Friday, May 2, 2014

Huge surge in support for the SNP in Caol and Mallaig by-election

The first Thursday of May is the traditional slot allotted for local elections in the UK, so there can't have been many years when the occasion was marked with just one solitary by-election in the Highlands.  Incredibly, the SNP were the only one of the main parties that even bothered turning up, but they'll be glad they did after this outcome (changes from the 2012 result in brackets) -

Independent Thompson : 39.0% (n/a)
SNP : 30.4% (+15.5)
Independent Watson : 22.5% (n/a)
UKIP : 5.6% (n/a)
Scottish Christian Party : 2.6% (+1.0)

I was going to make the obvious comment about the Scottish Christians being 'So Macho' for putting in an appearance when Labour and the Tories didn't, but alas, it appears that the unspoofable George Hargreaves is no longer the party leader.

Obviously this was an unusual contest, and it would be unwise to read too much into it.  But given that one of the Five Great Pillars of the Ian Smart conspiracy theory about how the pollsters are deliberately overstating the Yes vote is based on the questionable claim that the SNP haven't been doing very well in "real elections", it's worth pointing out that this is in fact only the fifth real election to have taken place so far this year, and it's a rather splendid result by any standards.

If you're in Kilsyth this afternoon, watch out for collapsing pillars.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Pro-independence campaign cut the gap to yet another record low in dramatic new YouGov poll

A new referendum poll has just been released on the Channel 4 News website. It was conducted by YouGov, traditionally one of the most No-friendly pollsters, and shows the No lead falling to a new record low for the campaign so far -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 37% (n/c)
No 51% (-1)

Due to rounding, the position is unchanged when Don't Knows are excluded (although of course the numbers still replicate the record high for Yes recorded in the last survey) -

Yes 42% (n/c)
No 58% (n/c)

For the avoidance of doubt, Channel 4's reporting of this poll is utterly and absurdly misleading, and doubtless we can "look forward" to more of the same in televisual form at 7pm tonight. They are comparing apples with oranges (or apples with tractors, more like) by suggesting that this poll is somehow reasonably OK for the No campaign because it shows the lead as being higher than in "other recent results", which is presumably a reference to ICM, Survation and Panelbase polls. The reality is, of course, that different polling organisations have been producing wildly different numbers in this campaign, and the only way of making sense of any new poll is to compare it with previous polls from the same company.

YouGov suggested that the No camp reached their high watermark in August of last year, with a 59% share of the vote and a seemingly impregnable 30% lead over Yes. The lead dipped sharply to 20% the following month, which some commentators dismissed as an illusion caused by methodological changes. The figures then seemed to stabilise somewhat, and until a few weeks ago the lead had still not fallen below 18%, allowing YouGov's unionist-oriented chief Peter Kellner to claim a "no change" position - even though almost every other pollster was showing a statistically significant drop in the No lead since the publication of the White Paper. Kellner's fantasy finally went out of the window in late March when YouGov showed the No lead slumping to 15% - easily its lowest of the campaign so far, and just half of the August lead. Now it has slipped even further to 14%.

Professor John Curtice will doubtless issue a caution that a one-point drop in the No lead is well within the margin of error and is not necessarily significant in statistical terms, and that is perfectly true. But the same could initially have been said about the 3% drop in the No lead in the previous YouGov poll. This new poll does two things - it makes it dramatically less likely that the No lead only fell outside its normal range in the last poll due to normal sampling variation, and it opens up at least the possibility that there has been even further slippage in the No lead since March.

Some Yes supporters may be encouraged by the trend, but still wonder if it's possible to achieve an outright victory when any pollster is showing a 14% lead for our opponents with four-and-a-half months to go until polling day. There are two answers to that. Firstly, it depends on whether YouGov are actually getting their methodology right. If ICM and Panelbase are closer to the truth, then YouGov are probably overstating the No lead by about 10%, which means that Yes only require an extremely modest 2-3% swing to win (in YouGov terms that would still leave the No campaign with a 'phantom' lead in the region of 9-11%). The second answer, of course, is that even if YouGov are right, Yes would still only require a swing that is smaller than the one the SNP achieved over a shorter timescale in the run-up to the 2011 election.

