Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The poll you may have missed

With just under a month to go until Scotland votes on whether to remain in the UK or go independent, I'm becoming more and more preoccupied by the outcome. We repeatedly find commentators on TV and in the papers insisting that it's a done deal, that the Yes campaign will be defeated and that pesky Alex Salmond will be sent packing once and for all -- an assertion that they repeat so often and with such insistence that you can tell they desperately hope it's true. Myself, I don't claim to know what the outcome will be. I desperately hope that it's a Yes vote, and the the general impression I get from my colleagues and my own peer group is that that's the way things are headed, but subjective impressions can be very dangerous. My dad, in contrast, is comfortably off and in his 60s, and virtually everyone he knows is a virulent No voter. (He's the sole Yes voice in his wine circle -- and his surprise and disappointment at being the only Yes voter in a wine circle always strikes me as vaguely amusing. It's like coming home from a trade union meeting and expressing surprise that it was dominated by left-wing voices.) Which is unsurprising, because rich, old people are the most No-friendly demographic (the rich because they don't see the need for change, the old because people over the age of 60 traditionally have a much stronger British identity and still remember a time when the standard of living within the union was improving rather than declining).

The point is that you can't just go by your own personal experiences and assume that they hold true for the entire country...

...which is why what the Radical Independence Campaign has been doing is so fascinating. They've been out knocking on doors in the most deprived parts of Scotland, canvassing people on their voting intentions. The results, which never get a lick of airtime in the mainstream media, should be enough to make even the most courageous unionist soil his Union Jack Y-fronts:

Mass canvass figures released 19th August 2014.

It should come as no surprise that support for the union is lowest among those who have the least to lose. These are communities that have been let down by successive Tory and Labour governments, and who in normal elections turn out to vote in depressingly low numbers, because they feel completely disconnected from the political process and believe their vote will make little difference. Except this isn't a normal election -- it's a referendum on the very future of the country, and while the Yes and No camps rarely agree on anything, one thing that both acknowledge is that turnout on the 18th of September is likely to be at unprecedented levels.

This is why I don't put much faith in the "official" polls carried out by the likes of YouGov and Ipsos MORI, all of which have consistently showed a No lead (some fairly strong, others wafer thin). While analysing them can be interesting, and James Kelly over at SCOT Goes POP! does an outstanding job of doing just that, they're all based on guesswork to an extent, with the various pollsters devising complex and often arcane weighting procedures in an attempt to get an accurate result.* Most of these, as far as I can tell, consist of looking at the way people have voted in previous elections and performing various calculations to upweight or downweight respondents accordingly (in addition to other factors like country of birth, social bracket, gender and age). That's all well and good, but what do you do when you have somewhere in the region of a million people who have never voted before but are now expressing a desire to cast their vote on the 18th?

(* What I think these polls DO allow us to do is to identify broad trends. For example, three of the six main pollsters have released polls since Sunday, and all of them show a swing to Yes of between 2 and 4% compared to their previous respective polls. That suggests that some movement from No to Yes has indeed taken place since Alex Salmond and Alastair Darling went head to head on STV. What it doesn't tell us is whether the figures they started out with before the shift took place were remotely accurate.)

As I've said before, I've no idea how the vote is going to go, but if the so-called "missing million" turn out in their droves on polling day, then things could get very interesting.

And for those in the rest of the UK unsure about or opposed to Scottish independence, here's something for you to ponder: a Yes vote will almost certainly lead to the unilateral nuclear disarmament of the UK and could well lead to David Cameron being forced out of office, if not the fall of the entire government. If it was me, I'd be saying:

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