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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  • Republicofscotland

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

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

    I see, its just that some MacDonald’s still feel the way you feel about Campbells, due to the Glencoe Massacre, I’m neither Campbell nor MacDonald.

  • Muscleguy

    Just come back from a series of flying pop up Yes (RIC) mini stalls and leafleting. Jumping around Dundee to catch different crowds. We had a French journalist from l’Humanité (sp?) who moved about with us, interviewing each of us and showing great interest.

    When Severin Carrell from the Guardian came with us for a mass canvas he showed not the blindest bit of interest in us as people motivated to give our time to the campaign.

    Never fear, the world press is watching Scotland with intense interest. What we are doing with our anarchic, uncentralised grassroots campaign is remarkable and I’m sure will be copied abroad. We have taken what Obama did in his first election campaign, adapted and improved it.

    Can’t stay long though, back out again this evening. It’s tiring, but we are on the final stretch. I’m a runner, that is when you need to spend every bit of strength. Saving some to get the vote out on Thurs. We are copying the SNP’s expertise in this. We know where our voters are from extensive canvassing and we will have the boots on the ground to chap their doors and get them to the polls by encouragement or a called car if necessary. BT/U-KOK/NT simply do not have the boots and if they have them they are elderly. 7am to 10pm is a long time. In the battle of getting the vote out, we will win.

    BTW Dundee will vote Yes by a big margin. You can hold me to that. I’ve chapped a lot of the doors and totalled my canvass returns, so have others in RIC. There are way more people in the schemes than the middle class areas in this city and they are overwhelmingly Yes.

  • nevermind, Scotland wird bald frei sein

    Thanks for that encouraging news from the frontline Muscleguy, you’re doing a splendid job. Hope you have your ‘ballot box watch’ teams ready, do not let these ballot boxes out of your sight, take their manufacturing numbers, weigh them when the voting is finished and they are about to be moved, and/or stick you very own tape over the lid so it can’t be open without breaking the seal.
    There is no need for anybody but the counting agents to have access to the ballot boxes.
    Good luck with the running.

    Thanks for the joke Doug, it has improved my cooking of tea tremendously tonight, all in a sudden the flavours emerge….

  • Richard Gadsden

    It reminds me a lot of 1992, though. Lots of noise, complete conviction we were finally going to get rid of the Tories… and then the bubble burst in the last few days.

    There was a mini-version of this with Cleggmania in 2010, but 1992 seems like the more solid comparison.

    Of course, it also reminds me of 1997, which is a more optimistic omen.

  • Windy Miller

    Doug Scorgie,

    My point is that if Scotland goes independent then it will split the Labour Party. They would probably be in hopeless opposition in Scotland and also not not big enough in England to form a Government.

    So as I see it, voting Yes in Scotland is almost a vote for Conservatives in the rUK.

    No need to get upset.

  • Anon1

    Just make sure you have those excuses ready.

    1) It was rigged
    2) It was the English
    3) It was Fatcher

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !

    “I too am worried about vote rigging. I’m concerned there may be people who live in England who have gone to Scotland and stayed with friends there for just long enough to register to vote then they will go back to England right after they voted. This I think is against all the principles of democracy.

    I am also concerned that our local community forum, which is run by a local councillor, has banned all those posters who argued for a No vote from posting there. I don’t think there is much chance of a fair count in his area.”

    This is worrying – but I’m glad that Fred has turned the “vote rigging” argument against the Yessers. It was time that they got back a little of what they’re doling out day after day.

  • glenn_uk

    Ben: I should have got some old shoes to hurl at the warmongers in Newport!

    It was kind of ridiculous to see tanks and fighter-jets parked over the golf course surrounding the hotel. I know they’ve got to put on a show of force and all that, but come on.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !

    Greg Dunn’s comments are open to critical comment, to say the least.

    1/. “My own feelings are that the NO voters fall into three groups. Those who are older and well off and don’t want change. They are happy to let future generations be worse off and simply don’t care.”

    The underlying assumption here of course is that future generations will be WORSE OFF in the Union and that, conversely, they will be BETTER OFF in an independent Scotland. Now, that assumption is questionable per se and should in any event, in all logic, be rejected by those on here who believe that life in all its aspects is not run and determined by govts but by the impersonal and irresistable forces of global capitalism.

    2/. “Then there are the die hard “Unionists” – those who have little brain power and only come out in groups when they feel safe.”

    The first part of that sentence is a rather foolish conflation and the second part is meaningless.


    3/. “The last group are the die hard Labour supporters. They hate the SNP for doing what their own party ought to be doing – that is providing a Social Democratic alternative to the selfish greed racist agenda of the Tories and the UKIP.”

    Again there is an underlying assumption here. This is that the SNP (the governing party in Scotland at the moment, I understand) IS providing such an alternative and, moreover, that it WILL provide that alternative in even greater measure in the future. In fact, there is also an assumption there that the SNP will be the governing party in a future independent Scotland. It seems to me that the first of these is not proven and the second and third are highly speculative – in fact, “acts of faith”.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !

    Komodo-Baal writes

    “Scottish independence, win or lose, is a promising shakeup.”

    I’d agree that this could be an outcome, but not necessarily a positive one (from the point of view of many).

    After all, it could take form of a more or less permanent Conservative – or Conservative/UKIP govt in rUK.

