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.

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168 thoughts on “Referendum Conundrum

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  • Crumble crumble

    Interesting, Ben, Syria, with military meatheads parroting scripted nonsense. Evident USG nervousness about international law. They’re going to prop Obama up in front of the UN, a deliberative body where they’re not all bribed and blackmailed (though not for lack of trying.)

    Under the tutelage of international law specialist Vladimir Putin, Syria might be reminded about this case, with which Libya stopped US aggression cold:

    “the United States is under a legal obligation immediately to cease and desist from such breaches and from the use of any and all force or threats against Libya, including the threat of force against Libya, and from all violations of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the political independence of Libya. Libya will further request the Court in a separate document to indicate, as a master of urgency, interim measures of protection,” whereupon the US government backed down to avoid a judgment;

    Or this element of customary international law, on which the ICJ would naturally draw in judging US use of force in manifest breach of the United Nations Charter,

    Or this relevant bit of international criminal law.

    Of course, public repudiation of the most servile NATO satellite is the most significant prospect for peace.

  • Peacewisher

    @Gutter2: Tony Benn said they/we needed to start again during his marvellous speech at the 15th Feb 2003 anti-war rally. Now another 11 years have gone by… and labour have got even worse!

  • Ben

    “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.”

    I think you misunderstand Scots. If you went into a pub in say , Inverness and announced you would kick ass if everyone didn’t put down their pint, you would see everyone downing the remainder in a gulp, then ask for another.

    The enthusiasm is a driving force, and not to be trifled with. May that momentum continue well after the vote.

  • Mary

    Medialens thread.

    •Craig Murray’s latest, talking about the difference between poll results and what he is seeing – Everyman Today, 12:43 pm
    ◦Craig doesn’t mention an obvious (to me, anyway) third option: rigged polls. Consciously or not, – Rhisiart Gwilym Today, 12:59 pm
    ◾…just hope they don’t also try to rig the actual voting …nm – MikeD Today, 1:05 pm
    ◾He mentions vote rigging here – zemblan Today, 2:19 pm
    ◾Re: He mentions vote rigging here – ceemac666 Today, 3:13 pm

    View thread »

  • Republicofscotland

    “I love Scotland. I want the best for our nation.”

    Gordon Brown.

    Strange then that when he was prime minister of the UK he was asked by the American press where he came from and he replied “I’m from North Britain”.

    Am I the only one who thinks that it is strange for someone who loves his country to be ashamed to admit that he is Scottish.

    Given that he is promising (why, he’s a back bench part time “ex-politician”) all kinds of extra super devolution if we vote no, and thinks that this is the “best for our nation”, why, when he was Prime Minister and had it in his power to do something about Scotland’s half baked devolution (where almost every halfpenny it spends comes in the form of a block grant utterly dependent on the whims of spending of the UK government), did he not do something about sorting out the devolution mess that Blair had left?

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Now ICM director Boon is backing away from the surprise poll in the Sunday Times which put the Yes vote in a comfortable position of victory.

    Wonder if his change of mind is the result of finding unexpected bad news?

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !


    “Don’t get me going on education. ”

    NO, Peacewisher, I WILL get you going on education! You were the one who tried to make a cheap point about ballot rigging by citing the transformation of the polytechs into universities. So I propose to continue to take you up on that.

    You write – in what is still not a pertinent response:

    “@Hab: You are simplifying. The tripartite system never existed in many parts of the country. It was either grammar or secondary modern, then a technical education if you rose to the top at a second attempt.”

    Either you do not see the irrelevance of the point you make or you are deliberately obfuscating.

    Whether the tripartite system ever really existed, or whether it was in practice a bipartite system with few technical schools having operated is not germane to my own point, which was that if you object to polytechnics having been called and granted the status of universities, you should also, in logic, be against the tripartite (or bipartite if you wish) system having been replaced by the comprehensive school system. At least, you should feel that the latter change was as much a matter of ballot rigging as you claim the transformation of polytechs into universities was.

    So, to repeat the question in expanded form : are you agaionst the comprehensive school system and do you feel that the move to that system was also a matter of ballot rigging by the govts of the time (both Labour and Conservative govts, by the way)??

  • doug scorgie

    16 Sep, 2014 – 2:59 pm

    “…Charles Kennedy, in his “Man from Delmonte suit”…”

    Don’t forget…The man from Del Monte, he say ‘Yes!

  • Republicofscotland

    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).

    You’re not a MacDonald, by any chance are you?

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !

    Best example of UNCHR education… Finland (small country!)”

    And yes, I d know something about education in Finland. Teachers there have status, are helped into the profession in various financial ways and are well paid.

    In return, only the best graduates are accepted into the profession and all are required to have a degree (even for primary schools).

  • Republicofscotland

    16 Sep, 2014 – 2:59 pm

    “…Charles Kennedy, in his “Man from Delmonte suit”…”

    Don’t forget…The man from Del Monte, he say ‘Yes!
    Nice one Doug.

