Saturday, June 4, 2016

Could Brexit trigger another type of second referendum?

Alastair Meeks (the artist formerly known as Antifrank) had a piece on SL the other day pondering how each side in the EU referendum would react if they lost.  His verdict on Remain was that they would just "give up".  That may be technically true, in the sense that there would be a recognition of the reality that there is no prospect of the UK rejoining the EU for at least a generation (to use the dread phrase).  But that would be the least important part of a much more complicated reaction.  Pro-Europeanism is now built into the DNA of the centre-left and centre of the British political elite, and that is bound to find some kind of continued expression in the event of Brexit, especially if the Leave victory is narrow.  For my money, the Liberal Democrats and Labour "moderates" would quickly start pushing for Britain to adopt either the Norwegian model (meaning continued membership of the European Economic Area, and a return to EFTA), or the Swiss model (meaning de facto membership of the European Economic Area via comprehensive bilateral agreements with the EU).

We haven't heard much about the Norwegian or Swiss options during the campaign, because both sides have good reason to avoid the topic.  The Leave campaign's anti-immigrant pitch would be neutered if voters thought there was a fair chance we were going to end up with the halfway house of EEA membership, which would entail continued freedom of movement.  And the Remain campaign don't want people to think they can safely vote Leave and still end up with an EU-lite option.  But if and when the battle is actually lost for Remain, it would be perfectly within the rights of pro-Europeans within Labour and the Lib Dems (and possibly the Tories) to point out that Britain had been voting purely on the issue of EU membership, and hadn't expressed any sort of view yet on the EEA.  The Leave side's counterargument would be that the campaign had been largely fought on the issue of immigration, and that in practice it was obvious Leave voters were expressing opposition to any relationship with Europe involving freedom of movement.  I'm wondering if the tension between those two positions could lead us inexorably towards an EEA referendum at some point - especially if there is a change of government.

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Meanwhile, Charlie Jeffrey of Edinburgh University has suggested that an overall Remain vote in which Scotland tipped the balance might destabilise the unity of the UK.  I must say I'm highly sceptical about that.  The vast majority of anti-European MPs are obsessive unionists, and even though it'll frustrate them hugely not to be able to make more political capital out of an English vote for Leave, they'll know they can't go too far down that road without effectively arguing for the dissolution of the UK.  The nutter tendency in the right-wing press won't have the same inhibitions, but I suspect the whingeing will be a seven-day wonder and then we'll all get back to normal.

The future of the UK certainly does hang in the balance on June 23rd - but the only outcome that would trigger any sort of meaningful crisis would be an overall Leave victory in which Scotland votes Remain.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Tonight, Matthew, Michael Gove is going to be Alex Salmond

For their EU question-and-answer session with Michael Gove, Sky somehow found a token Jock to bus down who was terribly worried about a Leave vote leading to a second "divisive" independence referendum.  What a tedious thing to do.  Regardless of which poll you believe, it's undoubtedly the case that a huge proportion of the Scottish electorate would be only too delighted to have a relatively early second referendum, so why not get one of those people to mess with Govey's head by asking which way we should vote on June 23rd to bring the next indyref closer?

The question asked may have been much duller than that, but Gove's answer was still fascinating.  He said it wasn't the case that a vote to leave one union would cause Scotland to leave another union.  But it was quite hard to understand WHY he thought it wouldn't have that effect, given that his arguments for Britain leaving the European Union were in some cases literally identical to the arguments for Scotland becoming an independent country - and I really do mean that Gove's words were directly lifted from our own Yes campaign. 

"They say we're too small."  Oooh, that sounds a bit like...?  "Too poor."  Just coincidence, surely?  "Too stupid."  It's the full house, folks!  And he also shamelessly used Alex Salmond's familiar line about "losing a surly lodger and gaining a good neighbour".

The charitable interpretation is that Gove was privately moved and inspired by Scotland's struggle for self-determination and self-government, and has been biding his time until he could apply the same arguments in respect of the country he owes allegiance to (Greater England).  A more cynical interpretation is that he's just stealing words that he reckoned had proved highly persuasive in another campaign.  Either way, we're entitled to take enormous heart from that.  Imitation remains the sincerest form of flattery.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The earth shakes as Leave takes the lead in astonishing TELEPHONE poll from "gold standard" ICM

My theory that the apparent big swing to Leave in last night's ORB telephone poll was just a routine reversion to the mean has taken an almighty knock.  Today's new phone poll from ICM (the firm regarded by some as the UK's "gold standard") shows an enormous swing that takes Leave into the outright lead - and this time the shift can't be put down to a freakish pro-Remain sample last time around.  There was nothing out of the ordinary about the last ICM phone poll, and indeed no previous ICM phone poll has shown Leave even close to being in the lead.