YouGov also asked a series of supplementary questions on a range of standard scare stories about independence, and the results are nothing short of a horror show for the No campaign. By a margin of 45% to 38%, respondents think that an independent Scotland would be able to use the pound as part of a formal currency union. (Surely that doesn't mean we think that all three London parties are fibbing?) By a comfortable margin of 46% to 34%, voters think that an independent Scotland would be able to remain a member of the EU. (Andrew Marr thinks they're wrong, he has to say.) By a margin of 41% to 38%, they think an independent Scotland would be able to maintain state pensions at the current level, and by a margin of 43% to 40% they do not anticipate that major businesses and employers would leave Scotland after independence.

But look on the bright side, Mr McDougall - we still have no idea whether voters bought the scare story about the pandas being whisked away. Maybe that should be the subject of your next internal poll?

As usual, YouGov have indulged in their eccentric practice of splitting people who recall voting SNP in 2011 into two groups, and weighting them separately. One of the groups is not upweighted at all, while the other group is upweighted massively. It's very troubling that YouGov never reveal the breakdown of voting intentions for those two groups, because until and unless they do the suspicion is bound to linger that this procedure is largely the explanation for the sharp divergence with the more Yes-friendly results produced by all of the other online polling companies. However, that's only speculation.

* * *


As you'd expect, the latest update of this blog's Poll of Polls shows the No lead slipping to another all-time low.  It now stands at just 11.2%.

MEAN AVERAGE (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 35.8% (n/c)
No 47.0% (-0.2)

MEAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 43.2% (+0.1)
No 56.8% (-0.1)

MEDIAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 43.6% (+0.2)
No 56.4% (-0.2)

(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each of the pollsters that have been active in the referendum campaign since September 2013, and that adhere to British Polling Council rules. At present, there are six - YouGov, TNS-BMRB, Survation, Panelbase, Ipsos-Mori and ICM. Whenever a new poll is published, it replaces the last poll from the same company in the sample. Changes in the Poll of Polls are generally glacial in nature due to the fact that only a small portion of the sample is updated each time.)

Here are the long-term trend figures, with the previous numbers recalculated to exclude the inactive pollster Angus Reid...

The No campaign's lead in the Poll of Polls headline figures :

Sep 2013 - 21.6%
Sep 2013 - 21.4%
Sep 2013 - 19.4%
Oct 2013 - 18.8%
Oct 2013 - 18.4%
Oct 2013 - 18.2%
Nov 2013 - 18.4%
Nov 2013 - 18.0%
Dec 2013 - 17.0%
Dec 2013 - 16.8%
Dec 2013 - 16.4%
Jan 2014 - 14.4%
Jan 2014 - 14.2%
Jan 2014 - 14.2%
Jan 2014 - 15.2%
Feb 2014 - 15.0%
Feb 2014 - 15.5%
Feb 2014 - 15.5%
Feb 2014 - 13.7%
Feb 2014 - 13.3%
Feb 2014 - 14.2%
Mar 2014 - 14.2%
Mar 2014 - 14.5%
Mar 2014 - 14.5%
Mar 2014 - 14.7%
Mar 2014 - 13.8%
Mar 2014 - 13.0%
Mar 2014 - 12.5%
Apr 2014 - 12.5%
Apr 2014 - 12.7%
Apr 2014 - 12.7%
Apr 2014 - 12.3%
Apr 2014 - 11.4%
May 2014 - 11.2%

And finally, an update of the averages for the four online pollsters that have reported so far this year (YouGov, ICM, Survation and Panelbase) -

MEAN AVERAGE OF ONLINE POLLSTERS (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 38.5% (n/c)
No 46.0% (-0.3)


Yes 45.6% (+0.2)
No 54.4% (-0.2)


Yes 46.1% (n/c)
No 53.9% (n/c)

"It's not you, it's me"

