The Referendum is Unpredictable

Yesterday, Yougov published a poll which put the ‘No’ vote at 59% and the ‘Yes’ vote at 29%.  This gave the No vote a lead of 30% – as far as I’m aware, the highest lead it’s ever had since the campaigns began.  So is this a sign of Scotland increasingly rejecting independence.  Should Alex Salmond be worried?  Well, it appears not.  Today, Panelbase published a poll which, for the first time in two years, actually showed the Yes vote ahead at 44% with the No vote at 43%.  It’s worth bearing in mind that this poll was commissioned by the SNP* but it doesn’t appear to be biased any particular way**.  This is only a lead of 1% and could easily be an outlier, but there’s no way a difference of 31% between polls can merely be statistical.  I’m not suggesting either poll is biased; I think the referendum is just that hard to predict.

I’m still not convinced that the Yes campaign will achieve a shock rise in the polls in time for September 2014, but this poll has shown that the referendum isn’t entirely a foregone conclusion nonetheless.  In some ways, the proportion of people who vote ‘Yes’ might be just as significant as an actual Yes victory.  If 30% or less were to vote Yes to independence, it would be easy for Westminster to consider it supported by a minority, but if the result were to be much closer it would certainly be a worry for whoever’s Prime Minister.  If 46% of Scots want to leave the country, that could easily tilt over 50% in the coming years if he or she is not careful.

Perhaps a close vote may inspire Labour, the party most likely to gain power at Westminster in 2015, to repeat their actions of 1997 and grant more powers to the Scottish parliament in an attempt to reduce support for independence.  On one hand, these potential future Labour ministers might believe that this clearly didn’t work last time, yet they might also point to the fact that the Scottish people have consistently shown in polls that we would prefer full fiscal autonomy to independence.

Well, this is going into too many what-ifs.  The point I’m trying to make is that I think that the referendum is too unpredictable for either campaign to be assured of a victory.  If we can accept this, perhaps both campaigns can move on from their ugly scare-tactics and foul-play, and maybe even respect the other’s viewpoints.  Then we can begin a fair debate on the real issues.

*No doubt this will overwhelmingly discredit the poll for those people who seem to think Alex Salmond and the SNP are fascist wannabes, but for those of us who prefer to take a more balanced look at Scottish politics this shouldn’t necessarily be an issue.

**Since posting, that article has been updated with a potential explanation for the result.  Two questions were asked beforehand which, it’s claimed, could have boosted those voting ‘Yes’ in the survey.  While surveys ought to be as simple as possible and I agree this could be a reason for the unusual result, I personally struggle to understand how structuring this survey in such a way would convince people to vote differently.  Are people’s views when taking a survey really that subject to change?  Nevertheless, considering the wide range of results we’ve seen in other polls, I believe my point still stands.

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One thought on “The Referendum is Unpredictable

  1. I remember the then Conservative UK PM John Major saying the SNP were the acceptable face of nationalism, and committed to democracy. This was in the backdrop of the Balkan wars, where the opposite was the invariable case. Quite a compliment

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