independence

The independence referendum is still being fought in Scotland, but this time the nationalists are winning. This is one implication from 16 constituency polls commissioned by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft and released on Wednesday.

They support what has been increasingly obvious ever since Scots voted No on September 18: there is a new landscape in Scottish politics. The Scottish Nationalist party is projected to replace Labour as the dominant force north of the border.

Here are the headline results of Lord Ashcroft’s polls (click to expand):

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Since Scots voted against independence on September 18 the Scottish National party has surged in opinion polls and appointed a new, popular leader; pro-independence journalists have launched a newspaper, The National; and the Scottish government is preparing to wield more power than any other devolved parliament in Europe.

“No” voters could be forgiven for considering theirs a pyrrhic victory. After all, 55 per cent of Scottish voters opted against independence. Nevertheless, this was not a vote for the status quo. A majority of Scots want more devolution. The leaders of three biggest (for now) UK political parties belatedly then rashly promised as much on the eve of the independence referendum. On Thursday, the Smith Commission, charged with working out the details of further devolution, will issue its recommendations.

Although the comparison is imperfect, the recommendations will mark the point when Scotland becomes, in fiscal terms, the Basque Country of the United Kingdom.


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I watched as much of the televised/streamed debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling as possible given the STV Player’s own independence struggles.

Here are some impressions I took from the evening:

1. The format of the debate did not serve to enlighten the public. Candidates were allowed to “cross-examine” each other but as Mr Darling, a lawywer, would have been well aware, this is impossible to do forensically in such a short time. He shouted a bit, which looked bad, while Mr Salmond asked about aliens, which was odd. It reminded me at times of a fervent night in an Edinburgh pub. The questions from the audience were smart (see below) but there were too many of them. The candidates were not able to answer them in full, through no fault of their own. Read more

An independent Scotland would not have to join the EU. But most Scots want Scotland to be an EU member and it is a central plank of SNP policy. There is no precedent, however, for what happens if part of a member state becomes independent and wishes to remain part of the EU. (Greenland, Germany and Czechoslovakia are all relevant but different cases.) This is one reason why both sides have been vigorously engaging in claim and counter-claim over EU law.

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On September 11, 1997, Scots voted for a devolved parliament with tax-raising powers. If that seems like a long time ago consider that there are tens of thousands of Scots born after the devolution vote who are eligible to vote on independence. These teenagers were also born after Braveheart was released – and how it shows: they seem to be far from the ardent Yes voters that many nationalists hoped for.

When it was announced that 16- and 17-year-olds would be eligible to vote in the referendum on independence, I instinctively thought that this would give a wee boost to the Yes side. Here are voters who have grown up under a devolved parliament. They are another generation removed from those with powerful experiences of British institutions and events such as the second world war. And why would Alex Salmond want them to vote if they were not more likely to be in the Yes camp?

Nevertheless, research by Dr Jan Eichhorn and his colleagues from the University of Edinburgh suggests that young Scottish voters are sceptical of independence. If accurate, these surveys will have negative implications for the Yes campaign. Young Scots may turn out to be yet another example of the ungrateful enfranchised; both Disraeli and Wilson were turfed out by the electorate they expanded. Read more

In the comments to an earlier post on whether the Yes vote in the independence referendum is being exaggerated, JeanJacques writes:

“Everyone of these ‘institutional’ polling agencies predicted a Labour victory in Holyrood 2011. They have zero credibility.”

This is a notion whose ubiquity is inversely related to its accuracy. It is not true.

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Another thing one hears from Scottish opinion poll watchers is that there may be a version of the Shy Tory effect happening ahead of the independence referendum. This is another reason they give for why the Yes vote may lower than polls suggest.

Behind these results lies a theory: the “spiral of silence”. This is where an individual is reluctant to give his opinion because of what he perceives to be the views of a vocal majority, and where this reticence has a knock-on effect on others’ silence. (Hence the spiral.)

One paper on the subject lists three criteria for the spiral: (1) The issue must have a moral component to it; (2) There is a time factor or dynamic aspect of public opinion; (3) There is ubiquitous and consonant mass media coverage

Sound like any referendum you have heard about? Read more

“Why do opinion polls in Scotland vary so much?” asks Peter Kellner. It is an important question. An answer would give us a clue as to what will happen in the independence referendum. The president of YouGov is puzzled by the results from his and other polling companies. He produces this table by way of argument:

Mr Kellner has taken the past five or six polls from five of the main pollsters and calculated the average for the Yes vote. Next to that column he shows the range in the Yes vote across the five or six polls. Aside from ICM, these ranges are narrow.