Last week's post 'The Mad, Mad World of Rory Stewart' was originally going to have the words 'and Benedict Brogan' tacked on to its title, but I realised there was probably only so much lunacy I could take in one sitting. You might remember that the Telegraph man caused a flurry of excitement a few weeks back by claiming that the consensus view in Westminster was that David Cameron would have to resign as Prime Minister if Scotland votes for independence in September. I had a read through some of the relevant articles to see if I could understand the reasons for that, but I didn't really make much progress, not least because the version of the facts that Brogan built his 'logic' upon was so utterly alien from anything that we would recognise as being true. In desperation, I even listened to Brogan being interviewed at length by Iain Dale on LBC - an intensely painful experience that was the rough equivalent of trying to learn about the subtleties of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by watching Sarah Palin being interviewed on Fox News. But I did eventually start to get to grips with the Gospel according to Benedict. It seems Scotland has reached the brink of independence for just three reasons -

1) In the 1980s, the Scottish Labour party under Gordon Brown (apparently the greater seniority of John Smith and Donald Dewar was a figment of our imagination) opportunistically whipped up anti-Tory and "nationalist" sentiment. Please note that there was no question of the Thatcherites having blundered with their quasi-colonial approach to ruling Scotland, or with their introduction of policies that were repugnant to the Scottish population. There was also no question of us Scots having spontaneously reached our own verdict on whether Thatcherism was consistent with our values or not. No, the whole thing was a Gordon Brown plot, and if Labour had only acted "responsibly" we'd have all remained much more docile, just as nature intended. Brown's recent intervention on behalf of Better Together should therefore be seen as a conscious attempt to "atone" for his sins.

2) Many southern Tories are no longer really unionists, because they have become too obsessed with Euroscepticism. And please note that the only conceivable way in which a Tory can ever be a problem for the No campaign is through not having a sufficiently cultish devotion to the Union. This became clear when Dale invited Brogan to explain his curious idea that David Cameron could somehow be an asset for Better Together if he were to set up base in Glasgow for a few weeks. You might have expected that Brogan was going to tell us that Cameron could project a liberal and tolerant impression of Toryism that was more in tune with Scottish values, or that he was the man to offer constitutional reforms within the UK that would accommodate Scotland's desire to substantially govern itself. But no - all Brogan had in mind was that "you have to remember that Cameron has always been a very strong unionist, in contrast to some of his colleagues". Well that's a relief, because if there's one thing Scotland absolutely LOATHES about the Tories, it's their failure to bang on about the bloody Union all the time.

3) David Cameron decided to hold an independence referendum to call Alex Salmond's "bluff". Yes, really. If you thought that the Scottish Government legislated for the referendum after putting it in their manifesto and then receiving an overwhelming electoral mandate, you were very much mistaken. Nope, it was all Dave's idea - and that's why he'll have to go if his "masterplan" backfires. Just to emphasise this point, the first caller to Iain Dale's phone-in after the interview said that he didn't necessarily disagree with "Cameron's idea" of holding a referendum on Scottish independence, but that if he was going to do it he should have given everyone in the UK a vote. The mind boggles.

If you're spotting an overarching theme here, it's probably a denial of Scottish agency at every stage of the process. The possibility that the independence movement may be a spontaneous and rational reaction to the failings of the Westminster political class isn't even up for discussion. We didn't decide for ourselves that we despised Thatcherism, we were brainwashed into thinking that by Labour. Our elected government didn't decide to hold a referendum and then run a good campaign, it was just a cock-up by our betters in London. And although mistakes by the Westminster political class have got us to where we are (it couldn't possibly have been anything else, after all, because Westminster is God and is the determinant of everything that happens), those mistakes were strictly confined to the very narrow domain of typical Home County Tory preoccupations, such as Euroscepticism.

