Better Together survey claims questioned after pollster publishes tables


  By a Newsnet reporter
A Better Together poll claiming to show support in Scotland for sharing wealth and public service commitments within the UK, has been called into quesion after it emerged it was part of a wider survey including voters in England and Wales.
The YouGov poll, commissioned by Better Together last month, was reported as being a social attitudes survey of 1,051 voters in Scotland.

The results from the survey, which was compiled by Better Together, were presented by media as a solely Scottish survey with results that suggested Scots were keen on spreading the benefits of North Sea oil throughout the UK, thus strengthening arguments against independence.

However, following enquiries from online site Wings Over Scotland, YouGov has now published data for the poll on its website that show 1,116 Welsh and 1,744 English voters were also asked the same set of questions covering subjects such as healthcare, pensions and tax.

Comparing results between the three samples indicates disparate views on some of the major issues in UK politics including significant deviations between Scotland and Wales on funding social security and between all three on the funding of state pensions.

When asked whether they “agreed or disagreed” with the statement “Government should redistribute income from those with the most to those with the least?”, 60 per cent of people in Scotland agreed compared to 52 per cent in Wales and 49 per cent in England.

Critics of the survey have highlighted that not only was the original scale of the survey concealed but that the findings do not necessarily demonstrate a strong ‘Unionist’ mentality, only support in principle for the redistribution of wealth and a far-reaching welfare state.

The wording of three of the questions also received criticism among those who argued the inclusion of ‘UK’ and ‘OK’ within close proximity acted as an indirect reference to the Better Together slogan “UK OK” commonly seen on the pro-Union group’s literature.

Results of a question on North Sea oil was also seized on by the anti-independence campaign Better Together as proof that Scots were in favour of using oil revenue for the benefit of the entire UK.

YouGov claimed over twice as many Scots (64%) wanted to share North Sea tax receipts as wanted to spend the revenue in Scotland (30%).

Commenting on the survey, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said: “On oil, it is clear that Scots see the value of sharing out the volatility and uncertainty of oil revenues across the UK rather than being reliant on it as part of a smaller economy.  We Scots want to share the benefits of oil throughout the UK and the UK wants to share the wealth of London with us Scots.”

However, the data tables, belatedly published by YouGov, revealed respondents were presented with a question that implied the UK remained intact.

Those taking part were not asked to consider what should happen to North Sea oil receipts in the event of a Yes vote, nor whether a Scottish oil fund should be set up in the event of a No vote.

YouGov had asked: “How do you think the money raised through taxes on North Sea Oil in Scottish waters should be used? Should it be used to help pay for public services across the UK as a whole, or should it be used to help pay for services in Scotland only?”

Commenting on his site, Wings Over Scotland editor Stuart Campbell said: “…these questions are all fundamentally massively flawed if you want to use them to prove that people want to stay in the Union.  That’s because they all pre-suppose that the Union is continuing: clearly, if Scotland is independent the rUK isn’t going to pay for its unemployment benefits, so the question would be nonsensical in any other context than Scotland being part of the UK.”

The handling of the survey by a respected pollster is sure to cause concern as will the apparent publishing of the claims from Better Together by media outlets who appear not to have questioned the methodology.

Newsnet Scotland can also reveal that questions are being asked of another poll which claimed to show a significant lead for the No campaign. 

A recent Ipsos-MORI survey which gave No a lead of twelve points is believed to have had almost double the representation from people describing themselves as “more British than Scottish” or “British not Scottish”, than the national average.

According to a 2012 ScotCen survey, 8% of people living in Scotland said they were either more “British than Scottish” or “British not Scottish”.  However the Ipsos-MORI poll contained not 8% of people identifying themselves with this group in the survey makeup, but 15%.

The Ipsos-MORI poll also included 5% fewer people who describe themselves as either “Scottish not British” or “more Scottish than British”, that the ScotCen found – 48% compared to 53%.