Saturday, September 24, 2016

It was convincing, it was captivating...and it was Corbyn (again)

Apologies for recycling my John Motson-inspired headline from last year, but it seems appropriate because Labour have just recycled last year's leadership election result...

Labour leadership election 2016 :

Jeremy Corbyn 61.8% (+2.3)
Owen Smith 38.2% (n/a)

More to follow.  I'm on holiday, so it may take a while...

Friday, September 23, 2016

Survation sing a song of satisfying solidity as support for independence remains above September 2014 level

Mr George Eaton's recent musings on Scottish opinion polling are an excellent example of how certain journalists, through either laziness or malice, constantly misrepresent polls to favour their own political agenda.  The first YouGov poll on independence to be conducted after the EU referendum showed a small increase in the Yes vote, but according to our George, it actually showed a "fall".  How so?  Well, presumably he was comparing apples with oranges, and arguing that the Panelbase and Survation polls in the early summer had shown a temporary surge for Yes, which had then receded.  But there wasn't the slightest shred of proof for that.  It could just as easily have been that the different YouGov methodology had failed to pick up the mini-surge for Yes detected by Panelbase and Survation.  For the same reason, the TNS and Ipsos-Mori polls that followed, and that put Yes support just below 50%, did not provide definitive proof of a receding surge.  It was certainly plausible that the shock of the EU referendum result had led some people to briefly switch to Yes, before switching back when the complacency of the 'phony Brexit'/'Team GB' period set in.  But a plausible theory is not the same thing as evidence.  We needed a follow-up Panelbase or Survation poll before we could say anything with confidence, and that arrived earlier this week in the shape of an online poll from Survation.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 47%
No 53%

That represents a 6% swing back to No since the extraordinary Survation online poll in early summer, and takes us back to the sort of numbers that have been typical over the last couple of years.  So it does appear that the theory of a temporary Yes boost in late June was probably correct, which means that if YouGov, TNS or Ipsos-Mori polls had been conducted at that time, they might well have shown an outright Yes lead.

Crucially, though, while it's true that the early summer mini-surge has been reversed, it's absolutely NOT the case that the gains Yes have made since the 2014 independence referendum have been lost.  Survation have consistently shown Yes above 45% since the indyref, and continue to do so in this poll.  We can be very confident that the increase is real, because Survation weight by recalled indyref vote, which in this case has had a very dramatic effect - 416 No voters in the raw sample have been upweighted to count as 476.  That means that the superficial similarity to the high 40s Yes figures that Survation generally reported before the indyref is totally misleading - there has been a significant improvement since then (ie. if there was no weighting by recalled indyref vote, the reported Yes vote would now be above 47%).

Not that you'd be aware of any of this if you listened to the lazy spin that Survation themselves put on the poll.  Oh no.  According to them, we have a becalmed electorate who never change their minds about independence (the recent extreme volatility in Survation polls is a tad mysterious, then!), and who are more than happy to settle for the "compromise" (!) between independence and union represented by the half-delivered "Vow" (in which case why did the passing of the Scotland Bill not produce a boost for No?).

Back in the real world, support for Yes remains so high that we practically have a statistical tie, and Brexit hasn't even happened yet.  Free movement of peoples hasn't ended yet.  Visa-free travel to the continent hasn't stopped yet.  The economic hit hasn't been felt yet.  None of these mini-disasters are even on the horizon for most people, but they soon will be.  I used the phrase 'phony Brexit' earlier, because in a very loose sense, the current period can be compared to late 1939/early 1940 when people were still playing rounders and kidding themselves that nothing much was going to happen.  But when the realisation dawns, it will dawn with a vengeance - and we know from the early summer surge that there are enough people out there concerned about Brexit to potentially produce an outright Yes majority.  The depressing reality for the London establishment is that we can't be distracted with Olympic gold medals every month.

Although I'm abroad at the moment, I'm in close proximity to a Scottish Tory couple who reckon that Ruth Davidson is "brilliant", and that recent polls have shown that both Davidson and Theresa May are more popular than Nicola Sturgeon.  So Ms Sturgeon is "not going down well!", apparently.  Well, whichever way you cut it, this poll begs to differ.  Sturgeon has significantly better personal ratings than either Davidson or May (and every other politician asked about), and indeed May has an outright negative rating.  That honeymoon didn't last long.