As attempts by London journalists to rationalise the referendum go, this one is very much of the "it's not you, it's me" variety. Apparently a Yes vote would trigger Cameron's resignation because it would be a "vote of no confidence" in him. Well, such straightforward cause-and-effect would certainly be a novelty. Has no-one in the unionist London press noticed that we've given the Tories a resounding vote of no confidence in every single general election since 1959, but have had little to show for our efforts? That is kind of the issue here.

* * *

Our old friend Ian Smart appeared on Newsnight Scotland last night (again). Can someone explain to me why he was allowed to get away with the conscious and cynical lie that Labour for Independence "turned out to be" a front organisation comprised of SNP councillors pretending to be Labour? I don't blame Andrew Tickell for not jumping in at that point, because he was there largely to offer his legal analysis rather than indulge in partisan knockabout on behalf of the Yes campaign. But it really is incumbent on the presenter to instantly correct malicious falsehoods that are intended to lead voters astray.

Earlier in the programme, there had been a rather indulgent package about "No Borders", a hitherto unheard of organisation that appears to be the anti-independence campaign's answer to National Collective. After Better Together's sneering comments about National Collective in the Herald the other day, I can only salute the Yes campaign's restraint in not suggesting that No Borders' plans to "reconstruct Flodden through the medium of dance" are unlikely to win many votes for the union.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Wisdom on Wednesday : More from Parnell

"Why should Ireland be treated as a geographical fragment of England? Ireland is not a geographical fragment, but a nation."

Said by Charles Stewart Parnell, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party at Westminster in the late 19th Century. Now, can you think of any other nation to which his maxim might possibly apply? For some reason TV weather forecasts have popped into my head...

YouGov survey puts SNP in pole position for European elections

There have been so many different polls over the last few weeks that it's possible I've lost track somewhere along the line, but I'm fairly sure this is the first time YouGov have interviewed a full-scale sample of Scottish respondents on their European Parliament voting intentions for next month (we've had a few straws in the wind by way of subsamples, but no more than that).

SNP 33%
Labour 31%
Conservatives 12%
UKIP 10%
Liberal Democrats 7%
Others 6%

As for the apportionment of Scotland's six seats in the parliament, that works out as...

Labour 2
Conservatives 1

It's possible to look at these findings in either a 'glass half full' or 'glass half empty' sort of way. On the one hand YouGov are agreeing with ICM and Survation that the SNP have the lead in the popular vote and are in line to finally take that elusive third seat. But on the other hand YouGov differ from the other pollsters in suggesting that the SNP's position is fairly precarious. It's well within the margin of error that Labour could win the popular vote, and that either Labour or UKIP could snatch the one seat that is generally assumed to be hanging in the balance. (If UKIP are in with a shout of outpolling the Tories there could actually be two seats in the balance.)

I'm inclined to look on the sunny side of life on this occasion, though. In recent times YouGov have established a reputation not only as a No-friendly pollster, but also as the BPC pollster that tends to show the worst position for the SNP at Holyrood. That being the case, it wouldn't have surprised me if YouGov had contradicted ICM and Survation to the point of actually giving Labour the outright lead in this poll. The fact that hasn't happened must surely increase the likelihood that the SNP do indeed have a genuine lead on the ground.

The jury is still out on how big that lead is, though, and these new numbers will hopefully underline the importance of natural SNP supporters not mucking around with misconceived 'tactical voting' for the Greens. Unfortunately, it does now look as if UKIP and their repulsive lead candidate David Coburn are in with a fighting chance of nicking a Scottish seat, but if they are ultimately prevented from doing so it will be either the SNP or Labour who save the day. The Greens are absolutely nowhere in this race, and their campaign tactic of framing the election as a straight choice between themselves and UKIP for the final seat looks ever more disreputable by the minute. To put it more bluntly, the grossly misleading Green campaign could easily end up being directly responsible for a UKIP breakthrough.