    That outcome would not be very pleasing to most of the commenters on this blog, I should imagine except insofar as it would offer them ample commenting material for years ahead.

  • Ba'al Zevul (For Scotland)

    RoS – Yes, I got the point. No English or Campbells in the Clachaig…(been there, mumbled, got served.) King William’s fight, not mine, anyway.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !

    “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.”

    A lot of common sense in the above comment.

    And if it – oh! vain hope, surely! – would put a stop to all the useless prognostications on here at least temporarily, many of this blog’s regular readers would owe the commenter a hearty thank you. 🙂

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !

    Mr 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.”

    That is interesting and I thank you for bringing it to my attention, Doug.

    Do you have a position on that eventuality?

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !

    Mr Scorgie

    ““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”

    Just curious, Doug. Is curiosity allowed in your mental democracy?

    They most certainly do have the right to their opinions. It would be good if you could remember that great truth when responding to comments made by others on other themes.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !

    “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?”

    Most certainly not – according to his recent claim, he’s English, lives in Wimbledon London and doesn’t have a vote on the referendum.

    If yo can believe him, that is – he does tend to change his personal details over time 🙂

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !

    Mr Scorgie

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

    Why wait until then?

    As I have asked before, would it not be better for elections to be held before the end of this year , if for no other reason than to achieve a popular mandate for the thrust and broad detail of the negotiations with rUK on the basis of the various parties’ positions?

    What say you Doug, as a serious poster and true democrat? (Careful how you answer- I’ve noted what you’ve said about this being a referendum on the principle of independence and the principle of independence independence only!)

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !


    “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”

    Forgive me a rather personal question, but do you feel that ballot rigging was responsible/partly responsible for your own very modest performance at the local election you recently stood in?

    Thank you for any insights from personal experience here.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !

    Ben (California Nazi)

    ““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.”


    Please make an effort to follow Captain Komodo-Baal’s suggestions and stay ON TOPIC for once.

    I would not like to think that you were guilty of either deviation or lack of self-discipline.

    Thank you.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !


    “Because we too – in Wales – are fed up with being ruled over by… a bunch of incompetent toffs for whom we never voted.”

    With respect, it’s called (parliamentary) democracy, Glenn.

    Had I voted in a certain constituency in the UK at the last general election, I would now be represented in the House of Commons by simeone I hadn’t voted for. That MP would nevertheless have a say in legislation which might (or might not) affect me.

    You normally post at the sane end of the spectrum and I’m surprised.

  • nevermind, Scotland wird bald frei sein

    Seven smelly farts, one after the other, and not a sound to be heard, Take note readers, our desperate schoolmaster has taken to talk to himself, bless.

  • Peacewisher

    Watching Channel 4 news. Relaxed, and balanced, and don’t really care if they are talking to a “Yes” voter or “No” voter. This is the way it should be done.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !


    “Seven smelly farts, one after the other, and not a sound to be heard, Take note readers, our desperate schoolmaster has taken to talk to himself, bless.”

    Do you ever contribute anything of substance, Ingo?

    How about your thoughts on the alleged ballot rigging (your personal experience of standing for election might surely be of relevance and interest here)?

    Of course, not a peep out of the others I’ve had the honour of addressing. No surprises there!

  • Anon1

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

    What a scraper.

  • guano


    Ruth is a pre-eminence, whose comments specialise in the field of financial law bending by the UK Quo ( Zero status junk stock ).

    She was here before you were a neo-con twinkle in the Ziombie necropolis of Thatcher Victoriana.

    This campaign is not a nationalist struggle, it is a re-statement of basic moral principles. What about you? Where do you come from ?

  • Republicofscotland

    Do you ever contribute anything of substance, Ingo?

    How about your thoughts on the alleged ballot rigging (your personal experience of standing for election might surely be of relevance and interest here)?

    Of course, not a peep out of the others I’ve had the honour of addressing. No surprises there!

    Stop spamming this thread almost 8 garbage comments on the trot.

  • ayetalks

    The polls are wrong because they are weighting them according to the ratio of socio-economic groups who voted in previous elections.

    Different pollsters are using different rations, depending on which elections they’re using.

    None of them are right because there is no previous election that gives a stable picture of who is going to vote.

    Hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged and previously politically dormant people are voting and nobody knows how and nobody is counting them in their polls.

  • Hugh Wallace

    Craig, your experience chimes with my own. Though Aberdeen is not, it has to be said, quite as Yes as Glasgow is.

    @Ron – If 13% of the people Craig observe were wearing Yes badges it appears a little absurd to attribute that to crowd behaviour. It is far more likely that the 87% not wearing badges were conforming to such behaviour and that a lot of them are inclined towards Yes though showing no outward signs of it. As an example, Aberdeen had a Yes Flash Mob on Sunday which lingered on for a couple of hours along Union Street. What was interesting to observe were the number of vehicles tooting horns in support of Yes which were NOT showing Yes badges. The support for Yes is far, far greater than the number of badges and posters suggest (though that is true of No too).

  • sjb

    As I understand it, all of the polls have been conducted by one of three methods: Internet, telephone, or face-to-face interview.

    Therefore, is it possible that very poor voters have been missed? By “very poor” I mean people without easy access to a pc or telephone? And those that live in sparsely populated areas may have been missed in face-to-face interviews because of the cost in reaching them.

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