Curiously, Survation have replicated the counterintuitive finding from TNS that women are now more supportive of independence than men are.  It may just be a coincidence that two polls close together are both producing a misleading finding, but who knows?  Perhaps Brexit has turned the gender divide on its head.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Off on my travels

Good morning from the beating heart of the Evil Empire, aka Victoria Station in central London.  God, it's grim here, and there are Tory voters everywhere.  I should really sit a few of them down and demand that they explain themselves to the readers of Scot Goes Pop.

So I just thought I'd better let you know that, barring mishaps at the Take Back Control Brexit Means Brexit border, I'll be on the continent until the start of October.  I know that blogging has already been light for the last few weeks - I've had the most manic summer/early autumn I can remember in a long time.  That culminated, as you may know, in me camping myself at the Emirates Arena for all three days of the Davis Cup semi-final, where I did my civic duty and interrupted the Union Jack Fest by waving my £2 saltire at strategic Murray Moments.  It certainly wasn't an attempt to get on TV - as we all know, saltires are camera-repellents in designated Brit Zones, but I did feel it was important to give Simon Reed a visual clue by which he could identify me as an "English supporter".

Anyway, by the wonders of modern technology, it's possible to blog on the go, so although blogging will probably continue to be light over the next couple of weeks, it hopefully won't be non-existent.  If a Scottish poll appears and I haven't said anything about it for 48 hours, you can safely conclude that I've dropped my phone in the sea (as I've done before).

Friday, September 16, 2016

It's a statistical tie as "remarkable" Ipsos-Mori TELEPHONE poll puts support for independence at heady 48%

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 48%
No 52%

More details to follow eventually.  I'm physically blogging this from the Davis Cup semi-final in Glasgow, so it's not straightforward...

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Drama as TNS poll reveals that Brexit has increased support for independence by more than expected

Back in May, in the run-up to the EU referendum, the polling firm TNS asked Scottish voters how they would vote in a new independence referendum if Brexit occurred.  The results were a tad surprising, given that other firms had reported that a Leave vote would significantly boost support for independence.

MAY 2016 POLL :

It is possible that Scotland may vote to remain in the EU, but the UK as a whole votes to leave. In those circumstances, if there was a new referendum on Scottish Independence how would you vote in that independence referendum?

Yes 44%
No 56%


As you can see, TNS were suggesting that Brexit would for some reason lead to the Yes vote being very slightly lower than in the first independence referendum in September 2014. But, of course, respondents to polls are not always terribly wonderful at answering hypothetical questions. And sure enough, now that we have the 'before' and 'after' photos to compare, it appears that the reality of Brexit is less palatable than people had anticipated, and that the result in June has indeed increased rather than decreased support for independence. A new TNS poll hot off the press has found that the Yes vote is actually 2% higher than it was in the 2014 vote.

NEW POLL :

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 47%
No 53%


Other polls have been better still for Yes. There have now been six credible polls on independence since the shock of 23rd June, and HALF of them have shown an outright Yes lead. ALL of them have shown a higher Yes vote than in September 2014 - and bear in mind that most firms now weight by recalled referendum vote, so there's no good reason to doubt that the increase is real. What we would have given for these numbers when the last indyref campaign got underway...

*  *  *

UPDATE : There wasn't much more I could say about the poll last night, because only the headline results had been made known.  But the datasets are now out, so here are a few more miscellaneous points...

*  TNS have, as expected, continued with their excellent practice of including 16 and 17 year olds in their sample, in line with the voting age of 16 that has now become the norm for Scotland-only elections and referendums.  This again puts to shame YouGov's laziness in excluding 16 and 17 year olds from their Scottish polls, and highlights the fact that YouGov's recent figures of Yes 46%, No 54% cannot be regarded as reliable.  It's unlikely that they under-reported the Yes vote by more than 1% (and over-reported the No vote by more than 1%), but when the race is so tight, such small errors make a big psychological difference.  YouGov should be called out on this basic flaw in their methodology until they put it right.  No more excuses.  If they innocently claim to be a politically neutral organisation (and they do), they simply can't get away with knowingly excluding a Yes-friendly part of the electorate from their polls.