Patrick Harvie is undoubtedly one of the Yes campaign's greatest assets, but it's hard not to sigh in despair at the double standard he's displayed over the last couple of days. He's demanded that Christians for Independence return their donation from Brian Souter, not so much on the grounds of Souter's views on homosexuality, but on the grounds that Souter tried to subvert democracy with a "sham referendum" on Section 28. Well, I didn't approve of that referendum any more than Harvie did, and I followed the advice not to return my ballot paper. But there was nothing illegal about what Souter did - in fact, leaving aside the distasteful nature of the views that motivated it, I'd have to concede it was a fairly clever campaigning wheeze. Certainly no more or less objectionable than the Greens hoodwinking people into thinking that the Holyrood regional list vote is some kind of "second preference" vote, or than the Greens fibbing about being the only party capable of stopping UKIP. All of these tactics are underhand and exasperating, but not illegitimate, and none of them are sufficiently dreadful as to require the perpetrators to be excommunicated from the entire democratic process, as Harvie seems to think Souter should be.

* * *

In the European Parliament, the SNP sit in the left-wing Green/European Free Alliance group, and the Tories sit in the rebel right-wing group they largely created themselves, the ECR. The current predictions are that the two groups will be tied for overall fifth place, with 41 seats apiece. So the exact breakdown of seats in Scotland could conceivably have a much wider significance than we realise.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Meet your ill-fitting match

In the past, 'vote match' and 'political compass' type questionnaires have quite accurately reflected my natural preference for the SNP - I've occasionally been matched slightly closer to the Scottish Greens, but that's fair enough given that they're a pro-independence party.  But Unlock Democracy's latest version of Vote Match for the European elections is an absolute abomination.  There are such a huge number of questions about environmental regulation that it was obvious I was going to be steered towards the Greens, which is fine (I'm not going to vote for them, obviously, not least because they haven't got a prayer of winning a seat), but my jaw dropped to the floor when I was told that my second preference ought to be Labour, not the SNP.  How on Earth could this possibly have happened, given that I was even allowed to add particular weight to my pro-independence and pro-immigration answers?  The explanation, it appears, is that Unlock Democracy have included a huge number of questions to which the SNP's response was not 'agree' or 'disagree', but 'neither'.  Examples include :

"The UK should only hold a referendum on its membership of the EU if new powers are transferred to Brussels"

"The EU should introduce stronger environmental standards for shale gas extraction ('fracking')."

"More foreign policy areas should be agreed at an EU level."

"Allowing employees to work more than 48 hours a week is open to abuse by employers."

So simply be expressing a view on subjects that the SNP are supposedly agnostic about, my match drifts away from the party. And I use the word 'supposedly' advisedly - for example, this is the SNP's explanation for saying 'neither' to the question about a 48-hour working limit...

"We have particular concerns over the unintended consequences of strict working hour limits on public services in remote areas."

That does not exactly sound like blue-blooded Thatcherism to me. Memo to Unlock Democracy : if someone is pro-independence, pro-Europe and pro-immigration, they're highly likely to prefer Nicola Sturgeon to Yvette Cooper. Back to the drawing-board, guys, unless you want to start turning into YouGov.

* * *

A couple of other things you might be interested in : National Collective are looking for £30,000 funding for Yestival, a month-long cultural Festival of Yes taking place in the summer (the choice of name will doubtless delight the snooty types who still think that 'Scolympians' was an abomination).

I'm always a bit nervous about publicising 'alternative' pro-independence fundraisers in case it diverts potential funds from the official Yes campaign, but I'm sure everyone reading this is perfectly capable of deciding for themselves how best to invest their hard-earned cash! It's worth noting, though, that now is the ideal time to donate to Yes Scotland, because there are only a few short weeks left before the strict campaign spending limits kick in.

And here's something you can do that won't cost a penny - why not 'like' the Facebook page of Christians for Independence? The Tories issued a very silly press release yesterday that tried to read huge significance into the fact that the page only had 115 likes (it's now up to 142).

