Our poll has already established that the Scottish public is deeply sceptical of the No camp’s vague, equivocal dangling of unspecified new powers as an incentive to reject independence. But we also wanted to find out how much they believed the output of the two official campaign groups in general.
As mainly politicians are involved, you can probably guess the results.
We picked a list of eight people, four from each side, as closely corresponding to each other as possible. We had the chairmen of “Better Together” and Yes Scotland, and the directors of each campaign. Then we added some flat-out politicians.
Nicola Sturgeon and Anas Sarwar were easy choices – they represent the two biggest parties in Scotland and each leads their respective party’s referendum campaign. We were going to match up Alex Salmond with David Cameron, but in truth the PM has contributed very little to the debate so we went for the nearest thing Scotland had to a First Minister before devolution – Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore.
As with almost all the questions in the poll, the order in which the names were presented to respondents was random. We offered a range of four replies – “Always tells the truth”, “Mostly tells the truth”, “Rarely tells the truth” and “Never tells the truth”. We also had options for “I haven’t heard them speak about independence” and “I don’t know who they are”.
The politicians were mostly well-known, although 40% of Scottish voters had never heard of Anas Sarwar and a startling 34% didn’t know who Michael Moore was. (The figure for Alex Salmond was 4%. And goodness knows who the 7% of Scots who knew who the FM was but have never heard him talk about independence were.)
The campaign heads were much less well known – with the exception of Alistair Darling, who was unrecognised by just 8%. A slightly surprising 36% didn’t know Dennis Canavan, and the two Blairs both had a majority of Scots scratching their heads, being unknown to 55% of respondents (Jenkins) and 56% (McDougall).
Tallying each person’s positive votes against their negative ones, we found, rather disturbingly, that absolutely NONE of the eight had a net positive rating. In every single case, more people thought the candidate was (always or mostly) lying than (always or mostly) telling the truth.
Panelbase calculated a “mean score” for each one, counting the “Always” responses more strongly than the “Mostly” ones to get an overall trust rating (out of 4), and we’ve ordered the candidates below according to that mean rating, the most trusted first.
In brackets we’ve put their net truth rating, discounting the two categories of Don’t Knows and calculating “Always or mostly truthful” against “Rarely or never truthful” from the respondents who expressed an opinion one way or the other.
There was a distinct pattern to the results.
Q: On the basis of what you’ve personally seen and heard, which of these people do you think are telling the truth about independence?
Alex Salmond 2.4 (-3)
Nicola Sturgeon 2.4 (-5)
Dennis Canavan 2.3 (-19)
Blair Jenkins 2.2 (-31)
Alistair Darling 2.2 (-27)
Michael Moore 2.0 (-43)
Anas Sarwar 2.0 (-47)
Blair McDougall 1.9 (-62)
Our poll found that on the mean figures all four Yes representatives were trusted more than any of the No representatives. And the combined net trust ratings of the two sides, among respondents who expressed an opinion, were Yes -58, No -179, making the No campaign slightly over three times as distrusted as Yes.
(Our sample was divided almost precisely half and half between supporters of broadly Yes parties – SNP, Green – and the broadly No parties ie Lab, Con and Lib Dem.)
The First Minister’s score is still negative, but impressive considering that a large proportion of “Better Together” campaigning to date has been focused on specifically portraying him personally as a liar. He was still mistrusted by fractionally more people than trusted him, but was nevertheless a very clear head and shoulders above everyone except his own deputy.
Blair McDougall, conversely, must be quite relieved that hardly anyone’s heard of him, because when he does speak a huge majority of the people who hear him – 81% against 19% – think he’s lying. (Extra-strangely, the worst trust ratings on the two sides are the only two people who HAVEN’T been professional politicians.)
We also asked one other question about whether people believed what they were told.
Independence supporters regularly accuse the No camp of trying to put across the notion that Scotland is “too wee, too poor and too stupid” to survive alone.
Willie Rennie recently told a debate in Edinburgh that some people on his side did indeed hold and express that view, but “Better Together” hotly disputes the allegation, and its official line is that Scotland could thrive on its own but is better off in the UK. We asked people which they believed was its true opinion.
Q: Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and member of the “Better Together” campaign, recently said: “I reject the arguments that some people make on my side that Scotland is too poor and too stupid. I think it’s well capable of being a vibrant, successful nation.”
Based on what your own experience of the debate, which of those two viewpoints do you think most closely represents the attitude of the “Better Together” campaign AS A WHOLE towards independence?
They believe that Scotland is “too poor and too stupid” to be a successful independent country. 23%
They believe that Scotland could be a “vibrant, successful” independent nation, but should stay in the UK anyway. 39%
I don’t know what they believe. 38%
An eminently spinnable outcome, then. A sizeable plurality of those who expressed a view thought that the No camp really did see Scotland as a viable independent nation. On the other hand, that plurality was well short of an actual majority of respondents, with a hefty 61% of Scots either being unable to tell or downright disbelieving them.
It’s a tricky line for “Better Together” to walk. The more they convince Scottish voters that Scotland would be a healthy independent state, the more tempting a proposition it becomes – given that we learned from the first three questions that Scottish people actually WANT independence, as long as you don’t call it that.
The word itself frightens them and sounds like an awfully big step, but if both sides keep telling them Scotland would do fine running its own affairs, the fear fades and they’re increasingly likely to start drifting in the direction they really want to go.
But if the “we cannae dae it” subtext of much No campaigning takes hold, the more depressing and miserable and negative their campaign becomes, and there are widespread signs that such an approach is already driving supporters away. It’s quite a balancing act to have to maintain for another year.
*All figures are rounded to the nearest whole number. Figures may not add up to exactly 100%, either due to rounding or the type of question.