An interesting new development for polling in Scotland over the weekend. Concerned about the paucity of published polls about the referendum, the pro-independence website, Wings Over Scotland, raised from its own readers the funds needed to commission a poll from Panelbase. To the best of my knowledge this is the first time that a conventional political poll has been funded in Scotland via crowdsourcing.
Wings over Scotland eschewed asking people how they will vote in response to the referendum question. They did though choose a rather complicated question in which people were asked ‘if you currently know how plan to vote in the referendum, how does that intention compare to the official position of the party you voted for in the WESTMINSTER general election in 2010’, offering them answer options along the lines of ‘I plan to vote No and the party I supported backs a No vote’, etc. The results seemingly point to a much narrower referendum outcome than even other Panelbase polls have done, with 36% saying they will No and 34% Yes.
However no less than 30% said they did not know how they would vote in the referendum, much higher than in other polls, while, more seriously, there was no option that allowed the 36% of Scots that stayed at home in May 2010 to say how they proposed to vote. Apart from the potential for confusion in such a complex question, given this limitation we simply cannot be sure that those who felt able to say Yes or No are representative of the views of all Scots.
If a survey is to acquire reliable information on how many people propose to vote in line with the recommendation of the party they support it needs to ask not one question but two – how do people propose to vote in the referendum and how they would vote in an election or how they voted in the past – and then cross-analyse the results to see how many people say both Yes and SNP, etc. We should not expect survey respondents to do the work for us.
Even so, there might still be some food for thought for the No side to mull over in the poll. As many other polls and surveys have found, the Wings poll uncovers an appetite for Holyrood to have a wider range of domestic powers and responsibilities than it has at the moment. Clear majorities say that welfare benefits (60%), oil revenues (53%) and taxation (52%) should fall within Holyrood’s ambit. (It is just that, as other polls have also found, a majority draw the line at giving it responsibility for the quintessential attribute of an independent state, defence (35%)). Yet despite the many noises from the unionist parties to the contrary, there is widespread doubt that anything much will happen in the event of a No vote. Only 21% think welfare will be devolved 14% taxation, and just 8% oil revenues.
To some degree these figures should not come as a surprise. If one looks at the proposals for more devolution that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have published so far, oil revenues would not be devolved at all and welfare only at the edges. But there are reasonably extensive proposals for more taxation powers that apparently have as yet cut little ice with voters. It would seem the No side has a credibility gap on the more powers issue – though it is a pity that Wings seemingly encouraged respondents in this view by prefacing the question with a long and somewhat circuitous quote from Alistair Darling. Hopefully another poll will investigate the issue in a more neutral fashion
Still, there is also other less debatable evidence in the poll to suggest that the credibility of its protagonists is not the No side’s strongest card. True, voters do not necessarily have a great deal of confidence in the veracity of the Yes side. Slightly more people (46%) think that Alex Salmond is ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ telling the truth about independence than think he is ‘always’ or ‘mostly’ doing so (43%). However, at -3 the gap is a narrow one. Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon emerges in much the same light.
Above all, the figures for those on the No side are far worse. Only 28% reckon Alistair Darling always or mostly tells the truth, while 47% reckons he never or rarely does so, a net rating of -19. Meanwhile, at -20 the rating of the Scottish Secretary, Michael Moore, is even lower – though in his case his biggest problem is that half of voters either do not know who he is or have not heard him speak about independence. But is there anyone else who could prove a more effective cheerleader for the No side?
You can explore the results from this poll for yourself on this site.