The flatness of the polls

Opinion polls compared.
Opinion polls compared.
The Panelbase poll that was published today was basically another independence referendum opinion poll that didn’t register any statistically valid voter movements (given the sample size, plus or minus one or two points is definitely within the margin of error).

The dramatic changes we sometimes hear about come about because people compare the results from two different pollsters — if you look at one at a time, the polls have been practically static for months.

But why is that? My beloved wife offered the explanation that most voters actually aren’t very interested (yet), so they actually don’t pay much attention to all those fascinating stories that all the activists assume must be discussed at length over Scotland’s dining tables, which is why they don’t change their opinion, no matter how shallow it is.

If this is true, we all need to get better at talking to those uninterested voters and make them understand why this is so important, so that we can get the polls to start moving again!

The anglocentric media and the London Scots

Inequivocabilmente UK
Inequivocabilmente UK, a photo by lyonora on Flickr.
Yesterday the Herald published two articles that both contained interesting observations about the way Scotland and the independence referendum are perceived in London.

Iain Mcwhirther pointed out that the Scottish press is completely ignored in London: “The reason so many BBC network news programmes seem so anglocentric is because they tend to take their editorial agenda from the press, which doesn’t report Scotland in its London editions. This, rather that any anti-Scottish bias among editors of the 6pm news or Any Questions, accounts for the absence of Scottish stories.”

Andrew Marr noted that there is an assumption Scotland will vote No to independence: “Whenever London Scots get together and talk about independence, there is a general assumption the people back home will never actually vote for it — that a vote for the Scottish National Party in Holyrood is simply the latest wheeze to put pressure on London for financial favours is blandly repeated in bars and television studios. ‘They willnae.’ … I have become less certain: next September, they micht.”

Taken together, these two remarks make it clearer why the UK media have concluded that the referendum have already been decided (as I noted more than a year ago). If they don’t access Scottish media, they will out of necessity get their information primarily from Scots living in London, and if they in turn have decided it’ll be a No, that then becomes the established truth in the Westminster bubble.

It’s quite interesting to contemplate why the London Scots have already decided it will be a No. It has probably something to do with the widespread assumption that talent moves to London, and that the people who didn’t leave are too stupid to think for themselves.

I have a feeling the London Scots might get a big surprise in September 2014!

Skintland and my mum

Skintland, a photo by MissRachel2012 on Flickr.
My mum was chairman of the local constituency Social Democratic party in Denmark for decades, so she is quite politically aware. However, she doesn’t know much about Scottish or UK politics, and until recently she didn’t really have an opinion on Scottish independence.

It was therefore quite interesting to observe her when she found a copy of The Economist’s infamous Skintland issue lying around our living room some months ago. She got intrigued by the cover and sat down to read the whole thing.

She then declared that she didn’t know what it was they were hiding, but if they saw a need to bully people into submission like that, they must be really scared of the truth getting out, so the truth must be that Scotland will be much better off as an independent country and/or that the rUK will be much worse off without Scotland.

So ever since reading the Skintland issue, she’s been strongly in favour of Scottish independence. I’m not sure that’s the reaction The Economist were hoping for!

Quis persuadebit ipsos persuasores?

Las manos
Las manos, a photo by tutescin on Flickr.

There was an interesting wee exchange of opinions on Twitter today:

Susan Stewart (ex-director of communications for Yes Scotland): Step away from your keyboards and talk to people! […]

Wings Over Scotland: Y’know, whenever people say that I take it personally 🙁

Susan Stewart: don’t. But winning the online debate won’t win the referendum. Necessary but not sufficient. #yesscot #indyref

Wings Over Scotland: Of course it won’t. But it’s still invariably worded in an incredibly dispiriting way. Wish folk would take more care.

National Collective: Truth is we need both. 🙂

I’m reluctant to criticise Yes Scotland, because they do a lot of great work, but I don’t think they’re being helpful when they criticise those of us who are engaged in the on-line debate.

It might well be the case that most people on-line who can be persuaded have already been so, and that it’s the off-line population that need convincing now. However, I think it’s naive to think that persuasion is a one-off process, as this seems to imply.

The army of Yes foot soldiers aiming to knock every door in Scotland over the next 14 months needs constant encouragement, information about new questions raised in the debate, as well as an opportunity to talk to like-minded people, all of which is best done on-line.

After reading an informative article on Wings over Scotland, National Collective or Business for Scotland, I just feel much more energised than before — I really don’t think I would do more or better door-knocking if I stopped reading those articles. I also tend to write blog postings when I need to get something off my chest, or when I’m in a pensive mood, and in neither situation would I be likely to go out canvassing instead.