He wants us to take two things from this table. First, that there has been very little movement in any of the individual polls since Christmas 2013. Second, that there is a curious difference between the results of YouGov and TNS, which place the Yes vote between 39-42, and Panelbase and Survation, which report higher totals. Read more

I recommend following Election Data; he makes cool maps like this:

It takes data from the latest ICM poll on Scottish independence and applies them to a map of Scotland’s regions. The numbers refer to what share of the electorate say they do not know how they will vote on September 18. There are maps showing the spread of the Yes and No vote on Election Data’s ever-informative Twitter feed.

The highest shares are found in the borders and in Glasgow but as pollsters have tried to explain before, geography isn’t the best way to split the undecided vote. Better to look at a person’s interest in politics (the apathetic being generally more persuadable) and, intriguingly, gender. The latest Ipsos Mori poll showed a 50:50 Yes- No split among men but women voting 2:1 in favour of keeping the union. Read more

Regardless of what Scots vote for in the independence referendum on September 18, Scotland will have more power over its own affairs by the end of the decade. That is the inexorable consequence of the report on devolution published today by the Conservative party, the latest from one of the main Westminster parties into what further powers Holyrood would be granted even if Scots were to vote No. Read more

They live in a town in the central belt, a few minutes off the M8 motorway that runs between Glasgow and Edinburgh. On the rare occasions when they talk about their national identities, they say they feel both Scottish and British; they cheer for Mo Farah and the Scottish football team. They are instinctively cynical towards politics and pay it scant attention but the referendum coverage has been unavoidable. Traditional Labour voters, they broke with the party in the Scottish elections of 2011, when she opted for the Scottish Nationalists and he stayed at home. She liked what the SNP had to say about childcare while he could not trust any pledge. Like up to one-fifth of Scots, they have yet to make up their minds about independence. Read more

Mr Osborne, like Mark Carney before him, seems to have had no impact on voting intention. The ten opinion polls conducted since the chancellor’s speech in Edinburgh on February 13 show that “the currency intervention has not had a fundamental impact on the referendum race”, according to John Curtice, Scotland’s top psephologist. An average of those polls show the Yes vote on 43 per cent (excluding the all-important don’t knows), a two percentage point increase on the average between the start of the year and the speech. When asked by TNS BMRB, a polling company, to rank issues in order of importance to their independence voter, Scots placed currency eighth.

The good news for Better Together is that currency does not seem to matter much for Scots ahead of the vote on September 18. And yet the bad news for Better Together is that monetary union does not seem to be a decisive issue.

Let me try to explain this apparent contradiction. Read more

In the film There Will Be Blood, Daniel Plainview, a monomaniacal oilman played by Daniel Day-Lewis, tries to lowball the Sunday family, whose hydrocarbon-rich land he covets, by claiming that he wants their acreage for quail-hunting. But Eli Sunday knows Plainview’s real intentions. He asks for $5,000, ostensibly to invest in his evangelical church. Many years later, Eli, who never received the money from Plainview, tracks the multi-millionaire oilman down in his Xanadu. Eli complains of past grievances and brings a quixotic plan for future exploration of the Sunday land.

I won’t spoil the ending but there is something – an admittedly tenuous something – of the Eli Sunday in the Scottish National party’s arguments about North Sea oil and gas. Alex Salmond’s party is right to be critical of how opportunities were wasted but it is too sanguine about what oil and gas would offer an independent Scotland. Read more

An independent Scotland would be refused entry to a monetary union with the rest of the UK, according to reports on Wednesday. George Osborne, Ed Balls and Danny Alexander – a Cerberus of currency doom – are later this week expected to individually reject the Scottish National party’s proposal for a formal sterling union. I do not know whether this means a monetary union would be ruled out under any circumstances – but words being used by those involved in the interventions include “definitive” and “emphatic”. So far, the chancellor has said that a monetary union would be “very difficult”. Read more

On Wednesday, Mark Carney made a speech about the issues an independent Scotland would have to consider if it were to seek a currency union with the rest of the UK.

Although the Bank of England governor insisted that his remarks were of the technocratic variety, their political implication was obvious: a currency union would require the ceding of sovereignty by the newly independent country. There would need to be a banking union, “shared fiscal arrangements” and an agreement over how the BoE would provide facilities to Scottish banks as lender of last resort. The history of the eurozone gave Mr Carney’s speech its context; it was one of the best that Jean-Claude Trichet never gave. Read more