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Another example of what gives YouGov such a bad name

This question appears in today's YouGov poll commissioned by the Sunday Times, and it's certainly not the first time we've seen a variant of it -

If there are to be TV debates at the next election in 2015, which of the following would you prefer?

a) Straight debates between David Cameron and Ed Miliband, as they are the only two leaders who stand any realistic chance 

b) Three-way debates, like last time, between the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders

c)  Four-way debates, to include Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, as UKIP is now more popular than the Lib Dems

d) Don't Know

If I had been responding to that question, it would have been literally impossible for me to give an honest answer.  I'd have had to say "don't know" to avoid appearing to support one of three options that I strongly oppose, but it's not true that I don't have an opinion - I have an extremely firm view that the SNP and Plaid Cymru should be represented in any leaders' debates that may take place.  Even some respondents in England must have struggled with the question, because there will be many people who think that the Greens and/or Respect should have a place in the debates - after all, unlike UKIP, both of those parties are already represented in the House of Commons.

Listen, YouGov.  If you want to arbitrarily restrict the ability of your respondents to express their positive preferences, that's one thing.  But what is so hard about giving them a "none of the above" option to at least allow them to feel that they aren't having words put in their mouth?

*  *  *

Because of the absurd weighting scheme that YouGov use for their Scottish respondents in GB-wide polls, it's quite unusual for the SNP to hold a clear lead in the Scottish subsample for Westminster voting intention, but today is one of those rare occasions -

SNP 36%
Labour 29%
Conservatives 17%
Liberal Democrats 9%
Greens 3%

Heaven only knows what the position would be if YouGov were using a sensible weighting procedure, because as happens day in, day out, the voices of people who identify with the SNP and Plaid Cymru have been massively downweighted in this poll.  51 SNP and Plaid identifiers were interviewed, but they were downweighted by a whopping 40% to count as just 31 'virtual' respondents.

As you'd expect, the SNP also hold the lead in the subsample for European Parliament voting intentions, although curiously that lead is somewhat more modest than the one for Westminster...

SNP 29%
Labour 25%
UKIP 18%
Liberal Democrats 10%
Greens 8%
Conservatives 8%

Much has been made of the fact that UKIP have now taken a slender European election lead over Labour in this poll across Britain.  Unlike some people, though, I don't think that's good news for the Yes campaign.  Voters in Scotland will certainly be repulsed by a UKIP victory down south, but the biggest side-effect is likely to be a temporary UKIP surge in voting intentions for Westminster, which will come largely at the expense of the Tories.  That will disguise the overwhelming polling evidence that the Tories are heading for a general election victory next year, thus potentially giving soft No voters the comfort blanket of thinking that they aren't necessarily voting for David Cameron to remain as Prime Minister (which is of course exactly what they're doing).

However, the only real alternative to a UKIP victory in May is a Labour victory - it's highly unlikely that an incumbent governing party in Westminster could come out on top in a relatively unimportant mid-term election that offers the opportunity for 'free hit' protest voting.  So whichever way it goes, there may well be a scenario created that will give Labour a misleading temporary boost in the GB-wide polls, which is the last thing we need with just four months to go until the referendum.

We can't control any of that, so the most important thing is to ensure that the SNP win the popular vote in Scotland, and if possible an additional seat.  The momentum generated from that could prove invaluable.

Is Ian Smart a malfunctioning android?

Now don't bite my head off, I'm merely throwing the question out there.  I know we've long suspected that Smart isn't quite of our species, but I now feel that the sheer regularity with which he follows up tweets telling us that "Victory Is Inevitable! #itsover" with the not-exactly-logically-consistent message that "There Is No Room For Complacency" probably demands an even more drastic explanation.  If by any chance he isn't a malfunctioning android, my only other thought is that we could be witnessing an incredibly advanced type of performance art.

Here are some of Smart's "insights" from earlier this evening, which as ever take a fair bit of imagination and a shot of vodka to make much sense of -

"Slowly sinking in to the cybernats that their public meetings speaking to each other doesn't actually reflect the real world. 28%."

I don't know about you, but I'm struggling to think of a single bona fide "cybernat" who doesn't believe both publicly and privately that Yes are going to win this. My own view is that the referendum could easily go either way, and accordingly I sometimes find all the misplaced euphoria a bit wearing. So heaven only knows which "cybernat" Smart thinks he's been talking to - maybe it was Tom "It Is I, LeClerc" Harris in his latest brilliant disguise?

