Better Together … or Oops for short

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  By Dave Taylor
 
This weekend pro-Union campaign group Better Together released details of a survey they commissioned from respected pollster Yougov.  YouGov regularly produces the lowest levels of support for independence in their polls, whilst competitor and no less respected pollster Panelbase often has the highest.
 
The Better Together survey followed a series of polls by Panelbase showing support for Yes amongst decided voters at 47%, six behind its rival. 

  By Dave Taylor
 
This weekend pro-Union campaign group Better Together released details of a survey they commissioned from respected pollster Yougov.  YouGov regularly produces the lowest levels of support for independence in their polls, whilst competitor and no less respected pollster Panelbase often has the highest.
 
The Better Together survey followed a series of polls by Panelbase showing support for Yes amongst decided voters at 47%, six behind its rival. 

Given Better Together had released the details of its poll, trumpeting its findings on its own website, I visited the website article headlined: Devolution is the settled will of the Scottish people, new poll confirms, with some trepidation.

And so it proved with the opening paragraphs of their own article proclaiming:

As the SNP gather for their spring conference in Aberdeen today, a new YouGov poll has shown that 57% of Scots support Scotland remaining as part of the UK with increased powers for the Scottish Parliament.

In what is another blow to the SNP, just 35% of those questioned by YouGov on behalf of Better Together backed separation over a stronger Scottish Parliament within the UK.

It added:

This latest poll, which saw 1148 adults surveyed in Scotland between 8 and 11 April 2014, also confirms a drop in support for separation compared to a recent YouGov poll that showed 37% of those surveyed in favour of leaving the UK compared to 52% who backed remaining in the UK.

The poll received very low key coverage, which was strange given what appeared to be a massive blow to the Yes campaign, Yes down by two and No up by five?  Indeed the Herald reported that the survey showed, “the No lead growing back to a much higher level, 22%” (copyright Michael Settle).

But there was something odd about the survey in that, remarkably, Better Together had failed to ask the referendum question at all.  Instead, they chose to ask a question formed entirely from what might have been the referendum question, if the Unionists hadn’t fought tooth and nail to prevent it actually being asked.

“If you had to choose one or the other, which of the following would you prefer for Scotland?”, they asked, and offered two alternatives:

  • Scotland becoming an independent country
  • Scotland remaining part of the UK with increased powers for the Scottish Parliament

35% of respondents chose independence, whilst 57% opted for greater powers under devolution.

Strangely, or perhaps not given their desire to present independence as the least popular option, they chose to omit the normal third option in such a question ‘Maintain existing powers’ and the common fourth one ‘reduce or remove the powers of the Scottish Parliament’.

By removing those choices, respondents who would enthusiastically abolish the Scottish Parliament completely or offer no more devolution, were forced into selecting the ‘more powers’ option as being less dreadful to them than independence.  The restricted options allowed Better Together to combine such people, with those who genuinely prefer Scotland having autonomy over taxation, oil revenues and social welfare.

This kind of poll is often designed by political campaigns as a propaganda tool.  It’s not unusual, and I’m certainly not going to suggest that it’s any more immoral than it’s use by others.

But on closer inspection it became apparent that even in seeking to contrive a result that could generate a headline, Better Together had actually confirmed the trend towards Yes.  On their own site, was another article which covered a survey from December also commissioned by Better Together and carried out by Yougov.

That study found 61% in favour of devolution and 30% in favour of independence.  The anti-independence campaign, widely believed to be inept, had now published results from a poll that showed support for Yes up 5%, even when all other alternatives are forced into one devo option.

A campaign which actually publishes the results of such a poll if it doesn’t enhance their own position is, frankly, incompetent.  There are several such polls which indicate the stupidity of those in charge of the Better Together campaign. 

A couple of weeks ago, YouGov did a Scottish poll for the Times newspaper which asked “Imagine that, instead of the proposed two-option referendum on independence there was a three-option referendum, offering people the choice of full Scottish independence, increased devolution to the Scottish Parliament or maintaining the Scottish Parliament’s existing powers. How would you then vote?”

In that poll, 31% chose independence, 36% increased devolution, and 22% the status quo (the latter figure will also include the UKippers who would abolish Holyrood).  Comparing Better Together’s own survey, the Yes campaign was up by four points.

Now, obviously, no competent campaign, that was soliciting polling evidence to show that independence was not an increasingly popular choice, would release results that showed the exact opposite.

But then, few commentators have accused Better Together of competence.  Having combined every possible preference that excludes independence and using the pollster that produces the lowest level of Yes support, Better Together chose to publish their results.

Supporting independence had INCREASED by 4% in two weeks.

The considered view amongst observers is that the No campaign is in trouble.  This episode appears to indicate a campaign in panic and making basic errors.

Better Together has just spent a few thousand quid providing some good news for the Yes campaign.

Oops!