* John Curtice had a go at winding up Yes supporters this morning by claiming that the TNS poll shows a "6% swing to No".  That's technically a justifiable claim, but he's measuring that swing from an ancient poll conducted a year ago - which strictly speaking was the last time TNS asked a voting intention question on independence, and which reported figures of Yes 53%, No 47%.  The problem for Curtice is that we also have the much more recent TNS poll from May that I mentioned above, which showed that in the event of Brexit the Yes vote would be only 44%.  For some reason TNS didn't bother taking the obvious step of simultaneously asking a straight voting intention question on independence for the purposes of comparison, but we know from polls conducted by other firms that, if they had done so, it's very unlikely that the 'real' Yes vote would have been higher than the hypothetical 'Brexit' Yes vote.  It's more probable that it would have been somewhat lower (ie. lower than 44%).  So it seems clear enough that today's Yes figure represents an increase since the spring - perhaps an increase within the margin of error, but certainly enough of an increase to open up the possibility that a genuine change has occurred.

The poll from last September looks like an oddity in retrospect.  It may well have been a rogue poll, but as TNS have polled on independence so infrequently since the indyref, it's impossible to say that for sure.  The alternative possibility is that they may have picked up a spike in support for Yes that occurred last year, but if that is the case, it certainly seems to have long since faded by the time of the May poll.  It doesn't change the fact that today's poll appears to represent an improvement for Yes since the spring.

* There have been no fewer than NINETEEN voting intention polls on independence from TNS since the start of 2013 - and today's is the THIRD-BEST for Yes. The only better ones were last September's, and the one immediately before polling day in 2014. At one point, in August 2013, No had an almost two-to-one lead, so we've come a long, long way since then.

* There's a gender divide in the new poll - but it's not the one we're used to.  TNS are reporting that women are now significantly more favourable towards independence than men are.  Among men, No have a double-digit lead, but among women the race is a statistical tie.  When you see a finding as unexpected as that, it does make you wonder whether there's something strange about the sample.

* The age divide is the familiar one, with younger people breaking more for Yes - but it's particularly extreme in this poll.  Among under-65s, Yes have a healthy enough lead of 55% to 45%.  But that's overturned by over-65s breaking for No by a whopping 80% to 20% margin.  Quite honestly, I think it's unlikely that No have a four-to-one advantage in that age group (or any other age group), but of course you can't necessarily cherry-pick one part of a sample and say that only that bit is implausible.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Humiliation for "electable" Owen Smith as bombshell YouGov poll reveals the Scottish electorate prefer Jeremy Corbyn as leader

Let's start with a detail from yesterday's new full-scale Scottish YouGov poll that may not be the most important, but is certainly the most amusing.  As we all know, pretty much the sole selling-point of Owen Smith's campaign to become Labour leader is that he is supposedly much more "electable" than the incumbent Jeremy Corbyn.  Well, this poll begs to differ -

If you had a vote in the Labour leadership election, who would you vote for?

Jeremy Corbyn 27%
Owen Smith 25%

Those figures are for the whole electorate.  Ironically, among the rump Labour vote, Smith does a little better (he's tied with Corbyn at 35% apiece), which gives the lie to the idea that he's better-placed than Corbyn to grow Labour's support.  At least in Scotland, Smith is very much the 'comfort zone' candidate for Labour, whereas Corbyn is the more attractive candidate for people currently minded to vote SNP.  42% of SNP voters (who of course make up roughly half the electorate) would back Corbyn if they had a vote in the leadership election, and just 20% would vote for Smith.  It's true that Corbyn has so far failed to make good on his suggestion last year that he could actually coax those SNP voters back to the Labour fold, but based on these numbers, the idea that Smith would have a better chance of doing so is risible in the extreme.

Turning now to the meat of the poll...

