Polling companies have to stop treating Britain as one unit

General Election 2010
General Election 2010 by poppet with a camera, on Flickr.
I’m starting to get seriously annoyed when the polling companies conduct their General Election opinion polls and report the results for England, Scotland and Wales together, e.g., Con 29 (+1), Lab 35, (nc), LD 10 (+1), UKIP 15 (-2), Others 11 (nc).

Surely the purpose of an opinion poll is to predict the outcome of the next election, but this doesn’t enable us to do so. It’s completely clear that the two things that are important for predicting May’s election in Scotland is the extent the SNP can take seats from Labour and whether the LibDems will retain any seats outwith Orkney and Shetland. In other words, the only really important figures for a Scottish prediction are SNP, Lab and LD — whether Con and UKIP are up or down is really not likely to make any difference north of the border. However, you cannot work out where the SNP is at from “Others 11” (which conflates the SNP with PC and the Greens and other parties). You can’t even work it out if you look at the regional breakdown in the tables because the sample size for Scotland is almost always too small to give us statistically significant figures.

At the same time, including the Scottish figures is likely to make the Tories and UKIP appear less successful than they really are in England, which must distort any predictions made on this basis. Furthermore, it’s completely conceivable that Labour might be dropping like a stone in Scotland while rising gently in England, but these two movements will to some extent cancel each other out.

The pollsters have as far as I know always excluded Northern Ireland from their British polls because the party-political system there is completely different. It’s also easy to understand why it made sense to include Scotland in the main polls in the days when the SNP was a minor party and the Tories still had a sizeable following up here.

However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the divergence of Scotland’s political system is here to stay, and the No in the referendum hasn’t changed that at all — if the massive increase in the Yes parties’ membership figures is any guide to such matters it’s likely to become even more different in the years to come.

I’m not entirely sure whether Wales should be treated separately from England too, but I cannot see any justification for continuing to conduct political polls for England, Wales and Scotland as one unit.

The ratchet effect

A guest post by Gerald Baird.

Spirit of Independence
Spirit of Independence by Màrtainn MacDhòmhnaill, on Flickr.
Of course I would rather there had been a Yes vote, but I don’t feel gutted and empty like so many, and here’s why.

All along I have been unhappy with the timing of this referendum; Salmond was over a barrel; the unexpected landslide in 2011 made it well-nigh impossible not to go ahead with the referendum in the current session of parliament, and that’s what the SNP conference decided that year, although Salmond was too clever an operator not to realise the problems. Wendy Alexander’s notorious “Bring it on” call was just one example of the pressure on him to call it, but of course he knew that the population was not yet ready.

The Yes campaign, fascinating and revolutionary as it has been, always seemed to me to have something a bit febrile, a bit attenuated about it. It lacked the breadth-in-depth needed for its position to be incontrovertible. Though the White Paper did a remarkable job, there were too many openings for malevolent opponents to aim at and to nail with a lying headline.

It’s all to do with education, in the widest sense, and the process is only half done. It has developed amazingly quickly, but it does need time for new ideas to be introduced and for people to become aware of them and go through the stages of shock, ridicule, knee-jerk opposition, growing understanding, admission of possibility, passive acceptance and finally active endorsement. The awareness of the issues is vastly more widespread than it was even a year ago, and above all, the idea of independence has become naturalised within the political landscape as a perfectly legitimate option available to Scots if they wish to take it.

The sudden realisation in England that the Union might soon have been over without their being able to do a thing about it is a further indication of how things have moved on. This is an enormous advance, and given the universal hostility of the corrupt press, the unspeakable BBC Scotland, the unanimity of the official parties in Scotland, Labour, LibDems and Tories, Cameron’s calling-in of debts from folk like Obama and other worthies, all the scare stories from business, banks and supermarkets … and yet, given all this, forty-five per cent of the population voted, not for the SNP, but for independence! That’s a barely credible change that has taken place in a very short time, and it seems to me a very healthy base indeed on which to work for a final push.

I think the situation will have changed radically again in two or three years (it’s changed pretty fast in two or three days so far!) There’s no chance at all of Westminster being able to satisfy the needs of Scotland with their insulting back-of-a-fag-packet “More Powers” legerdemain, as their current (highly diverting) disarray demonstrates, and the best recruiting officers for independence are already taking up their positions: Cameron, Miliband, Boris and Farage.

