Please don’t think this is a bad news blog for the independence movement; a major poll showing 58% support for independence as the headline number is great news and I am also not saying it was inaccurate in any way but I doubt it will be repeated.
Back in Jan 2020 when I launched the Believe in Scotland campaign I set a goal of 55% Yes by summer 2020 and 60% by the end of Jan 2021 I was told that they were risky targets to set but I still don’t think so. For me, the key will be that by the end of Jan 2021 we will have seen the end of the Brexit transition period and so all those EU referendum Remainers who also voted No in 2014 will know what the post-Brexit trade arrangements will be. I believe that will be the point at which Remain voters will have all the evidence they need to switch to Yes and that could add between 3% and 5% to the current headline Yes figure.
Just a few weeks ago when I interviewed two polling experts – Mark Diffley and James Kelly – for the Believe in Scotland Yes group leaders conference they both claimed that my target of 60% was unobtainable. James still holds that belief and I have a great deal of respect for his polling analysis but on this, I fundamentally disagree.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not wed to the idea of not calling a referendum till we have polls hitting a consistent 60% – I believe Yes would win from a lower number. The 60% target figure is more based on how much I want to win by (at least) so that we carry enough of the nation with us that nation building is not inhibited by unionist trouble makers. 55% No didn’t kill the dream of an independent Scotland and 55% Yes isn’t, in my opinion, the number that will kill unionism stone dead.
So if I believe that 60% is achievable in 2021, why do I think it’s unlikely that 58% will be bettered or even matched in 2020?
The answer is in the polling methodology; all polls conducted this year asking the standard Yes/No question have been online polls and those involve panels of respondents who have agreed to complete online polls for a company for some form of payment. The respondents get loads of polls to do and the political polls are mixed in with those. So the people who register for panels are often more opinionated and politically motivated than the general public. That doesn’t mean that the polls are inaccurate, just that online polls may have small differences in the top line figures compared to telephone polls where random households are called by the polling company on a shorter more specific set of questions.
So what next?
The Ipsos-Mori, 2nd-9th October 2020 for STV was a telephone poll and returned Yes 58%, No 42%at a time when the previous high was the Panelbase, 12th – 18th August for Business for Scotland (an online panel poll, obviously) which recorded the 55% Yes, 45% No reversal of the 2014 result.
Almost all polls commissioned nowadays are online panel polls as they are much cheaper to do than telephone polls. However, randomly calling people’s houses is becoming less efficient as fewer and fewer people own house phones. But during lockdown when people are more likely to be in they are more likely to get answered than previously. Older folk still have house phones but those you get from random calling may be less politically engaged and so less set in their ways than those who register for online polls. Therefore you could argue are more open to reflect the genuine momentum in Yes support.
Due to the expense of telephone polling, the next few polls are likely to be online panel polls and I would expect any that land in October and November to register between 54% and 57%. If I had to pick a number I would suggest 56% will be recorded by an online panel in late October or early November barring any significant political disasters on either side. So don’t be disappointed with a lower Yes figure in the next poll.
What we do know is that the momentum remains strongly with the Yes movement and with the advantage of a sustained lead more and more undecided and past No voters are taking the prospect of independence seriously and are engaging with the campaign materials put out by Business for Scotland and Believe in Scotland and all our active local Yes groups.
We are winning the economic argument, but we need a stronger economic vision for the future, one based on wellbeing economics not neo-capitalism and a commitment to raising pensions to at least the EU average to end pensioner poverty. Add that to a No Deal Brexit and then 60% will be within reach regardless of the polling methodology.