Journalists always (and rightly) get a good roasting when they make misleading claims about opinion polls for the sake of a good headline, or to push some political agenda.  It's therefore only fair that YouGov themselves should get a similar roasting when they do exactly the same thing.  Matthew Smith's article on the YouGov website about this poll makes two extremely dodgy claims -

1. "Scots don't support a second independence referendum...With the SNP set to relaunch their campaign for independence, 50% of Scots oppose a second referendum."

In fact, the poll didn't ask about the general idea of a second referendum.  Respondents were instead asked whether they support a referendum before the UK leaves the EU, which could of course be in the very near future.  There will be people who answered 'no' to that question because they don't favour a referendum until 2021 or whenever, but who have been wrongly categorised by YouGov as opposing a second referendum, full stop.  If YouGov want to make such sweeping claims without being criticised, they shouldn't ask such narrow questions.

2. "Should [the SNP government] be successful in forcing another vote, the results would be almost identical to last time, with 54% of Scots voting against independence and 46% in favour."

The question on independence specifically asks how people would vote if there was a referendum "tomorrow".  The chances of the SNP getting the requisite legislation through by teatime today do seem rather remote.  It's disappointing to see YouGov fuelling the lazy journalistic myth that polls are predictions, rather than snapshots of public opinion at a given moment in time (and indeed snapshots which may not be entirely accurate).

On their Twitter account, YouGov also make a third claim -

"Ruth Davidson is now more popular among Scottish voters than Nicola Sturgeon"

To be fair, that's a fractionally less outrageous statement, because there is a convention of headlining the 'net satisfaction' figures for political leaders, ie. subtracting the percentage of voters who have a negative view of the leader from the percentage who have a positive view. If you do that, Ruth Davidson's satisfaction rating is indeed 1% better than Sturgeon's (a trivial difference which is of course well within the margin of error). But the fact remains that Sturgeon is significantly more popular than Davidson in absolute terms - 53% think Sturgeon is doing a good job, compared to 46% for Davidson. It's the negative ratings that swing the balance, and given that Sturgeon is actually in government making decisions, it's hardly surprising that she arouses stronger feelings than Davidson does among those who don't like her. But bearing in mind that the target figure for an absolute majority under our electoral system is the mid-to-high 40s, the question has to be asked : if 53% of voters like you, does it really matter that much if 33% of voters don't?

On all measures, Sturgeon is considerably more popular than Theresa May, in spite of the fact that May is still enjoying her honeymoon as Prime Minister. Just 35% of the electorate think that May is doing a good job - 18% lower than the figure for Sturgeon. And May's net satisfaction rating is 7% lower than the First Minister's.

Alas, I'm not done with dodgy claims about the poll yet.  Step forward the maestro : Mr George Eaton of the New Statesman -

"Scottish independence support falls again: No side ahead by 54-46"

What?  I mean, what?!  There have been five credible polls on independence since the EU referendum : an online Panelbase poll showing a significant increase in support for independence, telephone and online polls from Survation which both showed a significant increase in support for independence, an online YouGov poll showing a modest 1% increase in support for independence, and then yesterday's online YouGov poll showing that the 1% increase had been reversed, returning us to the position in the poll before last.  On what planet does that sequence of results justify the statement "Scottish independence support falls again"?  Answers on a postcard, folks.  Eaton is either cynically intending to mislead, or just doesn't have a clue what he's talking about - I'm struggling to see a third option.

Can YouGov's figures of Yes 46%, No 54% be regarded as reliable?  As I alluded to in my TalkRadio article yesterday, every pollster has its own 'house effect', and there's no guarantee that other firms will report the same basic trend, let alone the same headline numbers.  One point about YouGov's methodology that has become increasingly controversial is their failure to include 16 and 17 year olds in the polling sample.  You could call this institutional inertia, but really it boils down to Anglocentricity.  If the Westminster parliament had reduced the voting age to 16, it's unthinkable that YouGov would still be conducting Westminster voting intention polls without interviewing 16 and 17 year olds.  It's unlikely in most cases that this deficiency will lead to the Yes vote being underestimated by more than 1%, but when the contest is so evenly balanced, even that can make a big psychological difference.  By definition, the Yes vote being 1% too low means that the No vote is 1% too high, so it's perfectly possible that the No lead is being overestimated by a full 2% in the new poll - even assuming the methodology is otherwise correct.  YouGov might shrug their shoulders and say that this is a relatively minor flaw, but if they're not polling the correct electorate and some of their competitors are, we're entitled to point out that their results should be regarded as comparatively unreliable.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The art of conversation

