Modern haruspicy – the latest Ashcroft poll

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By Dave Taylor

When Agricola decided to mount his invasion by land and sea to curb the wild Caledonians, he would have asked the priests to sacrifice a sheep, then examine its liver (haruspicy) to decide whether the gods were on his side – if specific parts of the liver were diseased or malformed, one or more of the gods were disapproving.

Today, political parties and associated geeks do something very similar.  They examine the responses of members of the diseased body politic for prophetic signs.  The priests are the opinion pollsters.

Last month, Tory high priest Lord Ashcroft had a haruspicy conducted on the most liverish part of that body politic – UKIP.  The most northerly part of the British liver was thankfully pretty free of such infection – only 3% of those resident in Scotland supported UKIP.

While, as with all GB polls, the Scottish sample isn’t adjusted to the Scottish demographic, its sheer size (1742 people – of whom 77% said how they intended to vote in a UK General Election) does give some insights as to who the Caledonian gods are favouring.

This poll is one of those that relies on people remembering how they voted at “the last general election”.  The English figures match pretty well with the 2010 results, but the Scots ones don’t. The recalled Labour vote is 5% down on what actually happened in 2010 : Lib-Dems down 14% : SNP up 14% – with only 1-2% changes for other parties.

Now it is possible that this Scottish sample (like Ashcroft’s last one) happens to have asked a load of extra folk who happened to be SNP voters in 2010.  It might be that Scots are simply too stupid to remember things.  However, it seems more likely that a fair number of Scots remember 2011 as the last GE that they voted in. That doesn’t discredit their current voting intention – just that polling designed for England can have problems here.

The reported voting intention for this sample for a UK General Election is Lab 37% : SNP 34% : Con 17% – with the LDs at 5% down among the other wee parties such as Greens and UKIP both on 3%.

Not that we need to pay too much attention to the detail.  The next UK general election won’t take place until after the independence referendum. Regardless of the result, the political landscape is likely to be very different.

It does, however, confirm a few things. SNP and Labour are roughly equal in terms of support. The Tories are the third party, a long way behind, but with sufficient support that their legitimate voice in Scottish politics needs to be recognised.

There is no significant 4th party in Scottish politics.

Mind you, we knew all that already, so maybe I should have spent my time turning that liver into a pate for Xmas.

To NNS colleagues and readers – have a good holiday, and we’ll return to the fray in 2013.