Friday, March 13, 2015

Update about the YouGov poll : a big methodological change has been made

It turns out that the results of last night's YouGov poll are not directly comparable with previous YouGov polls, because Peter Kellner's firm has now fallen into line with Survation and Panelbase by weighting its figures to recalled referendum vote.  As you'll remember, it was the SNP's opponents who were unhappy about the failure to introduce that procedure until now, because it meant (on the face of it) that there were too many Yes voters in the YouGov sample, thus potentially leading to the SNP's vote, and the Yes vote in a hypothetical second independence referendum, being overestimated.  Curiously, though, the change in methodology has not actually led to a downweighting for the SNP in the new poll, because all of a sudden there are (slightly) too few Yes voters in the unweighted sample, and (slightly) too many No voters.

I find it hard to believe that something as unexpected as that could have happened by chance.  It may have done, but I think a more likely possibility is that YouGov have also made a methodological change at the point of data collection, and are now ensuring that they invite fewer Yes voters to take part in their polls, in an attempt to minimise the amount of weighting that is required.  If that is indeed the case, it means that it's literally impossible to tell what the results of the new poll would have been if the old methodology had still been in operation.  The only way we can make a comparison between this poll and the last one is by putting our faith in the new doctrine of weighting by referendum vote, and making a rough calculation of what the results of the last poll would have been if that weighting had been applied.  If we do that, even the trivial 2% drop in the SNP's lead is effectively scrubbed out, because of course the SNP's vote would have been a touch lower in the last poll.

The voting intention figures in the new poll for a hypothetical second independence referendum are Yes 49%, No 51% - which is identical to what they probably would have been in the last poll if the same weighting had been applied.  Under the old methodology, YouGov had been reporting a slight Yes lead, but at least now there are no more technical excuses for our opponents - this poll has recorded a hefty 4% swing in favour of Yes since the referendum, and that's undoubtedly a real swing because respondents are now weighted strictly in line with how they voted in September.  All polling firms that have asked the independence question over the last few months are united in showing a pro-Yes swing of a few percentage points, bringing the race into "statistical tie" territory - ie. where it's not possible to tell whether Yes or No are ahead, due to the standard 3% margin of error.  That, incidentally, makes an utter nonsense of yesterday's bizarre claim from the New Statesman's Jason Cowley that "Scots are not suffering from buyer's remorse" and that "a majority still wish to remain part of the UK".  Evidently we should stop listening to scientifically-conducted opinion polls, and start listening to Mr Cowley's gut feelings about what must be true.

For the first time, there's a crossbreak in the YouGov datasets specifically covering the portion of the sample that voted Labour in 2010, and Yes in the referendum.  (Hopefully that isn't the latest mutation of the Kellner Correction, and is simply there for information purposes.)  There are no great surprises - we always knew that the SNP wouldn't have been able to build up this huge lead unless ex-Labour Yes voters were now mostly in their column, and sure enough 81% of those people have made the journey across.  Just 18% have remained faithful to Labour.  Perhaps most importantly, 99% of them would vote Yes again if given the chance.

An enormous 88% of these "Labour-Yes switchers" think that Ed Miliband should leave open the possibility of a post-election deal with the SNP.  So perhaps he ought to be cautious about listening to the siren voices in the London commentariat who would have him believe that he can somehow regain popularity in Scotland by doing the complete opposite.

I mentioned Jim Murphy's dismal leadership ratings last night, but the true humiliation for him is that slightly more people (29%) think David Cameron is doing well as Prime Minister than think Murphy is doing well as Scottish Labour leader (26%).  Admittedly, Murphy's net disapproval rating isn't quite as bad as Cameron's, because there are more people who think that Cameron is performing poorly.

There's an old saying that "divided parties don't win elections", and that's where this poll has truly devastating news for Labour.  59% of voters think Labour is divided, compared to just 10% who say the same about the SNP.

If the unionist parties are hoping that they can turn things around in the formal campaign period, they'll be dismayed to learn that a formidable 69% of people planning to vote SNP say there is "no chance at all" that they will change their minds.  The equivalent figure for the much smaller group of people currently planning to vote Labour is 59%.

Incredibly, more respondents (27%) say that the SNP is the party best able to keep Britain in the European Union than say the same about any other party.  What a shocking indictment of the state of the pro-European lobby at Westminster (is there one anymore?)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

SNP lead by 19% in richly satisfying new YouGov poll

With less than two months to go until the general election, The Times have released a new full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov...