The genie is out of the bottle, and although I won’t say all we have to do is sit back and wait, really the best arguments for control of our own affairs are going to be displayed in front of us. An enormous number of No voters are putting their trust in Westminster to come up with the goods, and that’s just not possible. I can sympathise with the English on this; if I were an MP for somewhere in Norfolk or Hereford, my reaction would certainly be, “What? Still more Westminster time for the Jocks? They had their chance and bottled it; time to move on.”

When widespread disenchantment sets in among the No voters, as it inevitably must, we will be told that we can’t have another referendum. Westminster, having made the mistake once, will not assist in the legitimising of a democratic vote a second time. So what’s the procedure? There are two ways of doing it: one is for the Scottish Government to have a referendum anyway, and stuff Westminster. It would have to be supervised by international bodies, of course, but I don’t see a problem.

Secondly, my last resort proposal is what I call the Sinn Fein option, not a helpful title, since it immediately makes folk think I’m advocating violence. Not at all; in the UK general election of December 1918 Sinn Fein stood in every seat in Ireland on a manifesto of declaring independence; they won a substantial majority of seats and immediately declared themselves to be the Dáil Éireann, packed their bags and left Westminster. The UK government declared this to be an illegal move, and the Dáil said effectively, “So what?” (I’ll say in passing that one of the things about life in Britain which really irritates me is the near-universal failure ever to consider the experience of other societies in dealing with similar problems. Whether it’s education, health policy, local government or whatever, the debate is conducted largely by assertion on both sides rather than thinking, What do they do about defence in Finland? How do the Germans provide health services? How important are private schools in Italy? How did Czechoslovakia manage the split? More to the point, how did Ireland?)

The Scottish situation is immeasurably simpler than was the Irish, with an immovable and sizeable Ulster bloc of hostile and implacable bigots ready to take up arms with the less than covert support of half of the UK establishment, and I adduce this evidence just to make clear that, given a properly prepared electorate, whatever may be said (and it will be) there is no problem at all about the future mechanics of producing a legitimate end to the Union. And that’s what it is, of course. I wish the Yes campaign had squashed early on the terminology of “leaving” the Union, as if it would survive, if in a lesser form, after Scottish independence.

It’s connected with all the tedious nonsense one has heard, and will hear, about Manchester, or Yorkshire, having just as much right as Scotland, blah, blah. The whole point is that Scotland, unlike Yorkshire, is one of the two (not four) constituent nations of the Union, one of the two signatories of the Treaty of Union. A marriage ends when one of the participants has had enough; the position of long-term boarders, or live-in aunts, is not a factor, however problematic it may be for them.

Winnie looks on in the campaign war room
Winnie looks on in the campaign war room by Ewan McIntosh, on Flickr.
Ultimately that has been the main problem in the long and complex history of the Union: the fact that the English (and because of non-existent education in these matters, very many Scots) have never seen Scotland as England’s constitutional partner in the enterprise of Union, but as a troublesome province with ideas above its station which has had to be appeased from time to time.

Anyway, to my own surprise rather than feeling despondent I find myself astonishingly optimistic about the future, and the next time, since everyone has been through it before, it will be much better prepared for.

Really since Winnie Ewing in Hamilton all those years ago, the progress of self-determination for Scotland has been a ratchet effect: a bit forward, a bit back, but never quite as far back as it was before. The events of this year have moved the ratchet nearly to its end; I see the current position as a reculer pour mieux sauter, not a setback. As I’ve been saying for decades now, It’s comin yet, for aa that!

Whit wey can we revive the Scots leid?

The following blog post is written in Scots. If you find it hard to read, here’s a dictionary that might help.

Oor Rabbie
Oor Rabbie by alister, on Flickr.
In the 2011 census, 1,225,622 fowks indicatit that thay coud speak, read an write Scots, an this maks Scots a heap muckler nor Gaelic. Houaniver, thair is practicallie nae support for the leid in Scotland — we daena hae TV or radio stations (forby wee programmes on the Internet), thair is nae Scots schuils, an thair is nae leid courses whaur outlins (sic as masel) can lairn Scots. Ye can uise Facebook in Faeroese or e’en in Pirate Inglis, but no in Scots. Google Translate canna help ye wi Scots, an yer phone’s autocorreck will chynge yer perfecklie guid Scots intae braken Inglis.

Forby this, monie (maist?) Scots thinks Scots is juist a dialeck o Inglis, an thay aft feel bad about speakin it. This is ane o the monie things that is creautin the Scots creenge.

We maun chynge this!

