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Wings Over Scotland

Premature evaluation

Posted on February 01, 2012 by

There could have been nothing more predictable in the independence debate than that the Unionist parties, having furiously demanded a clear, simple, yes/no question for the last eight months, would be in a tumultuous rage when they finally got one. The First Minister had barely announced the Scottish Government’s chosen ten-word proposition to the Scottish people when a chorus of angry voices in the Unionist camp were on the airwaves denouncing it as “leading”, “unfair” and “rigged”.

Supposed experts were hastily summoned to explain to us how the phrasing of the question was designed to lead brainless voters down a “cognitive chute”, because the poor stupid Scottish electorate had no idea of what the SNP meant by “independent”. The Telegraph leapt into action, conducting its own polls with various possible versions of the question in an attempt to demonstrate how widely responses could be altered by simple changes in wording. It then swiftly wrote up the results in doom-laden terms, thundering in the article’s strapline that:

“The “loaded” question Alex Salmond wants to ask in the Scottish independence referendum leads to at least a 10-point increase in public support for ending the Union”

That analysis came a little TOO swiftly, as it turned out.

Because the Telegraph left the polls running after it published the story, and as the sample size grew, something very odd happened. The results for the different versions of the question all started to coalesce around almost identical numbers. Rather than the 10% variation described in the story, four out of the five options delivered outcomes that were only fractionally different. At the time of writing, the results (which you can see for yourself by going to the page linked in the second paragraph of this piece and clicking the “View Results” button for each poll) were as follows:

Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?
YES 52%
NO 48%

Do you want Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom?
YES 51%
NO 49%

Do you want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom and become an independent country?
YES 51%
NO 49%

Do you want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom and become a separate nation?
YES 51%
NO 49%

Do you think the Scottish Parliament’s powers should be extended to enable independence to be achieved?
YES 44%
NO 56%

Even the outlier version at the end, asking an absurd question even we don’t understand (exactly which extended powers would “enable” independence to be achieved, rather than actually achieving it in themselves?), only managed to bring about a 7% swing. Of the three other versions, two resulted in independence winning by 51-49 and 52-48, including the one featuring the S-word on which the Unionist camp appears to be mainly pinning its hopes thus far.

Interestingly, the FUDs had more luck with a “positive” question (that is, one seeking a Yes answer for the Union rather than for independence) than with the scaremongering negative versions, scoring a narrow victory with the simple “Do you want Scotland to remain part of the UK?”, a formulation which has absolutely no chance of being adopted. But although it changed the result, even that question only actually altered the vote by 3% compared to the Scottish Government’s proposed version (the first one listed above), not the 10% claimed by the Telegraph.

We commend the Telegraph for leaving the piece on the site to be mocked, even though the entire text is now totally at odds with the reality. Perhaps in time the numbers will evolve further and we’ll be the ones looking stupid. But for now, amidst the fiery heat of debate, we can all enjoy a little light relief at their expense.

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1 to “Premature evaluation”

  1. Shodan

    The SNP and others on the independance camp seem to be very pleased at this poll. A poll on the Torygraph (of all places) and it still shows either support or a very close run battle after several thousand votes. So much for their polls claiming no one wanted it to happen. Cheers Telegraph, the independance camp could do with more of this sort of help.

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