Referendum Conundrum 168

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.

168 thoughts on “Referendum Conundrum

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  • JimmyGiro

    It’s the difference between fashionable and rational. The former is for ever popular by being different; whereas the latter is only credible if it doesn’t change.

    Solve the following to defeat the UK:

    2 + 2 = boring!

    Remove the rational, and you can have all the independence you want!!!… and a balloon to go up every kilt.

  • Ba'al Zevul (Insert Soundbite Here)

    Once they get independence they’ll rebuild the labour movement from the bottom up (c.f. McDonald debacle to Atlee Govt, 1945). Might be an inspiration for the good people of the remainder of the UK.

    Also bear in mind that the transformation of the political landscape was the direct result of WW2. The kaleidoscope needs shaking to make the patterns change. Scottish independence, win or lose, is a promising shakeup.

  • MJ

    The simplest way to detect vote-rigging is to conduct extensive and systematic exit polls. If the actual vote varies from the exit polls by more than a small margin then the chances are that vote-rigging has taken place.

  • Gary

    I have no on the ground experience, so I cannot speak with authority, but it is odd that the bookmakers are pricing an easy win for the NO vote. One way or another, some people will end up with red faces.

  • Tearful

    Gutter’s desire to make be Britain the mightiest pipsqueak. Ron’s enthusiastic despair. Lots of little arguments at the statist debating society. It’s all too late.

    Remember when the Party burst out laughing at “Ich liebe doch alle?” The most hard-line state in the Warsaw Pact.

    Mail readers are savoring “Dave moaned with sadness.” English bystanders have joined the public happiness now, too. Great Britain’s ruling class is a joke.

  • Windy Miller

    No opinion poll or exit poll means anything, it’s why Union leaders like a show of hands on a proposal not a secret ballet, publicly stating your position can sometimes be hard for moderate folk but in the confines of a ballot booth you can say what you want.

    We used to see this common place on the shop floor with show of hands 80% in favour and then the actual vote go 60% against! happened year after year.

    All that counts is what comes out of the ballot boxes and to start talking of vote rigging now shows signs that secretly people are fearing a no vote might just happen.

  • doug scorgie

    Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles should be given a referendum on whether to become independent from Scotland, according to a new petition lodged with at Holyrood.

    It suggests that a week after Scotland’s independence referendum this September the islands’ voters should get to decided whether to remain part of Scotland.

    The electorate would be asked whether to stay in Scotland, become independent or – in the case of a Yes vote – leave Scotland but remain part of the UK.

    “Downing Street silent on Cameron’s secret Shetland visit”

  • Republicofscotland

    A wee tip Craig, try driving around Glasgow and look up at the windows, of folks houses you’ll see a myriad of YES posters and very few No posters.

  • Republicofscotland

    Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, were in Clydebank today, in a hall, camera never panned around to show us the size of crowd,so I take it there weren’t to many folk attending, though the BBC gave them plenty of airtime.

    Brown proclaiming loudly that Labour founded the NHS and that Labour would never let the NHS be privatised, one thing that makes Brown a good liar is the fact that he actually believes his lies are true, and by the looks of the handpicked acolytes applauding Brown,they believe his lies as well.

  • Republicofscotland

    Jeez the no camp must be desperate, as they’ve wheeled out Charles Kennedy, in his “Man from Delmonte suit” Kennedy who always looks as though he been on the booze all night (probably has) gruffed in his deepest voice, that the no camp had been to negative from day one, and urged Scots to vote no.

  • Republicofscotland

    Finally the 3 stooges have signed a “Pledge” granting powers to Scotland in the event of a no vote, I remember Nick Clegg pledging not to raise tuition fees in England, he then went on to raise them, the 3 stooges pledge isn’t worth the paper it will be printed on.

  • Republicofscotland

    But that’s OK – my points and questions, when not met with accusations of me being a troll, are either ignored or deviated from. This is par for the course and actually might serve to confirm their validity?
    You’re not even up to the standards of a troll, you’re more akin to an idiot with a keyboard.

  • Ben

    Weren’t the polls dead wrong in 2011?

    So many different varieties all designed to ‘push’ a vote while claiming some objectivity. I do think it will be close, and that’s where the real rubber hits the road.

    You may need David Boies, but then he didn’t do any good after the candidate was selected.

  • Republicofscotland

    Plaid Cymru, politicians giving it rotten to Carwyn Jones Plaid Cymru,looking for more powers for Wales, Carwyn Jones, taken aback, go on Wales, take more conrol.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Wonder if Lizzy will make another intervention in the campaign – stating, say, “My ministers have suggested granting greater powers to Scotland, and I have encouraged them to do so when possible.”

    Keeping Scotland a colony is worth a lot to London.