  • nevermind, Scotland wird bald frei sein

    Comments of ballot rigging are well in place as our party politicians have form in doing exactly that.
    Ruth is right switching of ballot boxes that have not been sealed with each campaigns sticky tape, or weighed once the polls shut, should be watched all the way to the count.
    If they are stored, watch the storage facillity, take photos of everyone going in and out, ask them as to what they are doing at that time, a public servant should have no grief answering, but a stooge would be evasive.

    Why should the political parties have changed their spots, bad habits don’t die thatn easy when failure is in sight.

  • Ben

    “Or this element of customary international law, on which the ICJ would naturally draw in judging US use of force in manifest breach of the United Nations Charter,”

    Of course the UN endorses R2P which is the wiggle room for mischief. Has Abbas stopped his foolish game of waiting for Godot? BTIM why is he reluctant to join ICC? The US is more afraid of that and you would think he might call their bluff for joining.

  • sjb

    With regard to the polls accuracy there is a post on the matter at the following:
    I think only two of the polling companies do face-to-face interviews and I suppose they are unlikely to travel to sparsely populated rural areas because of the cost

    If Con/Lab/Lib considered the Noes were likely to lose then I would expect them to play their highest card: the Queen. In 1977, she said: “But I cannot forget that I was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and of Northern Ireland. Perhaps this jubilee is a time to remind ourselves of the benefits which Union has conferred, at home and in our international dealings, on the inhabitants of all parts of the United Kingdom.”

  • glenn_uk

    Carwyn Jones does not speak for the people of Wales. I have not come across a single person who feels that Scotland ought to be made to stay in the Union – yet Jones has the utter cheek to say he’ll do everything he can to “block it”. Without exception, everyone I’ve spoken to agrees that they would be sorry to no longer share a nation with Scotland, but do not blame them in the slightest for wanting to go.

    Why not? Because we too – in Wales – are fed up with being ruled over, and treated with contempt by, a bunch of incompetent toffs for whom we never voted. “New” Labour take our vote entirely for granted, and are as interested in our concerns, as the Democrats in the US are concerned about the black and minority constituents.

    Just to show how poorly Carwyn Jones represents us, take a look at the poll halfway down in this article:

    76% of us would like to see an independent Scotland. I’m actually surprised it’s that low.

  • Duncan Castles

    An interesting analysis. I truly hope it proves correct (and your concerns on postal vote rigging misplaced)!

  • Republicofscotland

    The big problem with more powers for Scotland is that more devolution will have to be approved by the Houses of Commons and Lords with their massive majority of non Scots, and that will never happen.

    Ukip, who are very realistically contending the next election, will almost assuredly actively campaign against more powers for Scotland. And Tory backbencher Christopher Chope, MP for Christchurch, with a comfortable 56% of the vote, has said that there are sufficient Tory backbenchers prepared to vote down any new legislation.

    So there you have a no vote is a wasted vote, a yes vote is the way to go.

  • Luigi

    RE: conspiracy theory: Dirty tricks could work, I suppose, if the real result is very close (although a massive YES vote is still a big problem for Westminster). If it is a large majority for YES, however, then there is simply no way that electoral fraud could be carried out on a massive scale necessary to swing the result. Any electoral fraud is high risk, but if the swing required is so massive that it cannot possibly be kept hidden, then I think HMG would at that stage, throw in the towel. In other words, a narrow NO win is the only scenario that could/would be challenged by the people of Scotland. If that happens, and we have a huge minority for YES, then the UK’s Scottish problem does not go away. In fact, it just gets ten times worse.

  • Ba'al Zevul (Insert Soundbite Here)

    You’re not a MacDonald, by any chance are you?

    I’m English. *ducks and covers* Lived in the Highlands for 25 years+, though.

  • Just Saying

    The SNP will have lost its raison d’être after a YES vote, and the Scottish (sans New) Labour Party may be expected to win a majority at Holyrood in 2016. Now common you Scots.

  • Peacewisher

    I dunno about that, Luigi. They were calling “Fraud” in Crimea and it was over 90% “Aye”.

  • Vronsky

    Contrast between campaigns very obvious to see and strongly influences voters. In Airdrie town centre today, ordinary local people were manning the Yes stall and engaging with the public. Unionist stall was manned by MPs and councillors bussed in from England and Wales. This referendum is clearly a confrontation between local people and a remote political class.

    The issue won’t go away if it’s a NO result. People can lose wars of Independence (e.g. Norway/Sweden) but continue to assert their independence.

  • Vronsky

    “The SNP will have lost its raison d’être after a YES vote, and the Scottish (sans New) Labour Party may be expected to win a majority at Holyrood in 2016. Now common you Scots.”

    After independence New Labour in Scotland will be a small group of around 3,000 people with no money. Their umbilical to London will have been cut, their influence through patronage destroyed.

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