Liveblogging the Great Debate 88

I am much looking forward to the Salmond/Darling debate this evening. The media have already been playing the expectations game for all they are worth, so that if Darling does not actually wet himself during the debate and then fall flat on his face and break his spectacles while attempting to remove his soiled trousers, they will all be able to claim that he performed better than expected.

Attempts to skew the agenda by Better Together are frenetic this morning. We have Cameron, Clegg and Miliband all signing a pledge to give Scotland (unspecified) new tax and legal powers after a No vote.


Oh look, here’s Nick Clegg signing another pledge about what happens after a vote.

Nick Clegg is always signing pledges. He must be a really honest man.

We also have a new think tank called Fiscal Affairs Scotland, pontificating on the state of Scotland’s public finances this year. Personally I am deeply suspicious of all these new think tanks and lobby groups which keep springing up. Fiscal Affairs Scotland appears on a google search not to exist at all, beyond the report released today. Nor can I find this report online. But there is a remarkably fair summation of it in the Scotsman, under the heading “Independence: Economists Criticise Both Sides”. This states that “Scotland’s finances could be facing anything from a deficit of £10.8bn up to being £1.9bn in credit – meaning Scots would be £1,033 better off or £1,324 poorer.”

It should be noted that this relates to 2016 only, and includes a substantial estimate for the one-off costs of setting up a new state. There are numerous reasons to believe Fiscal Affairs Scotland’s estimate deliberately pessimistic, but for the moment it is the media treatment of the report which interests me.

Better Together immediately rushed out a press release stating that the report said that Scots would be much worse off after independence, and lazy and complicit “journalists” simply copied and pasted the Better Together press release without bothering to look at the report. This from the Guardian’s unionist hack Severin Carrell:

Better Together seized on a new analysis of Scotland’s likely finances in its first year of independence, mooted as 2016 by Salmond, from a recently launched thinktank Fiscal Affairs Scotland. The paper found that Scotland’s deficit would be worse than the UK’s by up to £900 per head unless oil revenues doubled over current forecasts or Scotland took only half its expected share of UK debts.

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s shadow health secretary, said these findings added to the pressure on Salmond to defend his economic predictions for independence in tonight’s debate. “Expert after expert lines up to explain the threat of separation to our public finances, Alex Salmond will have to explain why he is right, and they are all wrong,” she said.

Carrell was too lazy, stupid and downright unethical to even bother to ask anyone from the Yes campaign for a comment.

There will be an even more intrusive media attempt to frame tonight’s debate in Salmond’s favour. An opinion poll by IPSOS/Mori will be released by STV at the start of the debate.

IPSOS/Mori has been consistently unionist friendly in its poll results. These differences between pollsters are not coincidental. They do not take random samples of the population and then tell us how that random 10,000 people break down. They radically adjust their sample by “weighting” to reflect the age, social groups and geographical distribution of the population. So, if you ought to have 20 retired people living south of Edinburgh in your sample but you only have 4, then you multiply the results of those 4 by 5 to weight your sample.

This is where it gets particularly murky. One of the key factors they weight for is political allegiance. So they weight your answers according to their own prior view of what they think the actual distribution of political views ought to be. I am not making this up.

They do this by prior vote weighting. So if 28% voted Labour at the last Holyrood election, their panel has to include 28% who voted Labour at the last Holyrood election or votes be weighted accordingly. But get this – they do not just take your word for how you voted at the last election, they then adjust this to account for “false memory” and “shy votes” – wanting to remember you sided with the winner, or being ashamed to say who you voted for.

The net effect is that the samples have deliberately boosted numbers of Labour voters in them. Pollsters generally adopt a “panel” approach. Having identified their voters and applied their weightings, they just keep asking the same voters again so they don’t have to recalculate the weightings. So they create a Labour-biased panel, and then stick with it.

In Scotland they have a history of being spectacularly wrong. At the 2011 Holyrood elections the pollsters on average overestimated the Labour vote by 6% in their final polls.

The excellent “Scot Goes Pop” website dissects the shenanigans of the opinion poll weightings in great detail, poll by poll.

Anyway, ALex Salmond will have to face “IPSOS/MORI says you are twelve points behind” and be on the back foot right at the start of the debate. There is worse. Commenters on Wings Over Scotland and Scot Goes Pop who are part of the IPSOS/MORI panel have reported that for this survey they were asked twenty questions on subjects like oil revenues and the NHS, which were heavily biased towards the No camp. “On a scale of 1 to 10, How worried are you that an independent Scotland would not be able to afford basic pension provision.”

On top of which, at STV’s invitation IPSOS/MORI has selected the audience for the TV debate to reflect IPSOS/MORI’s view of the composition of the Scottish public – ie heavily Labour and unionist. ITV have done everything conceivable to load the deck in Darling’s favour. Let’s see how the game unfolds.

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88 thoughts on “Liveblogging the Great Debate

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  • Argyll

    The first part of your response is incomprehensible. How would being independent give Scotland “greater ability to spend with the tab left elsewhere..”?

