish Government’s action in deferring to the UKSC.
The Scottish Government cannot in actuality, of course, yield our sovereignty to anyone … for it is not theirs to give.
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Of course. I seize on every opportunity to make my point regarding sovereignty. I did not mean to imply that you might be unaware of the facts.
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“so much of the approach is focused on matters other than the restoration of independence”
You are right Peter, the national parties waste precious time and needlessly take the people up blind alleys discussing policies for this and that, seeking to convince voters with worthless political promises, whilst all the time there is only the one urgent policy priority, that of securing independence.
As Aime Cesaire said on the rationale for ‘a peoples’ independence and national liberation, this is “not posed in terms of capitalism versus socialism, but in terms of the complete and total overthrow of a racist, colonialist system that would open the way to imagine a whole new world.”
On this urgent policy priority and necessary transformation of a society it would help if the national parties better explained to the people what independence means (i.e. decolonisation) and why it is necessary (liberation from oppression). In order to do this they must first undertake a reasoned analysis of the colonial society they must escape from, rather than collaborate with. If the national parties do not know what independence means, how will the people know?
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This may be relevant to your comment, Alf. I have added a short passage to the original article. It is a point I had intended to make but I forgot. That happens more and more these days. Here is the text.
“Look at the core support for independence. It is not conditional (I purposefully eschew the term ‘unconditional’ as it has some unfortunate and inapplicable connotations). Why is that? It’s because the people who make up that core support recognise that ending a dysfunctional political union and restoring independence is a matter of democratic justice. I advocate independence, not for any material or social benefit, but because the Union is bad for Scotland. It is VERY bad for Scotland. The Union is wrong. Independence is right.
THAT is the message the independence campaign has to get across if support for independence is to be grown. And if that support is to be reliable and not subject to perceptions of a detailed policy agenda or reaction to a particular ‘vision’.”
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The problem with that is, Peter, that the SNP leadership does not believe it, and many of the electorate who might vote for independence don’t believe it either. rUK migrants into Scotland are predominantly anti independence, and they state ‘the break-up of the UK’ as their reason; Scottish Unionists cite all manner of economic ills that will befall us if we vote for independence.
That is precisely why I have always advocated the international law approach as a parallel avenue to independence, albeit we need the political right here as the starting point – which has been achieved, democratically. The very first SNP victory which did not involve a minority government was the point when we should have put our case to the international community and kept pressing as election after election has put a SNP government in power.
The international community does not consider niceties such as whether rUK voters and/or Scottish Unionists vote for the party of independence because they desperately want independence. They would consider that voters voting for the party of independence are doing so in full knowledge that it IS the party of independence, and, therefore, entitled to press its case and core policy, if elected. That the SNP has not done so for eight years is down to no one and nothing but them. They have quite deliberately chosen not to make the case for independence either at the domestic level or the international level – because they have been, essentially, a party of devolution since Sturgeon was crowned. That is the bitter truth.
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On Peter’s point that “the core support for independence. It is not conditional”, we might also remember here that an independence movement is dependent, according to Prof. Michael Hechter, on the solidarity of the oppressed ethnic group and culture.
And on your point Lorna that “rUK migrants into Scotland are predominantly anti independence”, this absolute fact highlights that the anti-independence ‘No’ vote is also ethnically driven to a significant extent, albeit boosted by elements of the colonized who, according to Albert Memmi, become “accustomed to looking at his own people through the eyes of their procurer”.
The problem the SNP has is in its continued denial and refusal to acknowledge that independence has anything to do with ethnicity or culture. The reality is that both Yes and No votes for/against independence have everything to do with the two main ethnic groups and cultures involved in the colonial relationship/conflict.
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Totally agree, Alf, and I would go further and say that the ethnic Scottish pro independence vote is concentrated far more in the working-class areas and these are where we need to concentrate our efforts. Not saying we should leave out the middle-class, or rUK voters or Scottish Unionists, but they do tend to turn out to vote in any case whereas the working-class and less well-off, while many will vote come hell or high water, are a much more difficult constituency to bring out on the day, and they are absolutely crucial to the independence vote. Along with the domestic political effort, however, must come the international case and evidence – which, in itself, upholds what Peter has said about our inalienable right to independence, and depends not a jot on whether a voter is pro independence or anti independence. It stands alone as a fundamental principle of international law and human rights – facts which the SNP leadership has ignored consistently.
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” I advocate independence, not for any material or social benefit, but because the Union is bad for Scotland. It is very bad for Scotland. The Union is wrong. Independence is right. ” To which I’ll add – YOU are right too , Peter .
That fluctuating conditionality implicit in the YES to NO opinion ( itself an indication of the feebleness of Flatline Queen Sturgeon’s non-strategy ) may also be a reflection of * former * YES supporters’ disgust and total rejection of this GOV’s promotion of divisive distractions – in particular – GRA * reform * over any meaningful pursuit of Independence . I imagine that idiocy is causing many women to question if Independence is actually worth the candle .
Likewise , and equally over both genders – the authoritarian , easily abused HCB .
This SNP GOV stinks of ” WE know best , you’ll do what WE tell you , you’ll adhere to OUR ( lunatic ) version/s of * reality ” arrogance . It will ultimately be their undoing .
The great threat/fear being it may also be the undoing of the cause of Independence too .
I read yesterday someone saying they understand ( ie they have heard from reliable sources ) the SNP/GREEN GOV will do nothing ( like they’ve done ANYTHING in the last 8 years ? ) to advance Independence until Labour are back in power and there is no risk of GRA being rejected by a WM Tory Gov – which , as you know , has stated it would make such a rejection .
I have no idea if this is true , but it seems entirely plausible , given GRA seems to carry far more importance to the SNP than it’s – supposed – raison d’etre .
Great article as per , Peter , likewise excellent comments from Duncanio , Lorna and Alf .
It breaks my heart that there are brilliant , honest , passionate people like yourselves exiled on the periphery of our cause , while at the centre are the worse collection of self-serving deadwood and parasites imaginable
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