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (YouGov, 10th-12th March) :

SNP 46% (-2)
Labour 27% (n/c)
Conservatives 18% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 4% (n/c)
Greens 3% (n/c)
UKIP 2% (-2)

[UPDATE : The following analysis was written before it emerged that YouGov have made a big methodological change, which means that the poll is not directly comparable with previous ones.  You can read more about this in a fresh post HERE.]

The percentage changes are measured from the last comparable poll way back in late January/early February.  Clearly there are only two possibilities - either there has been very little movement since then, or there has been no movement at all.  But which is it?  On the face of it, YouGov are in agreement with the last Survation poll in suggesting that the humungous SNP lead has edged down just slightly.  But in fact that's a false comparison, because the Survation poll gave the SNP their lowest lead since the referendum, whereas tonight's lead of 19% falls bang in the middle of YouGov's post-referendum range.  The smallest gap they've reported since September has been 16%, and the biggest has been 21%.  The SNP's vote is actually 3% higher now than it was in the YouGov poll conducted at the same time as the famous Ipsos-Mori poll in the mid-autumn, which gave them a 29% lead.

The other recent piece of evidence we've had was from a TNS-BMRB poll which flatly contradicted the direction of travel in Survation by suggesting that the SNP's lead had shot up by 6% (albeit from a suspiciously low base).  So the explanation that best fits the pattern we've been seeing is that the state of play has remained pretty much static since October, and that any apparent small changes reported by the polls have been meaningless margin-of-error "noise".

Here's something that's slightly weird - there have been four YouGov polls since the referendum, and Labour have been on 27% in every single one.  Given the 3% margin of error, you'd expect a little bit of fluctuation, so that sequence of results speaks rather eloquently to their complete failure to achieve any lift-off at all since Jim Murphy replaced Johann Lamont.  Although we'll have to wait a while for the datasets from tonight's poll, we've already been told that Murphy's personal satisfaction rating has slumped from 33% to 26%.  In truth, that may just be the inevitable effect of him now having had sufficient time to get on people's nerves - but it certainly doesn't leave much room for optimism that Labour will be able to achieve over the next two months what they've failed to achieve over the last three or four.

The die-hard Scottish Tory "surgers", who have spent the last twenty-eight years looking for any possible portent of that elusive recovery, will doubtless feel a little frisson of excitement tonight, because this is the first post-referendum poll from any firm to suggest that they might slightly increase their share of the vote from 2010.  But one swallow does not a summer make, and this could just be a freakish effect of the margin of error. 18% is obviously within 3% of 15%, which is roughly what they've been averaging of late.

*  *  *

I was a touch bemused by the consensus among the panel on This Week that Labour should rule out a deal with the SNP.  That would be perfectly understandable if the people concerned were motivated by the racist attitudes towards Scots that we've seen in the London press over recent days, and by a sense that it's unconscionable to work constructively with a distinctively Scottish party.  But that wasn't the rationale being put forward - instead we were invited to believe that a rejection of a deal would prevent harm being done to the Union.  It's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry - have the Westminster establishment truly learned nothing over the last twenty years?  If you want to prevent Scottish self-government (although why you'd actually want to do that is anyone's guess), you have to argue the case against it, and make it less popular in Scotland.  What you can't do is say "no matter how many people in Scotland vote for Home Rule, we'll make sure we block it using English votes at Westminster".  That's what Margaret Thatcher and John Major attempted, and it was self-evidently counter-productive - by the end of those eighteen years, a slim majority in favour of a weak Scottish Assembly had been transformed into a "settled will" for a powerful Scottish Parliament.  We could be right in the midst of a similar transformation, and if Labour create a reverse 1979 legend by letting in a Tory government specifically because they couldn't bear to work with a left-wing party that Scotland had just voted for in huge numbers, a tipping-point in favour of independence could be reached very quickly.

The other line I can't quite get my head around is "Labour can't do a deal with the SNP because Scottish Labour MPs won't put up with it".  The whole point about what's happening is that the opinions of Scottish Labour MPs are about to count for much less than at any time in the last century, because there simply won't be very many of them.  It's the views of English Labour MPs that matter - and more to the point, what their views are after the election, rather than right now.    It's easy to be gung-ho about rejecting a deal until you're faced with hard, unyielding parliamentary arithmetic that forces you to make a very tough choice between being in government with the help of others, and not being in government at all.