"Not close to 49%. Not even close to 40%. Phone banks don't lie. That's why they are consoling themselves in their own company."

Well, Ipsos-Mori use phones to conduct their surveys, and even they (as the extreme No-friendly outliers) produced a Yes vote of 36% in their last poll two months ago. Surely even a malfunctioning SmartDroid Z-3000 can see that 36% is considerably closer to 40% than it is to 28%?

"The polling is nonsense. They keep adjusting the sampling to try and pretend it's a contest. Look at the real election results."

Yes, the entire polling industry (which for the purposes of this referendum is 100% English-based) is quite clearly in cahoots with the pro-independence campaign and is trying to make the race look closer than it is. And if Ian could just supply a single reason why they might be doing that, his theory would sound even more plausible.

"At a funeral c 2 months past was worried when I was told by 4 others they were thinking of Yes. Turned out they were taking the piss."

What an astonishingly classy anecdote.

"So, Kilsyth thinks a Yes vote is worthy only of humour. More worrying for the Nats is that I suspect so does Cumbernauld. #itsover"

Hmmm. Speaking as a former resident of Kilsyth, and a current resident of Cumbernauld, "I suspect" I have a fair idea whose name will be the punchline to a good few jokes told in these parts on September the 19th. I don't want to be unkind, but frankly we're still trying to recover our composure after listening to Ian's plucky attempts to explain away his repeated predictions that "there will be no referendum".

"Mind you, there is no room for complacency. Off to bed."


Barking mad though he is, a man with Smart's Labour background presumably does have some genuine connections, so the specificity of the comments about "phone banks" and "28%" led me to wonder if we were supposed to assume that he was hinting at private polling or canvassing data. Luckily, I wasn't left in the dark for long, as it turn out his witterings tonight were just a rehash of something he wrote on his blog a few weeks back -

"Firstly, we have the polls. Here they are. Look at the orange line (that's us) and then look at the blue line (that's them). What do you notice? The orange line is comfortably above the blue line in every case but one and even that one is a poll now accepted on both sides to be flawed in it's methodology. And what else do you notice? That this hasn't changed in a year."

Hang on - I thought the polls were nonsense?  (Mind you, Ian wrote this a month ago, so it's possible they've only become nonsense since then.)  For reasons I've rehearsed umpteen times, the averaging method I use on this blog is actually much more generous to the No campaign at present than pretty much any other averaging method would be (it's certainly more generous than the one the FT is using for its own Poll of Polls), and yet even I'm showing that the No lead has collapsed from 21.6% to 11.4% since September. What do you notice most about those two numbers, Ian? That's right - the second one is only half as big as the first.

"Then we have real elections. The SNP won a local government by-election, retaining a safe seat, in Kilmarnock on Thursday. Congratulations to them. Particularly since it was the first by-election of any sort that they had won in the last eleven. And even then their vote dropped 9%. While the unwritten story of Scottish politics continued. That there was a major swing to the Tories. Now, it might be the case, as the SNP losing candidate in Cowdenbeath maintained with a, just about, straight face, that voters are embracing Nationalism while simultaneously abandoning the Nationalist Party. Somehow, however, I doubt it."

To be fair, this is (just for once) a point with a small glimmer of reasonableness about it, and if you dilute it by a factor of about 20 it's similar to one I've made myself a couple of times. If we believe the Yes-friendly pollsters, the SNP still have a whopping Holyrood lead, and the pro-Labour swings in the real elections in Cowdenbeath and Kilmarnock do contradict that to some extent. But here's the thing - those were only two localised elections. Anyone would think Ian was talking about dozens of elections that had taken place over the last few months, all showing a uniform picture. The Scotland-wide European election next month will resolve the issue - if Scottish Labour do much better than the likes of ICM and Survation are predicting, then Ian has a point and those companies' referendum polls should probably be regarded as suspect. But if the SNP do as well or better than predicted, Ian will naturally eat his words with the good grace to which we have become so accustomed. Oh wait...