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the TalkRadio website about the launch of the new national conversation on independence. It also touches a little on today's new full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov. You can read the article HERE.

You might also be interested in an article by Alasdair Soussi on the Al Jazeera website, which weighs up David Cameron's legacy as Prime Minister, and includes quotes from myself, Paul Goodman of ConHome, and Professor Tim Bale. It can be read HERE.

I've been having a truly manic day, but I'll hopefully find time to write more about the YouGov poll later on!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Conventional Wisdom 1, Don Brind 0 : YouGov poll suggests Corbyn is on course to crush the coup

For some time now, Stormfront Lite's resident Labour 'moderate' Don Brind (he seems a decent enough chap in spite of the dodgy politics, so I won't call him a 'Blairite') has been trying to convince both the world and himself that the conventional wisdom is wrong, and that Owen Smith could be heading for victory in the Labour leadership election.  He's repeatedly prayed in aid highly dubious propaganda claims from "Saving Labour", and yesterday excelled himself by reading epic significance into the "fascinating" thought processes of an individual voter called Laura or Loz, who unexpectedly plumped for Smith because of something to do with her boyfriend.

That all looked like pretty risible stuff (Corbyn could still win handily even if there are 5000 Smith voters called Loz), but in truth there was no way of being completely sure - there had been so little polling done during the leadership campaign that it was just conceivable that Don Brind was right and everyone else was wrong.  The last credible poll had been conducted way back when Angela Eagle was still a candidate and Owen Smith was a complete unknown, so it was theoretically possible that the Labour selectorate had indeed been won over by a man saying "that's not leeeee-dership, Jeremy" a hundred billion times.

But it appears not.  A new YouGov poll has been released -

Jeremy Corbyn 62%
Owen Smith 38%

YouGov themselves are putting all sorts of health warnings on those numbers, but the reality is that Corbyn is well ahead among all three segments of the selectorate with voting already underway.  The polling methodology would have to be catastrophically wrong for there to be any genuine chance of Smith pulling off an upset.

Among many other potentially huge consequences, this means that the breach between London Labour and the Scottish branch office isn't going to be healed any time soon.  Kezia Dugdale's display of rebelliousness (culminating in the grotesque appointment of the ex-political editor of the Scottish Daily Mail to her backroom staff) was probably initially intended as a gesture of fealty to what she assumed would shortly be the incoming London regime.  Instead she seems to have crossed the Rubicon with an accidental declaration of independence.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Athens of the North, no more?

Because of the disruption on the trains from Queen Street, I spent much less time than usual in Edinburgh over the first half of the year.  But I've been there quite a bit during the festival, and I've found myself becoming increasingly transfixed (and not in a good way) by the large construction site between Calton Hill and the Royal Mile.  My first reaction was that the powers-that-be are not complete idiots, and that they must have something very tasteful and carefully considered in mind for such a sensitive area.  So I consulted the internet for some reassurance, and naturally discovered that every expert in the field has blasted the plans as barking mad, and that the city council had only narrowly given approval on the grounds that the buildings were not quite "hideous enough" to reject.  That's the kind of logic that I'd expect to hear in relation to Cumbernauld town centre, not the UN-designated World Heritage site at the heart of our capital city. I really must stop kidding myself that the internet is ever going to provide me with reassurance about anything.

I at least drew some small comfort from learning that the height of the buildings had been reduced after the initial objections.  But even over the course of the last few weeks, the shape of the large hotel has become suddenly apparent, and 'unobtrusive' is not the first word that springs to mind.  It's already tarnishing the view from Calton Hill.  The completed Costa and Premier Inn buildings aren't so noticeable, but that's mainly because they're obscured by the equally hideous council building which has presumably been there for decades.  I wandered down to Market Street today, and when you're actually in between the council building and the Premier Inn, the whole concept of being within the Old Town ceases to have any meaning.