Panic-stricken Lib Dems reveal a few details of their own self-conducted Aberdeenshire "comfort poll" in an attempt to muddy the waters

Of the four Scottish constituency polls conducted by Ashcroft in Liberal Democrat-held seats, by far the most damaging for them was West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine.  At least in the other three they were in second place (albeit a very distant second place in two cases), and so didn't have to worry about being undermined in their campaign message of "It's a straight fight between the SNP and the Liberal Democrats here! Only the Liberal Democrats can stop the SNP and their crazy dream of making Ed Miliband the Prime Minister of an independent Scotland!"  In West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, though, they had slipped into third place behind both the SNP and the Tories, effectively killing that message stone dead.  So in an attempt to get back in the game, they've released their own self-conducted poll of the constituency, which - hey presto - shows them slightly ahead.  The Press & Journal have dutifully swallowed the Lib Dem propaganda in reporting the poll, so here is a helpful cut-out-and-keep guide to the inaccuracies, distortions and omissions in the article -

1)  It's not - as repeatedly claimed - a "Survation poll".  Survation carried out the fieldwork and then passed the raw data on to the Lib Dems to do whatever they liked with, but if it had been a "Survation poll" it would be subject to British Polling Council rules.  Survation would be responsible for deciding which weightings to apply, and also for publishing the datasets on their website.  Instead, this is a Lib Dem poll, which the Lib Dems have selected the weighting procedures for.  It is not subject to BPC rules, and therefore we will presumably never see the datasets.

2)  There is no reference whatsoever to the fact that all Lib Dem-conducted constituency polling commits the cardinal sin of asking leading questions prior to the main voting intention question.  If you ask people questions designed to get them to say what a jolly decent chap their local Lib Dem MP is, and only afterwards ask them how they plan to vote, you make it much harder for them to admit that they are planning to vote against the Lib Dems, because that answer would seem logically inconsistent.

3)  There is also no reference to the fact that the Lib Dems apply an even more extreme form of the discredited 2010 recalled vote weighting to their results than Ashcroft does, which almost certainly means that the SNP vote in the constituency has been downweighted on an industrial scale.  Given the pre-weighting and post-weighting pattern we saw in Ashcroft, I would be astonished if the SNP weren't ahead in the raw data that the Lib Dems received from Survation.

4) A great deal of fuss is made over the fact that the Lib Dem poll gave respondents the names of the local candidates while the Ashcroft poll didn't, but in fact the approach taken by both polls is flawed.  If it's true that naming the candidates produces the most accurate results (and that is by no means clear) then it should be done in a single voting intention question asked before any other questions.  Both the Ashcroft and Lib Dem polls asked the headline voting intention question later in the sequence.

5) The P&J makes us feel all nostalgic by noting that this poll will be a "blow for the SNP".  Well, let's look at it this way.  There were two polls conducted in the constituency more or less simultaneously.  The first, for all its shortcomings, was conducted impartially, and showed the SNP miles ahead, with the Lib Dems in a distant third.  The second poll was conducted by the Lib Dems themselves, and showed the Lib Dems ahead.  The P&J may think there's some kind of dilemma in deciding which of the two polls to put more faith in, but I'm not sure many in the SNP will share that view.

However, even if a few people are foolish enough to take the Lib Dem poll at face value, the result actually suits the SNP quite well, because it muddies the waters of the whole anti-SNP tactical voting issue.  Are the Tories or the Lib Dems the real challengers to the SNP in the constituency?  Take your pick, chaps, but it'll be a leap of faith.

Now that the pollsters are an official part of the democratic process, they can't act as if their methodology is a private matter for them alone

My unexpected Twitter encounter with YouGov's Laurence Janta-Lipinski a few hours ago refreshed my memory of the exchange I had with him during the height of the referendum campaign last summer.  Basically what happened was that Laurence was in a grumpy mood because such a large number of intensely stupid people were refusing to recognise that YouGov were so obviously superior to other pollsters - he posted two or three generalised tweets along those lines, and it was pretty clear he was casting around for someone to make an example of.  As it happened, I had just written a post on this blog referring to YouGov's lack of transparency, and so I was chosen as the lucky victim.