    As for your comment about the two Scottish banks, this is an old chestnut that has been much debated. Let me summarise the main points for you.

    RBS was regulated in London and conducted most of its business outside of Scotland. It was a global bank that happened to have its registered office in Scotland.

    HBOS consisted of a conservative, old-fashioned Scottish Bank that was taken over by an English Building Society whose management did not really understand banking and risk and found themselves with a real bank to play with. They could not resist the temptation to dabble in things they did not understand and they ruined BOS.

    There seems to be a hint of anti-Scottish xenophobia in your comments. Would I be right?

  • Peacewisher

    Fantastic news regarding Baroness Warsi, and unbelievable reaction from George Osbourne, saying that her resignation is “unhelpful”. Yes, I suppose it is unhelpful to Tory party funders!

    The picture of Nick Clegg in “man of the people” mode reminded me that he, and his Libdem MPs, have the power to bring down this government before they destroy the one good thing that Brown did for this country… putting the London-Edinburgh main line into public ownership.

    For those who may not know, they’ve recently established a reprivatisation programme that starts in November, and is completed shortly before the 5 years when an election must be called. C’mon, Nick… you can do it!!! The corporate world will never forgive you, but you are there to represent the people. You’ll get lots of votes back… including mine.

  • jake

    Geoffrey, at the time of the banking crash I remember reading something from an American commentator who questioned the need for US tax dollars being put to support RBS banking operations in the US. Their confusion arose because RBS had the word Royal in it and they concluded that the bank was owned personally by the Queen. I think you’re making a similar error with regard to banks with the word Scottish in their name.

  • Robert Peffers

    Why are so many numpties so stupid about the legal status of the pound sterling?
    1 – Scotland has her own currency it is the same currency used by her ONLY partner in the bipartite Treaty of Union 1706/7.
    2 – Sterling is an international trading currency and anyone can use it.
    3 – The UK government does NOT set interest rates the BofE does.
    4 – The BofE was nationalised by the bipartite UK in 1946 and thus is partly Scottish.
    5 – There is no legal basis for any form of UK to remain after the bipartite UK disunites.
    6 – There is no legal basis that the bipartite UK, a treaty between two equally sovereign partners, should be divided up on the basis of the current population ratio.
    7 A currency union would be of greater value to the, (three country), Kingdom of England, than to the Kingdom of Scotland.
    8 – The title United Kingdom legally describes a Kingdom, not either a country or a state.

    Plans a to z for the currency are to use the pound sterling – prefferably with a currency union.

    Unless, of course, YOU know better.

  • Bill Dunblane

    Using the URL I posted this article to one of our FB pages but got a warning saying a link in my post might be unsafe. First time that’s happened.

    As I can’t attach a screenshot here, if you email me I’ll send you it.

  • MJ

    Robert Peffers: I think you’re going to be in for a nasty shock.

    I’ll make just one observation. This not like a divorce, where matrimonial property and assets are shared out fairly under the jurisdiction of a qualified third party, ie a court. You can’t just unilaterally declare a divorce.

    This is like ceasing to be a member of a club. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a member, you don’t have the right to cart off half the club’s property and claim it as your own.

  • Kempe

    ” It was a global bank that happened to have its registered office in Scotland. ”

    Which makes it a Scotish bank; which incidentally was run by a Scot whilst another Scot cheered on from the sidelines and promised to slacken “gold plated” Westminster regulation even further so that the first Scot could dig a even bigger hole for it.

  • Kempe

    ” 6 – There is no legal basis that the bipartite UK, a treaty between two equally sovereign partners, should be divided up on the basis of the current population ratio. ”

    Yes there is. It’s called the International Laws of Succession. There is also a precident in that it’s how the assests and liabilities of Czechoslovakia were divided up when that country split.

  • Peacewisher

    You have to laugh at BBC priorities. The top story on their website is…

    Bernie Ecclestone

  • glenn_uk

    Wonder if Cameron will declare himself ‘shocked’, and denounce Baroness Warsi for ‘playing politics on such a serious issue’ .

  • Argyll


    So what exactly is your point? Are you suggesting that being Scottish in some way makes a person inferior or unable to run a business? Or a country?

    If so, could that be a xenophobic (or in modern parlance racist) comment?

  • bjsalba

    There are a number of ways to judge polls.

    Firstly there is track record – although with a referendum, that really isn’t as helpful as in a regular election. The last Holyrood election they did how?

    Secondly how much weighting do they do and does it change often? In this case the answer is lots and YES. Those answers degrade their reliability in a major way.

    Thirdly will the pollsters business suffer if they get it wrong? Well what percentage of their regular business are Scottish elections/referendums and who are their biggest political customers? Answer to the first, a minor part and the answer to the second is the three main political parties and the media. Guess who they need to please and oh as you know the Scots are weird.