Not being a resident of Edinburgh, I can't get a clear image in my head of what that area used to look like, and maybe if I could I'd realise that less is being lost than it appears.  I also appreciate that the whole of modern history has been punctuated by a war between conservation and opportunistic "development", and that you have to be philosophical and recognise that the forces of conservation aren't going to win every single battle.  But you'd think local councillors might just be intelligent enough to recognise that it's counterproductive to attempt to economically exploit the heritage of a city in a way that fundamentally taints that heritage.

Last year, I spent about ten days in the Balkans, and went to the Old Towns of both Mostar and Dubrovnik, which are also World Heritage sites.  In contrast to Edinburgh, the Old Town of Dubrovnik is pristine and almost perfectly preserved.  The famous bridge in Mostar was destroyed during the Bosnian war in the 1990s, but was swiftly and lovingly reconstructed, even using the original stones where possible.  You kind of feel that if Edinburgh city council had been in charge, they'd have said "ah well, it's gone now, we may as well stick a Starbucks and a car park there instead".

Apparently one of the biggest criticisms of "New Waverley" is the plan for a public square, which is alien to the architectural traditions of the Old Town.  But quite honestly, I hope the square fills up as much of the space as possible - that's the only part of the whole thing that won't be an eyesore.

I'll reserve judgement on whether New Waverley will turn out to be an even worse idea than allowing Donald Bloody Trump of all people to "stabilise the doons".  (Which the SNP have to accept a share of the blame for, although it has to be said that every political party apart from the Greens seemed to be wildly enthusiastic about it for some unfathomable reason.)

*  *  * 

I'm writing this on the train back to Glasgow, and I'm sitting opposite two Canadians who have been sneering about the Quebec sovereignty movement to anyone who will listen.  "That'll never happen!  They'd never survive!"  Just those same words over and over again.  Calm, Mr Kelly, calm calm calm...

Friday, August 26, 2016

It's a flippin' Fife phenomenon as stormin' SNP secure a super 9.5% swing from Labour in local by-election

The Lochs was the second-weakest ward for the SNP in the whole of Fife in the 2012 local elections (the only worse one was the rarefied setting of St Andrews).  They put up only one candidate, who finished third and received just 19% of the vote, a whopping 27% behind the combined support for Labour's two candidates.  Remember all of that happened on a day when, across Scotland, the SNP defeated Labour in the popular vote by 1%.  So on paper, this should be just about as tough a ward for Nicola Sturgeon's party as you'll find anywhere - but you certainly wouldn't know that from the by-election result yesterday.  The SNP stormed into second place, and slashed Labour's lead to just 8.5%.

Labour 47.1% (+0.7)
SNP 38.6% (+19.6)
Conservatives 9.6% (+7.0)
Communists 3.1% (n/a)
Greens 1.6% (n/a)

As almost always seems to be the case, the quirks of the STV voting system are allowing some fairly extreme misinformation to do the rounds about the result. Labour are claiming to have "turned the tide" with a "gain". Well, yes, it's technically true that they "gained" the seat, in the sense that the vacancy was caused by the retirement of an independent councillor - but Labour topped the poll in the ward last time and did so again yesterday. Their vote effectively flatlined, in spite of the fact that a huge number of votes that had previously gone to the independent were now up for grabs.

On the other extreme, some people have claimed that the swing from Labour to the SNP was as high as 17%. I've squinted at the result in a number of different ways to try to understand where that figure has come from, but I'm mystified. Suffice to say it's inaccurate - the real swing was around 9.5%, which is plenty enormous enough to be getting on with.

UPDATE : It turns out that the 17% swing is not measured from the 2012 result at all, but from another by-election in the ward that was held in June 2014.  Well, I suppose that can be justified, although 2012 is the more natural baseline, and allows for direct comparisons with other recent by-elections.