I genuinely find it impossible to understand the gap between the opinion polls and what my eyes and ears tell me.
In Glasgow yesterday afternoon a small group of Better Together supporters were handing out material on Sauchiehall Street. Just fifty yards away on Buchanan Street a Yes stall was doing the same thing. The difference was so marked I wanted to quantify it to explain it to you.
I watched each stall for a timed fifteen minutes, immediately one after the other. These are both very busy pedestrianized shopping streets. The crowds going by on each were very similar in size and demographic.
In fifteen minutes the No team managed to give away 7 leaflets and one balloon (the latter to a child). I saw some of the leaflets immediately discarded. The No team were actively approaching people to hand out leaflets, and were shunned by the large majority of people.
By comparison the Yes stall was actively approached by large numbers of people. In the fifteen minutes, 56 people approached the stall and spoke and of those 42 took campaign material, while at least 11 made a donation. The final statistic is remarkable. I counted exactly the next 400 people I could scrutinise reasonably closely on Sauchiehall Street. Of these an extraordinary 52 – that is fully 13% – were wearing Yes badges. There were no large groups and no event in the vicinity that accounted for this. I saw only 2 No badges and one No balloon, again a small child.
I appreciate that this may seem strangely nerdish behaviour, but when I flatly tell you that I have been experiencing a revolutionary groundswell of popular feeling on the streets, that is a perception easily dismissed. The above are hard, statistical facts that in a small way quantify that feeling. The puzzle that remains to be solved is the extraordinary incompatibility between this evidence and the opinion polls.
I can accept that there is an exuberance about the Yes campaign – a belief that a better world is possible and the neo-con dominance of Westminster can be broken – that leads it followers to be enthusiastic and wish to share that belief. By contrast, the No voters to whom I have spoken have, in my own experience, never expressed any enthusiasm for the United Kingdom, but rather fear that an independent Scotland might fail economically – a fear with which they have been relentlessly programmed. Cowardice is not something you wish to display or tell people about. So I can see the psychology is different.
But if the opinion polls are right and the No vote is in the lead, then this psychological phenomenon must be extraordinarily powerful and universal, this behavioural difference so marked as to be in itself a quite extraordinary fact.
The alternative explanation is simply that the opinion polls are wrong. I discussed this with the Yes campaigners on that Buchanan Street stall. They had a considered view which seems prima facie eminently sensible. They believed that the people mobbing their stall were in the large majority people who had never been politically active before. They were not the kind of people who would ever have signed up to be part of online polling panels – the methodology of the vast majority of polls. Those who were on such online panels may give pollsters a reasonable reflection of how party support splits among the 60% of the population who might vote in a general election, but could tell nothing about the 40% who never vote or join online polling panels. Those people were the ones now taking badges and wee blue books. The other polling method was landline telephone, and that missed another great swathe of the Yes demographic – the younger voters.
I yet again saw the BBC baffled and fail to pick up on what was happening on the street as they could not find a man in a suit to interview. The No campaigners were al men in suits and the BBC team looked visibly relieved. For me this “man in a suit” media syndrome is the principal cause of the disconnect between media reporting and what is actually happening.
Tonight is my final set speech of the campaign – Linlithgow Bowling Club at 7.30 pm.