At the maument there’s three Scots leid organisations in Scotland: The Scots Leid Associe (SLA), the Centre for the Scots Leid (SLC) an the Scots Leid Dictionars (SLD). The SLA is fecklie concernt wi publishin leeteratur in Scots; the SLC is forderin the interests o Scots speakers (nearlins like a ceevil richts muivement); and the SLD is documentin the leid an publishin academic dictionars. Thay ar aw daein a byous job, but nane o thaim sees is as thair rôle tae staundartise the leid an creaut the tuils needit tae lear Scots tae fowks wha daesna speak it yit.

Whan A say “staundartise the leid”, A mean it. The SLA thinks a normative orthographie wad juist be a hinderance for the makars, the SLD daesna want tae bother the fowks wha gat thair erse skelpit for uisin Scots wirds at schuil, an the SLD is simplie documentin whit awbody is daein. Houaniver, ye canna tell a fremmit lairner or a schuil bairn wha anelie haes passive knawledge o Scots that thay maun juist say whit feels richt tae thaim — the result definatelie wadna be Scots! Ye canna mak a spellchecker that allous ilka spellin variant in uiss — it wadna richtifee oniething ava. An schuils will need guideship on whit tae lear tae the bairns.

This isna about creautin a oppressive orthographie — makars and native speakers can write Scots onie wey thay want. Houaniver, the lave o us needs a norm.

Monie ither leids haes been in the same situation. Scots is gey an siclike tae Catalonian an Icelandic in the wey aw three leids haes a great linguistic past but lost thair status whan the places thay ar spoken lost thair independence.

Here’s whit Wee Ginger Dug writes anent Catalonian (in Inglis):

The Catalan Renaixença ‘Renaissance’ arose in response to the sclerotic nature of the Spanish state. The Catalan language came to be seen as a symbol of the frustrated desires of Catalans for their country to become a fully democratic modern European state. A revitalised standard literary form of Catalan was the outcome of this movement, a modern Catalan language fit for all the needs of a modern Catalan nation, but which was solidly linked to the greatness of the Catalan literary past. It was rapidly accepted throughout els Paissos Catalans.

An this is fae the Inglis Wikipedia airticle about Icelandic:

The modern Icelandic alphabet has developed from a standard established in the 19th century primarily by the Danish linguist Rasmus Rask. It is ultimately based heavily on an orthography laid out in the early 12th century by a mysterious document referred to as The First Grammatical Treatise by an anonymous author who has later been referred to as the First Grammarian. The later Rasmus Rask standard was a re-creation of the old treatise, with some changes to fit concurrent Germanic conventions, such as the exclusive use of k rather than c. Various archaic features, as the letter ð, had not been used much in later centuries. Rask’s standard constituted a major change in practice.

We need a Scots orthographie that connecks the modren leid tae its past (makars like Blind Harry, Henryson, Dunbar, Fergusson an Burns), tae its present (the wey Scots is spoken an wrote in Scotland an Ulster the day), an paves the wey for its futur (bi bein consistent sae that it’s easie tae lairn). It is probablie no gaun tae be muckle different fae the spellins promotit bi the Online Scots Dictionar, but a deceesion needs tae be made.

It wad probablie be best tae creaut a new organisation for this ettle, lat’s cry it the Scots Leid Buird (SLB) in the follaein.

Aince the orthographical principles is in place, the SLB needs tae creaut a dataset in electronic format that can be providit tae fowks, companies an organisations wha wants tae mak printit dictionars, Android apps, spellcheckers or onie ither uiss o’t. The dataset soud include place names. The dictionars creautit uisin this dataset wad be great for schuil beuks, dictionars an aw.

Forby, the SLB soud provide advice on hou tae uise Scots an promuive the new orthographie an the Scots leid for ordinar, an thay soud wirk thegither wi the ither three Scots leid organisations aw the time.

In a ideal warld, the SLB soud be fondit uisin government siller, but in the praisent circumstances (wi monie mair cuts comin wir wey fae Westminster) we micht need tae uise croudfondin insteid, least tae get the projeck stairtit.

In ma professional life, A’m a expert in computational lexicographie, sae in anither blog post A micht hae a wee leuk at whit the dataset soud leuk like.

Atween haunds A’ll be awfu interestit in hearin fae yese. Is this the wey forrit? Wha can help?

More pandas than Unionist MPs

panda by Camilla Hoel, on Flickr.
The Unionist MPs from Scotland (such as Jim Murphy, Gordon Brows and Alistair Carmichael) dominated Better Together strongly because they were the only people with a strong personal interest in the status quo. The majority of MSPs and councillors didn’t care all that much, and neither did most rUK MPs.

It’s therefore really important that we get rid of as many Scottish Unionist MPs as possible at the next Westminster election in May, because this will weaken as future No campaign a lot. However, how realistic is it?