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union? (ICM, telephone)

Remain 42% (-5)
Leave 45% (+6)

Even more incredibly, if this poll is to be believed (and the jury is obviously still out on that, because it's only one poll), the previously huge divergence between phone and online findings has been wiped out - exactly what happened at the close of the indyref campaign.  The parallel online poll from ICM shows an almost identical result - although it still picks up a modest swing to Leave.

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union? (ICM, online)

Remain 44% (-1)
Leave 47% (+2)

The big problem for the Leave campaign is that today could be their equivalent of the penultimate Saturday of the indyref campaign (when YouGov famously put Yes ahead).  The shock of that day meant that there was no longer any chance of Yes sneaking in under the radar, and for the following week Scotland was blitzed by the London establishment's shameful 'shock and awe' propaganda campaign.  The only thing that might insulate Leave from a repeat performance is the fact that there have been any number of previous polls putting Leave ahead, so perhaps there isn't quite the same sense of expectations being turned on their head by a single poll (although there probably should be).

As far as phone polls are concerned, Ipsos-Mori are ICM's nearest competitors on the "gold standard" stakes, so the next poll from Ipsos-Mori could tell us a lot.  It's hard to believe they'll go in one jump from an 18-point Remain lead to an outright Leave lead, but if there is a big cut in the Remain advantage, that would corroborate the story ICM are telling us about the trend.

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Remain 45.6% (-0.3)
Leave 41.6% (+1.0)


Remain 42.3% (+0.2)
Leave 42.9% (+0.7)


Remain 48.9% (-0.7)
Leave 40.3% (+1.4)

(The Poll of Polls takes account of all polls that were conducted at least partly within the last three weeks. The online average is based on nine polls - three from ICM, three from YouGov, one from TNS, one from Opinium and one from BMG. The telephone average is based on nine polls - three from ORB, two from ICM, one from YouGov, one from Ipsos-Mori, one from ComRes and one from Survation.)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Illusion of commanding Remain lead shattered by latest ORB telephone poll

As I've been pointing out over the last week or so, the media narrative insisting that Remain have made significant progress in the latest opinion polls is based on very shaky ground.  The majority of recent polls have in fact shown either a relatively static picture or an improvement for Leave, so to buy into the 'Remain surge' theory you would have to accord special significance to three polls in particular - the ORB and Ipsos-Mori telephone polls showing a big swing to Remain, and the Opinium online poll showing a more modest pro-Remain swing.  Well, one-third of that body of evidence has effectively just been scrubbed out, because the new ORB phone poll shows the Remain gains from the previous poll being reversed.

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?  (Definite voters only)

Remain 51% (-4)
Leave 46% (+4)

The Telegraph - who commissioned the poll - are of course spinning a yarn about how this apparently dramatic change in opinion came about (they're attributing it to new concerns over immigration).  But given that the last ORB poll was totally out of kilter with most other polling evidence, I think it's more likely that we're just seeing a particularly extreme example of sampling variation, after a skew towards Remain in last week's sample led everyone astray.  That would mean either that nothing much has changed, or that the swing to Leave is being greatly exaggerated by the direct comparison between the two polls.

Annoyingly, there still doesn't seem to be any definitive answer as to what constitutes the 'headline numbers' in an ORB phone poll.  The Telegraph favour the turnout-filtered figures given above, but ORB themselves and the John Curtice site give the nod to the unfiltered numbers.  For the first time, the Telegraph haven't even bothered to tell us what the unfiltered numbers are, so we'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out how much better they are for Remain (and on past form they probably will be at least somewhat better).  I'll also wait until then to update this blog's Poll of Polls.

UPDATE : The answer to my question is that Remain lead by 9 points among the unfiltered sample (down from 20 last week).  But ORB seem to have finally decided that their headline results will be turnout-filtered from now on, so the 5-point lead can be regarded as definitive.