Laurence challenged me to explain how YouGov were less transparent than other BPC pollsters, which was plainly supposed to be an unanswerable question.  But unfortunately I did have an answer, namely that they were keeping their "Kellner Correction" figures secret - which meant that we were unable to confirm our strong suspicion that the Correction was artificially boosting the reported No lead in the firm's referendum polls by a significant amount.  Instead of acknowledging that I had specifically answered his question, Laurence then started harrumphing about how, of the many unjust complaints that poor, put-upon YouGov have to listen to, criticisms about secrecy were a new one on him.  So I challenged him - if he regarded his firm as being so transparent, would he now commit to releasing the Kellner Correction figures in full?  And if not, why not?  It turned out that his passion for answering questions was somewhat less strong than his zeal for asking them - he suddenly pompously declared that my question was much less important to him than looking after his sick one-year-old son.  (Incredibly, he used almost exactly the same words again to close the exchange a few hours ago, albeit this time it was his son's dinner that was more important.)

Now, let me just step back at this point and make the obvious observation.  I have no problem acknowledging that parental duties must trump everything else, but you know what?  The beauty of social media is that you can respond whenever you like.  You can disappear for seventeen hours, or three days, and then still answer the question, and you certainly don't have to account for what you were up to in the interim.  It's very, very hard to escape the impression that the only reason Laurence randomly mentions his son when the going gets tough is the hope that any attempt to point out that he keeps evading perfectly reasonable questions can somehow be painted as a violation of his family life!  In any case, he presumably already knew his son was sick at the point at which he decided to initiate the exchange, and it also has to be said that it would have taken no longer for him to actually answer me than it did for him to haughtily philosophise about the relative importance of my question and his loved ones.

Anyway, I didn't let him off the hook, and eventually he angrily told me that no, we wouldn't be getting the Kellner Correction data, and the reason (or non-reason) was that YouGov didn't have to do things at the behest of mere bloggers.

We had every cause to be hopping mad at the time about that display of arrogance, because we knew that YouGov's chief Peter Kellner carried a good deal of baggage on the subject of independence - he had been saying for years that it was quite literally impossible for Yes to win, and therefore the obvious suspicion was that he was (perhaps subconsciously) moulding his methodology in a way that would "prove" himself right.  It wasn't as if these polls were being released into a sealed antechamber - they were fundamentally affecting the reporting of the referendum campaign, and essentially sucking the life out of it.  Until a very late stage, there were many anecdotal reports of people saying that they were just going to vote No by default without thinking about the issues in any great depth, because they already knew what the result was going to be.  That was - at least in part - YouGov's handiwork.  If Kellner and co reserve the right to play God with the future of our country in that way, I don't think it's good enough for them to turn around and say "we don't have to explain ourselves to the little people".

But that point has even more force in the context of the general election campaign, because both Ofcom and the BBC have partly based their decisions over the apportionment of TV and radio coverage for each party on the basis of opinion poll data.  That makes the likes of YouGov practically an official part of the electoral process - and whether they like it or not, that means the question of whether they're getting their methodology right is not just a private matter for them.  Any lack of accuracy on their part has the potential to directly affect who governs us for the next five years, and therefore we have every right to demand maximum transparency, and to ask searching questions.

I'm not sure Laurence Janta-Lipinski has got that memo yet, though. His latest excuse for never having properly answered my question about the Kellner Correction was that I had "edited out a wink smiley" when I quoted him, which was "very dishonest".  He attempted to grill me in Paxman-esque fashion this evening about what my despicable motive had been for excising the smiley.  Seriously.  This is a thing that happened.  As before, though, I only got a "does not compute" message when I dared to ask him a question of my own.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Fantastic news : David Cameron has finally accepted Alex Salmond's challenge for a head-to-head TV debate. Five months too late, but better late than never. Let's set the date.

I suspect David Cameron is going to regret this pre-scripted line at Prime Minister's Questions -

He said the head-to-head debate should be between the two people who "actually call the tune - that is me and Alex Salmond".

So Cammo's latest bizarre tactic for running away from debates is to suddenly agree to the debate he ran away from throughout the last few months of the referendum campaign. Ever since September, our old friend "Carlotta Vance" has been gloating about the Prime Minister essentially getting away with his cowardice in refusing to debate with his direct counterpart in the Yes campaign - I have a sneaking suspicion that may no longer be the case.