  • Geoffrey

    Argyll, I was talking about the unfortunate position the rest of the UK would be in if Scotland remains in the UK,with greater powers to tax(a little) and spend(a lot).
    The two Scots banks are legally Scottish,and head quartered there.Incidentally I don’t think either bank is owned by the Queen.
    The amount of tax the two banks have paid in their entire history in any shape or form is tiny in comparison to the cost of their bailout.
    Concerning the £,it is very unlikely that Scotland would want to use a currency like sterling over which it had no control,though as you say it could if it wanted to,but the Bank of England would not be a lender of last resort.The Bank of England would not allow a currency union because that would require it to be a lender of last resort.
    I suggest you read the very good and clear report by Hardman and co.
    And,Argyll my comments are not xenophobic,I’m on your side–good luck to you!

  • SFTB

    Is this an irony free zone?

    You spend the first paragraph bleating that the media has it in for your favourites and the remainder of the article preparing your excuses for failure.

    A pointless exercise. You have your scapegoats lined up. It’s aw thae English Bassas in the media wot dun it.

  • Ben-American Fascist Flechette

    The debt threat might just be another warning about IMF austerity. You’ll have that forgiven with a No vote.

  • Republicofscotland

    Forget the “Dead Sea Scrolls” this is the “Dead UK Scroll”, vote no and we’ll give you shiny new powers, honestly, would we lie.

    Meanwhile a wee birdy told me that, next week, Better Together are going to roll out the Ark of Covenant, and inside the Ten Commandments, will begin with Thou Shalt have more…………………at Holyrood.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !


    “You have your scapegoats lined up. It’s aw thae English Bassas in the media wot dun it.”

    I have no dog in this fight, as California Ben would say, but the above comment is spot on. All the previous posts on Scottish independence have been, at bottom, excuses in anticipation of a No vote, and various attacks on the BBC’s reporting on other subjects have also had this as their unspoken sub-theme.

  • Vronsky

    It will be interesting to see what, if anything, Darling can make of the debate. The case for independence is unanswerable, Salmond’s only problem being the notorious difficulty of arguing for the obvious. To add to the asymmetry, Darling is short-tempered, slow-witted and inarticulate, developing a stammer under the mildest of questioning. If I were one of his handlers I’d pop him a couple of veterinary tranquillisers in the hope of minimising the damage he might do. The Unionists will rue their decision to use him instead of Cameron.

  • MJ

    “We’re not carting off half the clubs property and claiming it as our own, just 9% of it”

    Well please return it to the club-house immediately.

  • craig Post author


    It might do. Where did you see that? The STV website had IPSOS/Mori providing a “representative of Scottish opinion” audience.

  • Ben-American Fascist Flechette

    ‘Undecided’ or ‘don’t know’ in polling results usually could be interpreted as ‘I don’t care’.

  • Justin Ross

    Is this whole Fiscal Affairs Scotland think tank just a BBC invention to produce negative stories on the day of the debate. Like Craig Murray I can only finally any mention of it relating to today’s story and only dating back as far as Monday.

    The only other mention online is from a BBC website which says it’s director is Jo Armstrong. Is this the same Labour Party Jo Armstrong from CPPR? This smells like a BT/BBC lie.

  • MJ

    “The case for independence is unanswerable”

    A little strong perhaps. Judging by the polls over half of Scots appear to have found an answer.

    “Salmond’s only problem being the notorious difficulty of arguing for the obvious”

    Would suggest Salmond has more than one problem. Darling will score when the debate gets on to currency and fiscal matters. Salmond is weak here because Plan A has been whipped away from under him and he has no Plan B. He just keeps burbling on about Plan A, even though it’s not on the table.

  • passerby


    The tally of dead Palestinians in Gaza has reached around 1900, and the tally of injured Palestinians is hovering around 10,000 or more, the tally of homeless and refugees twice over is reaching 25 percent of the total population, that is four hundreds and fifty thousands that is 450,000, inadequate medical facilities, and supplies of potable of water, that is compounded by the sewerage system getting blown up by the zionist mercenaries too.

    All the while the leaders of the free world are busy genuflecting and reiterating the; “right to defend of Isreal” as the same leaders reiterate right of Palestinians; the right to get maimed, killed, dispossessed, made into refugees umpteen times over, get incarcerated in concentration camps, and then to get set upon by the zionist thugs, in uniform and the rabid settlers out of uniform.

    Baroness Warsi resigns in protest, but Cameron is out of country busy enjoying his holidays and Clegg the supine is busy dodging the issue and doing what he does best; disappear.

  • Kenny

    “No plan B” is such an absurd argument. Plan B is to keep using sterling informally (backed, as ever, by our share of the nationalised BoE and its gold and currency reserves, not to mention the assets held at the BoE by the Scottish issuing banks) but to take none of the UK’s debt. In actual fact, there is no legal obligation to take any debt at all and I hope our negotiating team keeps that in mind. Any debt taken should be in exchange for any favours rUK chooses to do for us, not a starting point for discussion. We’ve overpaid for debt we didn’t tun up for years already. Why should we volunteer to pay anything now that rUK is threatening such vindictive behaviour after a Yes vote?

  • craig Post author


    I absolutely agree. You cannot argue both that the rUK will be the sole successor state, and that Scotland must take its share of the debt. But that is what the UK govt does try to argue.

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