To find out, I looked at the votes cast for Unionist parties in 2010 and compared it with the Yes vote in the referendum. Unfortunately, at the moment referendum data is not available on a constituency basis, so I had to group some constituencies and council areas together to achieve comparable areas. In the table below, the first three data columns show first the votes cast for pro-independence parties in 2010, then the votes cast for Unionist parties, and finally the votes cast the the largest Unionist party (given that this is a FPTP election); the next two columns provide the referendum results, and the last column lists the difference between the votes cast for the largest No party in 2010 and the Yes vote in 2014:

2010 Election Independence Referendum
Area Yes parties No parties Largest No party Yes No Diff.
Glasgow 41977 177703 128818 194779 169347 65961
Aberdeen / Aberdeenshire 47268 160549 79246 130727 192700 51481
Angus / Dundee 41086 72042 43261 88664 85072 45403
Edinburgh 30797 188849 86426 123927 194638 37501
East Ayrshire / North Ayrshire / South Ayrshire 40687 140919 88902 121236 140705 32334
East Dunbartonshire / North Lanarkshire 37407 166140 114587 146407 159236 31820
Falkirk / West Lothian 40869 106188 72056 103831 123712 31775
Highland 19582 86449 49414 78069 87739 28655
Clackmannanshire / Perth and Kinross 33062 63843 33870 57825 81750 23955
Dumfries and Galloway / Scottish Borders / South Lanarkshire 44943 240783 141702 165510 247392 23808
Fife 26235 145823 95208 114148 139788 18940
Moray 16273 23646 10683 27232 36935 16549
Argyll and Bute 8563 35427 14292 26324 37143 12032
Renfrewshire 15561 66224 47455 55466 62067 8011
Midlothian 8100 29821 18449 26370 33972 7921
West Dunbartonshire 8497 32581 25905 33720 28776 7815
Inverclyde 6577 30502 20993 27243 27329 6250
East Lothian 7883 39868 21919 27467 44283 5548
Stirling 8091 37609 19558 25010 37153 5452
Na h-Eileanan an Iar 8135 6582 4838 9195 10544 4357
Orkney Islands / Shetland Islands 2042 16082 11989 10552 19955 -1437
East Renfrewshire 4535 46274 25987 24287 41690 -1700

As an example of how to read the table, the constituency of Argyll and Bute in 2010 saw 8563 votes cast for Yes parties and 35427 votes for No parties; however, the latter were divided between three parties, and the winning party (the LibDems) only got 14292 votes, which is 12032 votes less than the 26324 votes cast in favour of independence last Thursday.

(I should point out that SNP constituencies haven’t been eliminated — for instance, Na h-Eileanan an Iar currently have an excellent SNP MP.)

It’s clear that almost everywhere, more votes were cast for Yes than for the largest No party. The two exceptions are Orkney and Shetland, where there is a very strong Liberal tradition, and East Renfrewshire, which was a Tory stronghold until recently and so Labour benefits from a lot of tactical voting to keep out the Tories.

In other words, in most of the country it should be possible to unseat the sitting Unionist MP if we can mobilise all Yes voters from the referendum. I do have my doubts about Orkney and Shetland, but I guess it would be quite useful to keep one Unionist MP so that we don’t have to stop telling panda jokes.

Of course, this analysis is rather crude because I didn’t have access to the referendum data on a Westminster constituency basis. If I manage to find this, I’ll publish a new version of this blog post.

Unpredictable prediction errors

Yes? by Cams, on Flickr.
Readers of this blog may remember that a while ago I made a prediction of the geographical distribution of a narrow Yes vote, based on the most recent council election and some reasonable assumptions about voter behaviour.

The assumption made was that the following percentage of party voters would vote Yes: SNP — 81.7%, Labour — 25.8%, Tory — 5.9%, LibDem — 26.2%, Others — 50.0%. (That is, I expected 81.7% of the people who voted SNP in the council elections to vote Yes to independence.)

A survey made by Lord Ashcroft (PDF) found that 86% of SNP voters, 37% of Labour voters, 5% of Tories and 39% of LibDem voters voted Yes to independence, but this was based on people’s recollection of their last Westminster vote, not the council elections. Also, this was based on a small sample, so these numbers may not be entirely accurate.

To test this, I wrote a computer program to work out the percentages that would have produced the best prediction of the actual result (still based on the council election results). The results are rather surprising: SNP — 64.6%, Labour — 50.3%, Tory — 9.1%, LibDem — 33.4%, Others — 36.9%. Using these percentages produces a decent prediction of the actual result (although a few council areas are wrong, such as Dundee, which performed much better than the revised prediction, and West Lothian, which performed worse).

