Observations and Reservations by John Thornton (9 November, 2014, 16 Cheshvan, 5775)
Jerusalem News (6 November, 2014, 13 Cheshvan, 5775)
#4. A CLEAR majority of Scots want to stay in the European Union while most
people in Britain want to leave.
You are quoting an article in the Edinburgh-based Scotsman, which in turn
cites the figures from a recent YouGov poll on behalf of the London-based
Sunday Times. The actual poll results can be accessed here:
During the recent Scottish Referendum [on Devolution from the UK] we were bombarded with polls
predicting one outcome or the other. Indeed one poll put the YES campaign
ahead by about 2%. That activated panic buttons in Westminster, causing the
main party leaders to descend on Scotland like the proverbial Greeks bearing
gifts. And whatever the polls predicted, or the political machinations in
dark corners, the actual result was a strong NO.
I was involved in a local capacity in that campaign and one of things I came
to do after that shock poll, was to start looking into the actual poll data,
instead of what headlines were being reported. When I did, the underlying
data painted a very different story. That also led me to the view that NO
This YouGov poll is yet another example. First of all it was conducted
across UK 1808 participants, who were asked a number of questions about
political parties, leaders and voting intentions. Pollsters accept that
the size of the sample has an inbuilt error factor. At roughly 2000, the
error factor is 1% (see:
Within the sample of 1808, only 157 Scots were interviewed -- hardly
reflective of Scotland's opinion. At that level the margin of error also
rises to 10%
When you examine the poll further you find that London and Scotland want to
stay in while the rest of Great Britain (N Ireland doesn't appear to be
included) want to leave. That is hardly homogeneous, given the widely
different demographics. The regions of England are more typical of
Scotland. In fact the swansong of the YES campaign was 'London control' and
the 'Westminster elite', against whom 45% of Scots voted. You hear the same
sentiments in Manchester and Newcastle. Moreover, the Scots are heavily
anti-Tory, who have promised a UK referendum in 2017.
Not only that but in the Referendum there were regional variations within
Scotland. No regional data for Scotland has been provided here -- indeed
that would have made the sample worse. One clue is in the demographics of
the whole sample. More younger males want to stay in the EU, while more
older people don't. More better off people want to stay while more poorer
people don't. Thus if you ask the same question in Glasgow you are likely
to get a different response than in Edinburgh or Aberdeen.
The SNP [Scottish National Party] support (also brought out in the poll) further colours the argument.
They are anti-Union, very PC, egalitarian and left-wing. They advocate
Scotland's seat at the 'big tables'. In their view, this would also give
Scotland both 'clout' the 'comfort' of being part of a big team. Of course
whether the typical SNP voter's appreciation of much more than a better deal
in life and 'Braveheart' freedom, is perhaps arguable. Thus the heavy SNP
bias does not necessarily translate into pro-EU support.
Other problems include a) how the question is asked and b) what other
questions are asked. The background and main analysis here was political
preferences and voting intentions for the 2015 UK general election -- not
the merits of the EU. It is very easy to 'lead' people down a path by
asking questions within another context, whereas if that poll was purely
about the EU it would be a different matter.
Many years ago my (then) boss made an amusing quip that I've often passed
on, viz: 'A man with his head in the oven and feet in the fridge could
arguably be at average temperature'. In my view this poll on Scottish EU
preference is about as accurate.
In fact at the recent EU elections, the Lib-Dems were in trouble and two
parties were targeting one of their Scottish seats -- the Greens and UKIP.
The Greens are very EU-friendly, while UKIP believes what is says on the
tin. They were largely vilified and ignored as being a bunch of loony
extremists. And yet it was UKIP [UK Independence Party] who won the seat from the Lib-Dems in
Scotland. That of course isn't so widely reported.
So, this was a poll that produced certain figures. Whether it shows a clear
Scottish majority in favour of EU membership remains to be seen, and
particularly if a UK Referendum is held on a much clearer basis. The
question then will not be how much Scots supposedly hate the Conservatives
(and the rest), but about a simple Yes/No to EU membership. My own view is
that Scots will not be quite as pro-EU as some people think.
However I would add a caveat to all of the above. The Referendum vote was a
clear NO. However the SNP and the YES camp do not really accept the result.
They will use the UK General Election in 2015, the Scottish Election in 2016
and potentially a UK/EU Referendum in 2017 to again promote the independence
agenda. Thus if Labour loses heavily to the SNP in 2015 (and perhaps
sending a majority of Scottish MPs to Westminster), or if the SNP have
another (or greater majority) in the 2016 Scottish Election, or indeed the
UK mainly votes to leave the EU, but Scotland doesn't (or it's closer), you
have at each stage another potential crisis for the Union. You can add to
that the growing sentiment in England for more devolution, or beyond.
All this has happened courtesy of political incompetence and infighting at
Westminster over many years, and was in fact created by the first Blair
government after 1997. The Scots rejected devolution in 1979. In 1999,
Scotland was supposed to have had a parliament and a voting system that
could never elect an SNP majority, but that voting system didn't work.
Though I don't want to see it in my lifetime, the cry for independence and
the breakup of the Union is not going away soon.
Scottish Broth by John Thornton