  • doug scorgie

    Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !
    16 Sep, 2014 – 9:48 am

    “Just as a matter of interest, is the commenter “Ruth” Scottish and does she have a vote? (Same question to the other vehement Yes campaigners posting frequently on here).”

    Why do you feel a need to know Habbabkuk?

    People have a right to their opinions on Scottish independence whether they are card carrying haggish chewers or not.

  • Geoffrey

    Time to put your money where your mouth is?
    Betfair are apparently already paying out on “No” bets.

  • Abe Rene

    A party that promises something new, a change can often get elected. Jimmy Carter got elected in 1976 saying ‘this country needs a change’. I remember the election of 1979, after which an annoyed Labour politician said that people were voting for Maggie Thatcher who thought that they were going to get something for nothing. The SNP is offering Scotland one of the biggest changes of all.

    It’s a mighty big decision for the people of Scotland, and it affects all of us, so whatever they decide, they had better be right. I hope they will heed Her Majesty’s advice, to think very carefully about the future when making their decision!

  • Ed

    Four things on the opinion polls – the first about postal voting, for which a good proportion of Scottish voters are eligible. Postal voting started I think 3 weeks back, when No was clearly outpolling Yes, and it is possible that the polls are partly reflecting this.

    The second is that the enthusiasm gap is almost inevitable. Campaigning for the status quo is naturally boring. So I don’t think your observations should be that startling.

    Thirdly, this is a difficult vote to poll because there is no precedent, let alone a recent one, on which the pollsters can develop and refine their models.

    Lastly, and related to the previous point, turn-out is expected to be close to 85%. This is clearly a very high percentage, and this could be relevant, though I’ve yet to see a credible pollster or commentator venture an opinion on it.

    If Yes does prevail on Thursday, there are some pretty good reasons which would explain why the polls are wrong. But like you, my anecdotal evidence suggests at the very least, this is going to be much closer than the polls suggest.

  • Ba'al Zevul (Insert Soundbite Here)

    Thanks, Doug. I am personally much more suspicious of Cam-bheul (crooked mouth: Campbell) myself. I’ve only ever come across one good one (though he was a Tory).


  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !

    Ruth intones:

    I don’t think it’s enough just to follow the vans. You need to know whether replica votes/ballot boxes are already in the van. You also need to monitor what happens between the van stopping at the centre and the boxes arriving inside to be counted. Switches could happen there.”

    For Heaven’s sake!

    Your knowledge of how to rog a ballot seems disturbingly extensive. Have you by any chance worked for a Labour candidate in one of those London and Midlands parliamentary constituencies Craig posted about a month or so ago?

    In other words, are you…err…a practitioner?

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !

    “rig a ballot” – (before Mary jumps in with a swift quip about typos!)

  • Ben

    Here’s another Poll conundrum.

    “President Obama’s plan for a military campaign against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria is drawing public support. And, in a rare display of bipartisanship, majorities of both Republicans (64%) and Democrats (60%) approve of the president’s plan.”

    However, the Public also is at 65% saying it won’t work. Schizophrenia is bi-partisan.

  • Gutter

    Peacewisher said:
    “Once they get independence they’ll rebuild the labour movement from the bottom up”.

    If the Scots are so politically conscious as to realise the importance of doing that, why have they not been doing it for years already? What’s been stopping them? And why would that thing that has been stopping them suddenly melt away at independence?
    There is an awful lot of groundless wishful thinking swilling around the yes camp. If you cut yourself off from your brothers and sisters in the rest of the UK then you narrow your ambition and simultaneously reduce your chances of achieving that ambition.
    Unity is strength.

    Vote ‘no’.

  • Republicofscotland

    David Cameron faces a “bloodbath” at the hands of Tory MPs after all three parties pledged to continue high levels of funding for Scotland if it rejects independence.

    The Prime Minister is facing mounting dissent among English backbenchers after promising that Scotland’s special funding arrangements will continue even when the country is given control over its own taxation and spending.

    One Tory MP said the promise to Scottish voters, issued by Mr Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg in the Daily Record newspaper, “smacks of desperation”.

    More powers my arse,it a ruse don’t fall for it,vote yes.

  • doug scorgie

    Windy Miller
    16 Sep, 2014 – 1:05 pm

    “Why would a Labour voter cast a Yes vote, they would lose 41 seats in Westminster and have no chance of being in power against the SNP in Scotland. Surely that would be political suicide.”


    Another numpty that fails to understand the referendum.

    Read this slowly Windy. The referendum is not about the SNP or any other party. It is a vote for or against independence.

    If the YES voters win there will be a general election in 2016 when you can vote for any political party you want.

    The 41 Scottish MPs can stand in that election and if they are re-elected they can sit at Holyrood.

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