Five months too late, but let's get on with it. There's still plenty of time for a head-to-head Salmond v Cameron debate before the broadcasting regulations kick in, so as the challenge has finally been taken up, the words that spring to mind are "Any time, any place."

* * *

Possibly still smarting from the occasion last year when he randomly picked me out as someone to 'make an example of' (and found to his horror that I actually answer back), YouGov's Laurence Janta-Lipinski made this comment on Twitter an hour ago about my post on his firm's decidedly odd "apocalypse" poll -

"We do a fun, lighthearted poll. Some people take it *WAY* too seriously"

Apparently Laurence has failed to notice that part of my response to the poll was fairly light-hearted, but in all honesty it shouldn't have been. If the average employee at YouGov reckons that the very real long-term prospect of global thermonuclear war (which probably wouldn't wipe out the human race, but would certainly kill most of us) is a "fun" topic, the mind boggles. How can we trust them to poll objectively on the subject of Trident, if that's the underlying attitude?

Is the SNP lead hardening still further?

Today's Scottish subsample figures from YouGov are : SNP 48%, Labour 20%, Conservatives 18%, Greens 5%, UKIP 4%, Liberal Democrats 3%.  That's happened in spite of a whopping downweighting of respondents who identify most closely with the SNP - they've been scaled down from 52 to 30.

Individual subsamples are of course not especially reliable guides to the state of play, but there has been a particularly high concentration of this type of finding over the last few days.  It wouldn't be entirely surprising if the SNP lead is indeed hardening still further, because the Tories' tactics of portraying Alex Salmond as a potential master of the universe after the election is playing into our hands rather nicely.  They obviously don't particularly care that it's playing into our hands, because they're speaking almost exclusively to an English audience, they don't have much to lose in Scotland, and all the tedious rhetoric about their "undying love for our glorious United Kingdom" is a load of guff.

For those who are concerned that the SNP should be downplaying expectations much more than they've been doing, it's worth bearing in mind that this very beneficial hype in the London media about the filthy Tartan Hordes would probably not be occurring if expectations hadn't been ramped up to the max in recent months.  There may be a careful balance that needs to be struck between canniness and swagger over the days and weeks to come.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

YouGov in need of apocalyptic education

I wonder about YouGov sometimes, I really do.  They've randomly asked a question about the likelihood of six different global apocalypse scenarios -

Nuclear war 37%
Climate change 13%
Worldwide revolution 5%
Zombies 3%
Judgement day 3%
Alien invasion 1%

- and somehow managed to include three joke options, while excluding the very real, scientifically-established risk of a comet or asteroid strike. And I can think of quite a few other technological or biological risks that I would rate considerably higher than "zombies". However, on the basis of the selection that is offered, I'm heartened to see that people do recognise that nuclear weapons remain the biggest single threat to humanity's survival. There's a complacent tendency in some quarters to regard the end of the Cold War as the solution to that problem, but in fact it did nothing more than buy us some breathing space - for as long as we leave thousands of these weapons sloshing around, it's inevitable there will be a devastating nuclear exchange sooner or later.

Indeed, the closest we've come to catastrophe since the Cuban Missile Crisis had nothing (or at least very little) to do with the Cold War - in the spring of 1990, the Americans were in a state of panic because Pakistan appeared to be preparing to launch a nuclear attack on India.

In case you're wondering, the purpose of the poll seems to have been to establish that UKIP voters are more fearful about the future than others. Hmmm. Some us are fearful about the future because of UKIP voters.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Could Scottish Labour embrace independence?

There's a fascinating piece of speculation on Eric Joyce's blog today that a post-apocalypse Scottish Labour might reinvent itself as a proper Scottish party separate from the London organisation, and then perform the ultimate act of triangulation by embracing independence and actively campaigning for it.  At first glance, the idea seems totally ludicrous, but I must admit it's occurred to me before in an idle sort of way.  It's become abundantly clear since Jim Murphy took the reins that he and his acolytes believe in absolutely nothing (other than nuclear weapons), and are prepared to reverse almost every policy if they think it will help them win back the ex-Labour Yes voters they need to limit their losses in May and beyond.  The obvious eventual destination of that process is to adopt the policy those voters feel most passionately about, ie. independence itself.

