Polling, Panelbase, VisitScotland and the Glasgow powerplay

A new poll published today by the Mail on Sunday shows 27% For independence, 56% Against and 17% Don’t Knows.

This would appear to show no movement in public opinion on this matter, following the high profile launch of the Scottish Government’s White Paper on an independent Scotland.

The poll has been conducted by Progressive Scottish Opinion and, as most polls now do, simply asked the question that will appear on the ballot paper next September: ‘Should Scotland be a independent country?’

A poll by the same company in September 2013 showed the same figure of 27% For independence, with the higher figure of 29% Against and 14% Don’t Knows, indicating a weakening in the No support.

The SNP have repeatedly insisted that the polls conducted by Panelbase – which steadily presents around 35% in favour of independence and around 45% in favour of the Union – are the most reliable. This opinion is buttressed by the fact that Panelbase was the only pollster to predict the SNP result in the 2011 Scottish elections.

The reliability of the polls in this case may be affected by how far their samples are less tuned in to and weighted for the general view across Scotland, by age, gender, economic sector etc than to the focus of the SNP’s and the Yes campaign’s recruitment effort.

It looks to us as if the most reliable indicator would be one that focused only on the area of Glasgow, Greater Glasgow and its hinterland.

This has by far the greatest percentage of the population of Scotland, fairly closely packed and the country’s real engine.

This area has its pockets of affluence but it also has massive swathes of deprivation, populated by people whose only immediate hope for better is to believe in promises, willy nilly. There is nothing else for them. Whatever the result of the referendum, however undeliverable many of the promises may be, these areas will still be at the bottom of the heap. They have nothing to lose in voting on promises.

The SNP – who are admirably intelligent on the strategic front and well organised – are focusing on Glasgow and its hinterland for very good reason.

This is the area whose sheer numbers – including concentrations of the 16 and 17 year olds who will vote for the first time in the 2014 referendum, will determine the outcome.

Its physical concentration in relation to the dispersed populations across the topographically difficult sprawl of Scotland also makes it a manageable, potentially rewarding – and measurable – core focus for recruitment.

This is the battleground and the SNP are well aware of it. It is the major target of their effort.

There is an interesting piece of evidence for how early this strategy was in place.

While November 2014 was still the accepted likely date of the independence referendum  – to take place after the Ryder Cup which is to take place at Gleneagles in Perthshire from 23rd-28th September next year – VisitScotland, effectively a department of government, made an interesting play.

The national tourism agency – openly pro-independence – invited bids for a tender for a £1 million concert for the Ryder Cup, to be held, not at Gleneagles or in the city of Perth – but in Glasgow.

The contract award was scheduled for early February.

In the meantime, the First Minister opted to bring the referendum date forwards to 18th September, judging accurately that the major impact on a Yes vote would come from the greater popular appeal of the Commonwealth Games, to be held from 23rd July to 3rd August. This leaves a scant six weeks to the 18th September where, by November, the feel good bubble would not have been fully topped up by the more elitist Ryder Cup.

Interested in the VisitScotland ploy and confused by the lack of publicity for the planned mega-cost Ryder Cup concert from an agency whose success depends upon advertisement and editorial, we waited for an announcement in early February, after the contract award date.


We contacted VisitScotland to enquire as to the identity of the successful bidder – and were met by embarassed silence followed by a lot of waffling and being passed around the organisation in search of an answer.

We were eventually told that information was embargoed because it was being rolled up in a major announcement to come within three weeks.

Nothing happened.

We made two further enquiries of VisitScotland as to the outcome of the tender – and about the missing major announcement – with no success. No one was saying anything.

It would appear that this £1 million concert – to be held in Glasgow to mark the start of the Ryder Cup – was a covert investment in recruitment for the Yes campaign [the age old Bread and Circuses routine]; and that when the referendum date was brought forwards, £1 million was not then going to be spent on a Ryder Cup concert for Glasgow.

The question now is quite what event or events, when and where – that £1 million will be spent.

This episode indicates for how long Glasgow has been the strategic focus of recruitment for the Yes campaign.

We do not know the detail of how each poll calibrates its sample – but we need to see polls focused on Glasgow and its deep surrounding hinterland in order to have any real idea how the two campaigns are going.

It may be that the Panelbase polls are aligned to the SNP recruitment strategy, in which case, while they may seem eccentric, they may actually be a reliable indicator.

The SNP’s own polling tends to turn in what they want to see. In the last General Election in 2010, they repeatedly claimed that their Argyll and Bute  candidate, Mike Mackenzie, was sweeping clear of the field in their polls.

This did not accord with the sense of public opinion we were finding. The result saw Alan Reid retain the seat, which we felt he was likely to do – but with a hefty dent in his majority delivered by the impact of Gary Mulvaney for the Scottish Conservatives in second place and by David Graham for Scottish Labour in third. Mike Mackenzie finished in fourth place.

But in house local polling is in a different league from national polling. It would be unwise to dismiss the Panelbase polls as asymmetric without knowing a lot more about the alignment of their sample.

The most recent Panelbase poll, conducted just ahead of the publication of the White Paper and commissioned by The Sunday Times and Real Radio Scotland, put 38% For independence, 47% Against and 15% Don’t knows.

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11 Responses to Polling, Panelbase, VisitScotland and the Glasgow powerplay

  1. ahh … this progressive bunch use a sample of 30000 yougov panel members online (in addition to phone & face to face) … I smell a rat!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 4

  2. This was the non BPC registered Progressive Scottish Opinion’s prediction a few weeks before the 2011 Scottish election.

    Accurate, eh?

    Constituency vote :

    Labour 43%
    SNP 37%
    Conservatives 11%
    Liberal Democrats 5%
    SSP 2%
    Greens 1%

    Regional list vote :

    Labour 44%
    SNP 37%
    Conservatives 11%
    Liberal Democrats 4%
    Greens 2%
    SSP 1%

    The Greens, incidentally, did not contest any constituency seats, but these pollsters gave them a predicted percentage.

    Perhaps you should ask both YES and NO what their private polling is suggesting. That makes a far more interesting story.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3

    • Talking of Greens, does anyone share my view that the ‘wee green man’ (as someone here dismissively said) actually talked more sense than the rest of the Question Time panel put together, at Falkirk last Thursday?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 5

      • Harvie is an excellent politician Robert, I’ve been an admirer since he came to prominence post 2003.

        His performance on debates such as QT where his views stand out, they make sense often striking a chord is nothing new.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 5

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