"Then we have the school polls. School polls are interesting since they don't rely on adjustment by pollsters."

You mean they are restricted to a very narrow demographic, and are in any case self-selecting, thus robbing them of the scientific validity that the polls enjoy? That's an unusual definition of 'interesting'.

"There were another slew on Friday and again Nationalism was rejected by a margin of between to (sic) and three to one. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, no secondary school of any proper size in the whole of Scotland has yet to vote Yes in such an exercise."

In other words, several secondary schools have voted Yes (Plockton High and Dornoch Academy, for example), but SmartDroid Z-3000 has deleted those from its memory-banks due to arbitrary post-programmed threshold criteria relating to 'properness'. The reality is that school mock votes have occurred in many wildly different formats, and the claim that the No campaign has generally come out on top depends on conveniently denying the validity of some of those formats.

As an aside, Better Together ought to be absolutely petrified by the result of the Strathclyde University mock referendum the other day. As we know, the more prestigious universities in Scotland tend to have a disproportionately high number of affluent students, and a very significant minority of English students - both of which are No-heavy demographics. There is no way on Earth the Yes vote in Strathclyde should have been anything like as high as 45% - and yet it was.

"Then we have the 'feel' of the ground troops. Those who are doing the telephone and street canvassing. Obviously I speak to more of ours than theirs. But I do speak to theirs. Ours admit to genuine bewilderment as to where this supposed, even significant minority, Yes vote is."

There may be a grain of truth in that - we've been told, for example, that the Labour and SNP canvassing on the independence question in Cowdenbeath produced utterly irreconcilable results. Unless one side or other was lying about their numbers, it's possible that an undecided electorate is giving different answers depending on how the question is posed, and who poses it.

"At best, theirs insist they have 'still got a chance' even while bemoaning the various factors (apathy, fear, the BBC) conspiring against them."

This claim, on the other hand, appears to be utterly delusional. Admittedly I've no knowledge about phone canvassing, but we've all heard feedback from street canvassers for Yes, and the vibe we're getting from them is, to put it mildly, somewhat better than "well, maybe we've still got a chance". But I suppose it's possible that SmartDroid Z-3000 is programmed to interpret legitimate complaints about an obscenely biased media as some kind of admission of defeat.

"Then we have the argument, not on the policy but on its prospects, of our opponents. Chief among these is Mr Stephen Noon, who informs his observations with hints of secret polling known only to an elect of which he is one. I have no idea why this guy is taken seriously. Here is what he wrote on 27th April 2012, a week out from the local government elections in 2012. Either his "inside information" was seriously flawed or more likely he was just making it up. For we know the actual results of these elections."

Yes, we do - and as Stephen Noon correctly anticipated, the SNP won a historic victory. Ian Smart on the other hand, claimed that the Scottish Government had no intention of holding an independence referendum. He claimed that Labour had won a stunning triumph in the 2012 local elections even after they had lost. He tells us on an ongoing basis there is no room for complacency, but adds that a crushing referendum victory is already predetermined. And then he questions (of all things) the credibility of others, based on their track record.

For a human being, that would take some gumption. But for a malfunctioning SmartDroid Z-3000, it's just part of the daily routine.

* * *

As of this moment, it looks like this is going to be a poll-free weekend, but thanks to Calum Findlay for pointing out that ICM asked something very close to the actual referendum question in a GB-wide poll conducted between the 19th and 20th of April. That's a few days later than the fieldwork for the sensational ICM poll that put Yes just 3% behind.  The results among the Scottish subsample of 166 people are eerily similar to that poll -

There will be a referendum in Scotland in September 2014 on Scottish independence. Should Scotland become an independent country?

Yes 39%
No 43%

Even if the subsample figures were properly weighted (and the chances are they weren't), the margin of error would be a very high 7.6%.  So the fact that the numbers are so similar to the full-scale Scottish poll may simply be coincidence, but it's an encouraging straw in the wind all the same.