The historical precedent that suggests this might just happen can be found in the late 1980s.  Labour astonished themselves by adopting soft nationalist language about popular sovereignty, and committing themselves to a devolution package that was much more radical than they had put forward when actually in government a decade earlier.  Why did they do it?  Partly it was triangulation - the Govan by-election demonstrated there was a huge threat on their left flank unless they could nick the SNP's clothes.  But an equally important reason was that faith in the normal electoral pendulum was starting to crumble - the Thatcher government seemed utterly entrenched, and it began to look as if the only way Scottish Labour politicians could ever hope to enjoy real power again would be if they challenged the Tories' legitimacy in ruling Scotland on a small minority of the vote.

You can see how a similar perfect storm might be brewing now.  If a Tory-led government is re-elected in May, and if the Scottish Labour contingent at Westminster is largely wiped out, Holyrood would for the foreseeable future be left as the only realistic avenue for aspiring (or current) Labour career politicians.  If a breathtaking gesture for the benefit of Yes voters was the only way of getting the party back in the game at Holyrood, that might just begin to look like an attractive option.  It would have the potential of reuniting the old Labour coalition, because left-wing anti-independence voters who truly believe in the Dunc Dinctum guff about "UK solidarity" would have nowhere else to go - much as the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Benn had nowhere else to go in the 1990s.  It would be an immensely satisfying example of Blairite triangulation in reverse.

The snag is that there's a third component of the Labour coalition, which hasn't actually deserted the party yet - namely centrist, affluent, anti-independence voters.  Those people do have somewhere else to go, because they could vote Tory or Lib Dem.  So I suspect that, no matter how bleak things look for Labour after May, the most we can hope to see from them is some kind of fudge.  They might embrace something much closer to Devo Max, or they might commit to another referendum in a few years' time, and promise their membership a "free vote" next time around - as Harold Wilson did in the Common Market referendum of 1975.

Scottish Labour leadership crisis continues : who will replace Jim Murphy if he loses his seat in May?

I was a touch bemused by the supposedly "relieved" reaction of some of Jim Murphy's media cheerleaders to the news that the Ashcroft constituency poll of East Renfrewshire put their hero just 1% ahead of his SNP challenger Kirsten Oswald.  The reality is that, even if you take that result at face value, it's a "statistical tie" - the standard 3% margin of error means that it's impossible to know whether Murphy or Oswald is in the lead.  But it's even worse than that for Murphy, because the poll's methodology was almost bending over backwards to produce a result that would flatter him...

1) Because weighting by 2010 vote recall was foolishly used, the SNP vote was massively downweighted, and the Labour vote was significantly upweighted.  For the headline results, the 120 people who recalled voting SNP in 2010 were scaled down to count as just 67.  A proportion of that adjustment may have been warranted if SNP supporters are simply keener to speak to telephone pollsters, but it seems likely that for the most part, people who are mixed up between how they voted in 2010 and 2011 were wrongly downweighted.

2) The results of the second voting intention question (asking respondents to think about the candidates in their own constituency) were used for the headline figures, rather than the results of the standard voting intention question, which favoured the SNP more. There's nothing wrong with asking voters to think about local circumstances (in fact it's a very good idea), but that should really be part of the wording of a single voting intention question, so that people don't feel that they "ought" to give a different response at the second time of asking.

3) The Greens received 3% of the vote in the poll, and yet someone who attended the Greens' spring conference emailed me today to say that they'd heard the party won't be standing in East Renfrewshire.  If true, it seems plausible that those votes will break more for the SNP than for Labour.  Admittedly, it doesn't always work that way when lower preference votes are transferred in local council elections, but it's murderously hard to see the average Green supporter being a fan of Jim Murphy.

4) Even with the help of all these factors which boosted Murphy's position in the poll, he was STILL fractionally behind the SNP.  The only reason he was eventually reported as being slightly ahead was the "spiral of silence adjustment" which assigns a large portion of undecided voters to the party they voted for last time around (and thus almost always aids the incumbent).  That procedure is claimed to improve the accuracy of the results, but to the best of my knowledge it hasn't been tested in extraordinary circumstances like these.

So there are good reasons for supposing that Murphy may actually be trailing in East Renfrewshire.  OK, he still has time to turn things around, but if he fails to do so his brief leadership of Scottish Labour will come to a very abrupt and ignominious end.  It may be theoretically possible that the rule insisting that the leader must be a sitting parliamentarian could be finessed, but it would be politically unthinkable.  So who would replace him, and become the FOURTH Scottish Labour leader since the 2011 election?

