You can take a poll seriously when it has been carried out by an avowedly anti-independence organisation, at least you can when it uses standard methodology and a standard question. However there’s no point in taking a poll seriously when it has been carried out by an avowedly anti-independence organisation using a skewed and misleading non-standard question about independence. Sadly this doesn’t stop large parts of the Scottish media from doing exactly that.
Zoomers to the Crown, Scotland in Union, have published another of their polls using a question patterned after the question used in the EU referendum, and surprise surprise have discovered that 59% of people in Scotland would prefer to “remain in the UK”. This is considerably higher than most other polls show opposition to independence, and has been greeted with relief by the likes of the Scottish Tories who are currently desperately in search of a straw to grasp. So here’s a simple message for the media and the Scottish Tories – when you use a non-standard question, you get a non-standard result. Scotland in Union’s poll is meaningless.
All reputable polls about the independence question use the question which was employed in the independence referendum of 2014. That question was a model of clarity, and agreed to be such by the Electoral Commission. You cannot compare the results of a question asking “Should Scotland remain in the United Kingdom or leave the United Kingdom?” with the results of a question asking “Should Scotland be an independent country?” The two questions are not asking the same thing.
Everyone understands what is meant by independence. It means a Scotland which is a European state just like the Netherlands or Iceland. It means a Scotland which makes its own decisions on issues like whether to remain a part of the EU or to leave it. It means a Scotland which is responsible for the entirety of its own financial affairs, its own defence, and its own international relations.
On the other hand Scotland in Union’s poll question is essentially meaningless as it does not define what either leaving the UK or remaining in it actually mean in practice. Remaining in the UK could mean anything from the abolition of Holyrood, through the status quo, to dominion status as a independent state sharing the monarch as the head of state along with the rest of the UK. Meanwhile leaving the UK suffers from the same lack of clarity. It could be referring to an independent Scottish republic, or something akin to the same status as the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands – which are not a part of the UK.
However the real reason for the poll question’s lack of clarity is that it muddies the water – deliberately – by confusing people with their attitudes towards remaining or leaving the EU. And that, no doubt, was precisely the reason that Scotland in Union chose that format for their question. The fact that it frames independence in negative terms, as leaving, was just a bonus.
What is perhaps most gobsmacking of all, after three years of disputes, confusion, and uncertainty about what “leaving the EU” actually means, is that there are still those who believe that the question used in the EU referendum is a model that any sane person would seek to copy. But then, this is Scotland in Union we’re talking about here. They are desperate to avoid what they see as the negative framing for the UK implicit in the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” As an organisation which is opposed to independence under all and any circumstances, naturally they’re going to be attracted to forms of question which they imagine will work best for them no matter how confusing or misleading that question might be. It’s a pathetic sign of their desperation. They are more to be pitied than anything else.
We shouldn’t be surprised that opponents of independence are frantically seeking a drop of water in the desert. The news for them recently has not been great, to put it mildly. There they were in 2014, confident in the strength of British democracy, the security of the UK’s place within the EU, the stability of the pound, and now the UK has turned into the basket case of Europe, the bonfire around which the rest of the continent sits with its popcorn while the pound heads for parity with the dollar, and the Supreme Court of the UK is currently deciding whether the British Prime Minister is in fact a big fat liar who has broken the law and trashed the constitution in an attempt to become a dictator.
Over the past few weeks we’ve seen the anti-independence parties lining up to say that they will not permit another independence referendum whether the electorate of Scotland give a mandate for one or not. We’ve seen suggestions that if there is another referendum then it should have to pass by a two thirds majority. We’ve seen suggestions that there should be another confirmatory referendum after the independence negotiations with Westminster have been completed, in effect giving Westminster licence to negotiate in bad faith. And now we see Scotland in Union trying to change the standard question on independence into something more favourable. It all smacks of not so much desperation as blind terrified panic.
The proof of the pudding lies in Scotland in Union’s shonky poll itself. In November 2018 a Survation poll said that 35.64% of voters in Scotland were opposed to another independence referendum being held at all. Scotland in Union’s new poll tells us that the figure has dropped to 27.6%. That’s a significant fall.
The inescapable fact, the truth that the British nationalists in Scotland do not want to face up to, is that they are crapping themselves at the prospect of another independence referendum, because they know that they have nothing to offer Scotland except scare stories, intimidation, and threats. The supposed advantages and positives of being a part of the UK have been destroyed by the British government itself in its blind pursuit of right wing English nationalist populism. They know, and we know, that if they were certain that another independence referendum really would deliver a resounding majority against independence that they would be the very first people demanding that one be held.
But one will be held. One way or another the people of Scotland will cast their verdict on the behaviour of the British government, the way in which the British state has treated Scotland, and their view on the broken promises of the Better Together campaign. And when that verdict comes it will be a damning one. No amount of shonky polling questions will be able to avoid it.
My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
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