Also, many people who have been convinced of the merits of a Yes still don’t feel ready to answer the potential questions that might arise on the doorstep, and where will they find the answers if not on-line?

When people criticise the time spent on-line, they need to ask themselves this question: Who will persuade the persuaders? (Or in Latin, Quis persuadebit ipsos persuasores?)

The Yes campaign is a genuine grassroots campaign because new ideas often originate on a blog, get disseminated on Twitter or on Facebook, and only eventually become official Yes Scotland policies. I think this is an immense strength, and it would be very harmful to the Yes side if somebody insisted that grassroots were only good for knocking doors, and ideas had to come from the top or from the (often biased) media.

I haven’t met a single person on-line who has called for a stop to doorstep canvassing. All we’re asking is that our on-line campaigning gets some respect, too. We’re all doing all we can, and there’s more than one way to do it!

Higher taxes, but more money in your pocket, too

Halftone, a photo by I’m George on Flickr.
When people discuss proposals such as the Common Weal, you often hear complaints that taxes would have to be sky-high to finance a Scandinavian-style welfare state.

Taxes are indeed a wee bit higher in Scandinavia (but not drastically so, once deductions are taken into account), but most Scandinavians nevertheless have more money coming into their bank account than their current Scots counterparts.

This is because salaries are typically higher in Scandinavia than here. (The exception is at the very top — if you make more than £100k a year, you might be better off under the current system.)

For instance, in Denmark the minimum wage is about £12 per hour, so almost twice as much as in the UK. I believe somebody on this salary would pay about 30% tax in Denmark, whereas they would pay nothing in the UK at the moment, so the take-home pay is still almost 50% higher for the Danish worker, although they’re paying much more tax, too.

Combined with subsidised child-care and other elements of the cradle-to-grave welfare state, most people would definitely be better off if an independent Scotland introduced the Common Weal proposals.

Celebrating a Scottish victory

Alex Salmond waving the Saltire.
Alex Salmond waving the Saltire.
I wasn’t going to write anything about Salmond waving the Saltire after Andy Murray’s victory, but the reactions — especially from unionist quarters — have been so strong that I decided to have a quick look at it.

I have seen four reasons given for being upset at Salmond’s wee stunt:

  1. It’s against the rules of Wimbledon’s All England Club.
  2. It would have been OK for normal people to wave a Saltire, but a First Minister should be above such plebeian antics.
  3. The Saltire is a symbol of the Yes campaign, and as such it shouldn’t be displayed at a non-political event.
  4. Doing it behind Cameron’s head was wrong.

Let’s examine these in turn:

The Queen of Denmark, the Crown Princess and the Crown Prince at a handball match.
The Queen, the Crown Princess and the Crown Prince of Denmark at a handball match. No stiff upper lip there.

  1. Against the rules: While it might be against the rules, it’s hardly a huge crime, and I somehow doubt anybody would have been mortally offended if Đoković had won and the Prime Minister of Serbia had pulled out a Serbian flag.
  2. Not something a First Minister should do: It appears to me to be part of the so-called “Scottish cringe” that important people should act like the English upper class, and such people would celebrate a tennis victory with a stiff upper lip. However, there’s no reason why this should be the case. In Denmark, the royals and important politicians don’t act like Englishmen, and neither did Scots before the union with England. As Michael Fry writes in The Union:

    [During] James VI’s journey south in 1603 to claim the throne of his late cousin, Elizabeth of England, the people swarmed to welcome him in almost intolerable numbers. […] He asked what all these people wanted, and smooth-talking Englishmen replied they came of love to see him. He cried in Scots: “I’ll pull doon ma breeks and they shall see ma erse.” When he had spoken like that at home, his people answered in kind. That was how Scots treated their kinds, worthy of loyalty but on a level with themselves.

  3. The Saltire is the symbol of the Yes campaign: If this is now the case, it follows that the Union Jack is now the symbol of the No campaign, and both should be banned from non-political events until the referendum has taken place. This would be rather perverse, given that both flags primarily are symbols of their countries, not of political movements.
  4. Not behind Cameron: I fail to see how waving a Saltire behind Cameron’s head can be seen as offensive. Downing Street were flying a Saltire that very same day, and Cameron is the Prime Minister responsible for Scotland, as well as being of part-Scottish descent. If I had been Cameron, I would have turned round and waved it together with Salmond.

To conclude, it doesn’t strike me that any of the reasons given for being outraged really hold water, so it’s more likely it’s simply the No campaign trying to throw mud at their opponents.