It's safe to assume that it won't be another Westminster MP, because there'll be so few of them left.  Neil Findlay would almost certainly put himself forward again, in which case Kezia Dugdale would be under huge pressure to stand as the "stop Findlay" candidate.  She's the current darling of the unionist press, so the leadership would be hers for the taking if she wants it - but does she?  If not, Jenny Marra would be a possible Plan B, but she seemed just as reluctant as Dugdale to sup from the poisoned chalice last time around.

*  *  *

UPDATE : SNP draw level with the Liberal Democrats in new Britain-wide Ashcroft poll -

Conservatives 34% (n/c)
Labour 30% (-1)
UKIP 15% (+1)
Greens 8% (+1)
SNP 5% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 5% (-2)
Plaid Cymru 1% (n/c)

The Scottish subsample figures are : SNP 54%, Labour 21%, Conservatives 16%, Liberal Democrats 5%, UKIP 3%, Greens 1%.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

SNP lead by 15% in new Poll of Polls

It's been a while since I last updated the Poll of Polls, and I was interested to see how this one would work out, because the Scottish subsamples over recent days have been all over the place.  There were a couple of narrower gaps reported by YouGov on Thursday and Friday, but any slight worries we might have had over those were allayed by huge SNP leads in Friday's Populus subsample, and in today's YouGov poll for the Sunday Times.

This update is based on seven Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls - five from YouGov, one from Populus and one from Opinium.  As a number of us have been pointing out for a few weeks, the new Opinium methodology is utterly bonkers, with their Scottish subsample figures practically constituting works of fiction - so the fact that Opinium accounts for as much as one-seventh of today's sample effectively means that the SNP lead is being artificially adjusted downwards.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 42.1% (-1.7)
Labour 26.9% (+3.0)
Conservatives 18.7% (+1.3)
Liberal Democrats 5.4% (-1.5)
Greens 3.6% (+0.3)
UKIP 3.0% (-1.5)

(The Poll of Polls uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

*  *  *

Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson live-tweeted Jim Murphy's speech at the Scottish Labour conference yesterday, and there was one line in particular that made me laugh -

"Reminds me of John Smith's platform speeches, some of which were awful."

It took a good twenty seconds for the implication to fully dawn on me.  It was a bit like saying : "Jim isn't always a good public speaker, but then Jesus had his off days as well, which means...oh my"

Davis Cup photos, or 'Entering the Lair of the Union Jack'

If you caught any of the TV coverage of Friday's rather wonderful session of the Davis Cup match between Great Britain and the USA, you'll have heard the Scot Goes Pop horn going into overdrive for Andy Murray and James Ward.  That's not a creepy euphemism - I was given a free horn when I arrived at the venue, and as a result I made my presence well and truly felt.

Now, obviously entering a "Deepest Fantasies of Craig Reedie" theme park in the East End of Glasgow does pose some dilemmas for a vile Cybernat such as myself.  For example...

Do I follow the instruction that came with my ticket to wear red, white and blue to show my undying devotion to all things British?  Er, probably not.

Do I proudly belt out the "national anthem", ie. God Save the Queen?  Er, probably not.

Do I stubbornly decline to see anything remotely provocative in the "let's all back the Brits in Glasgow" tweet from David Cameron that is gratuitously displayed on the big screen?  Er, probably not.

Do I resist the temptation to groan when the introduction for Andy Murray inevitably contains the dread words "seventy-seven years" and "Fred Perry"?  Er, probably not.

I had thought of getting my retaliation in first by bringing along the saltire that I bought for the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, but I reckoned there was sure to be some fascistic Olympic-style ban on the flags of undesirable nations such as Scotland, and I couldn't be bothered with the hassle.  Credit where it's due, though - there were no ridiculous rules of that sort, and plenty of saltires could be seen in the crowd.  I suspect there would have been even more if people had realised it wouldn't be frowned upon.

I have to say that James Ward's epic comeback to beat John Isner was the most exciting sporting occasion I've ever witnessed in the flesh, although after the best part of five hours I was starting to think back to a quote from a female tennis player years and years ago (I don't recall who it was) after she won a ridiculously long match at Wimbledon -

"I knew I wanted to win, I just couldn't remember why."