I don’t claim that these revised percentages are accurate — you’d need a massive exit poll to make sure — but they show that many strong SNP areas performed much worse than I had expected, and many Labour areas performed much better.

To illustrate this, look at the differences between the old prediction and the actual result (the table has been sorted by the difference):

Council area Old prediction Actual result Difference
Orkney Islands 56% 33% -23%
Shetland Islands 56% 36% -20%
Moray 60% 42% -18%
Scottish Borders 47% 33% -14%
Aberdeenshire 53% 40% -13%
Angus 57% 44% -13%
Argyll and Bute 53% 41% -12%
East Lothian 49% 38% -11%
Na h-Eileanan an Iar 58% 47% -11%
Perth and Kinross 51% 40% -11%
West Lothian 55% 45% -10%
Clackmannanshire 55% 46% -9%
Midlothian 53% 44% -9%
Dumfries and Galloway 43% 34% -9%
East Ayrshire 55% 47% -8%
Aberdeen 49% 41% -8%
Falkirk 54% 47% -7%
Highland 54% 47% -7%
Stirling 47% 40% -7%
Fife 51% 45% -6%
South Lanarkshire 51% 45% -6%
Renfrewshire 52% 47% -5%
East Dunbartonshire 44% 39% -5%
North Ayrshire 53% 49% -4%
Edinburgh 43% 39% -4%
East Renfrewshire 40% 37% -3%
North Lanarkshire 53% 51% -2%
West Dunbartonshire 56% 54% -2%
South Ayrshire 43% 42% -1%
Dundee 56% 57% 1%
Inverclyde 49% 50% 1%
Glasgow 51% 53% 2%

Orkney and Shetland might be special cases, because they are so far away from Edinburgh, but what happened in places such as Moray, Aberdeenshire and Angus? Did the focus on winning over the Labour voters in Greater Glasgow make the rural SNP voters desert independence?

Going forward, we need to ensure that independence doesn’t become solely a left-wing ambition. Independence will be good for almost everybody in Scotland, and next time we need to work harder on making independence the choice of people everywhere, not just in and around Glasgow and Dundee.

Looking forward on a day of sadness

Scottish independence referendum resultsI’m absolutely devastated. We nearly won. We could have won. But we didn’t.

We will respect the referendum result, which means we won’t declare independence without holding another referendum, and we cannot hold another referendum without exhausting the alternatives first.

I’m still trying to gather my thoughts, which is hard when you feel tired, sad and deflated. However, I’ve listed below a few thoughts about what will need to happen now. Please leave comments with more suggestions for the future!

  1. It’s completely clear to me that No only won because many voters got the impression we’d get Devo Max if we voted No. I’ve always been very cynical about this, but we now need to do out very best to achieve Devo Max (or Home Rule), and/or federalism in the UK.
  2. The Yes movement needs to be preserved in some form, primarily to guard over this journey towards Home Rule, but also — if the No side reneges on its promises — to campaign for a new referendum because the No side didn’t deliver. It would be unfortunate if this became a purely party-political matter again.
  3. The SNP should rename itself — the word “national” makes too many people jump to the conclusion that it’s deep down an ethnic nationalist party (which it isn’t). As I’ve argued before, “sovereigntist” would be a better word. It gets a bit tiring to state over and over again that the nationalists in Scotland aren’t nationalists.
  4. We need more media in Scotland to represent the views of the 45% who voted Yes to independence. If the BBC’s bias problems cannot be resolved (for instance by devolving broadcasting), we need to create a new Scottish broadcaster. We also need to convince more or the newspapers that it’s in their own commercial interest to cater for the younger, pro-independence audience.
  5. We need to work hard on getting rid of the Scottish cringe. It would have happened on its own after a Yes vote, but now it’ll be much harder. We need to keep showing people that Scotland is big enough, rich enough and clever enough to be in charge of its own destiny. We also need to make people understand that Scottish culture isn’t inferior, and I think working on promoting the Scots language would be very helpful in this context, because it would show Scottish people that the traditional language of Scotland is part of Scotland’s proud heritage.

I do hope the fact that 45% of voters supported independence will tell Westminster that something has to change. If 70% of voters had voted No, I’ve no doubt that Westminster would have thought it’d be a great opportunity to get rid of the Barnett formula and such things, but they must now be scared. They know they only won this referendum by the skin of their teeth.