I see yon Birkie Foulkes is at it again in the House of Lairds. This time trying to get an another amendment to that dead duck which is called the Scotland Act. This time he wants legislation to prevent the Scottish Government from including a question on further powers in the referendum.
It is all a horrendous waste of time and money. The chances of this Act getting agreed by the Scottish Parliament, with all these daft Lordly interventions into it, are slimmer than zero.
It is actually another Lord who is getting my attention today, a certain Lord Ashcroft. I have no idea what he may have been getting up to it in that unelected chamber, but it is the Spectator Magazine which brought him to my attention today.
Seemingly this Lord has been commissioning his own opinion poll into the question of how the question on Scottish Independence is asked?
Like the rest of his Unionist pals, he thinks the current question is rigged in favour of Independence, and he wanted to prove it by means of a poll, asking 3000 Scots three versions of the question.
Here is some of what Jonathan Jones of the Spectator had to say about it.
“A very useful contribution from Lord Ashcroft this morning, in the form of a poll he’s commissioned on Scottish independence. What sets Ashcroft’s poll apart from previous surveys is that he asks three different questions to three different sets of around 1,000 Scots.
The first is the question Alex Salmond wants on the ballot paper at the referendum: ‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?’ 41 per cent say ‘Yes’ and 59 per cent say ‘No’. The second alters the wording only slightly, to ‘Do you agree or disagree…’ and finds 39 per cent agreeing (i.e. supporting independence) and 61 per cent disagreeing. So far, fairly consistent: the difference between these two sets of results is within the poll’s margin of error.
But ‘agree or disagree’ questions have a tendency to bias results towards the ‘agree’ side. Anthony Wells pointed this out in a great post a couple of days ago, with some examples. For example, a single poll last month had both 74 per cent agreeing that ‘The Government should not increase public borrowing any further and its top priority should be to pay off the nation’s deficit as soon as possible’ and 49 per cent agreeing ‘The Government should borrow more in the short term to increase economic growth as much as possible even if it means reducing the deficit more slowly’. In other words, at least 23 per cent of respondents said both that borrowing should be increased AND that borrowing should not be increased.
To counteract this phenomenon, Ashcroft’s third question asks people to choose between two different options: ‘Should Scotland become an independent country, or should it remain part of the United Kingdom?’ Under this formulation, he finds significantly greater support for the union: 33 per cent choose independence, against 67 for staying in the UK. As well as avoiding the bias towards agreement, Ashcroft suggests two other reasons for this question finding less support for independence than Salmond’s:
‘First, the use of “be”, rather than “become”. Asking whether Scotland “should become an independent country” emphasises, however faintly, that people would be voting for a significant change. This would probably dampen enthusiasm for independence… Second, and more striking still, the Salmond Formulation does not mention the United Kingdom – a point made powerfully by Alistair Darling, among others.’
Ashcroft’s poll proves that the wording of the referendum question can have a significant effect on the results. It also gives the lie to the SNP’s claim that this week’s Ipsos MORI poll confirmed ‘that the momentum is with the independence case’ — as they were comparing a more neutrally worded older poll with the new poll which used Salmond’s question.
What this all means is that, if the true will of the Scottish people is to be gauged in a referendum, a different — less biased — question will have to be on the ballot paper. As Ashcroft says, ‘The question is too important to be asked in such a partisan way’. ”
Ok, fair enough, I have got the argument. Now what I want to do is to examine this seemingly powerful opinion, based on social research principles.
A 3000 strong poll is somewhat weightier than some of our recent sub polls of 180, or even Moris poll of 1005 participants. So this poll being three times larger has to be more impressive and a greater gauge of public opinion, mustn’t it?
It is clear that in its conclusions, that Scots are not really supporting the idea of Independence as much as has been made out.
They simply have not been asked the right questions in order to make the right choice, and if they were to be asked, the result would be that 67% of Scots would vote to stay with the Union. Independence is still stuck down at 33%
Naturally, in order to get a proper democratic result, the question proposed by the Scottish Government will have to change. We can’t be allowed to be pulled out of the Union by default and a rigged ballot.
I was told once a long time ago, that if you want to get information or you want to examine expert views placed before you, you have to ask questions. The questions you ask are vitally important,for if you don’t ask the right questions, you can never expect to receive the correct answers.
The only questions you ever need are the following: Who,What,Where, When, Why and How. You don’t always use them all, but you should always use some of them, and alter them as the situation requires.
So lets apply them to this article and this poll.
Firstly, WHO is this author?
Jonathan Jones is an Art Critic for the Guardian,(an opinion monger according to some) and looking at his articles for the Spectator, not at all a fan of Scottish Independence, and pro Tory. That much tells me where the article writers sympathies are likely to lie, and how he would perceive this poll.
This poll has also been reported in the Telegraph and originally by presswire from the Office of Lord Ashcroft.
So WHO, is Lord Ashcroft?
According to himself; In 2000, I was knighted and became a Member of the House of Lords (Lord Ashcroft of Chichester, KCMG).
In May 2011 I was appointed as lead advisor on a government review of military bases on Cyprus. Between December 2005 and September 2010 I was Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, with special responsibility for the target seats campaign and opinion research.
According to Wikipedia;
In the UK, he was a major donor to and Treasurer of the Conservative Party from 1998 to 2001, under William Hague. His tenure was marked by a number of controversies: he was seen to pay little UK income tax due to his domicile in Belize; and he was at the centre of a debate about openness and accountability of political funding.
During the “Cash for Peerages” controversy, on 31 March 2006 Ashcroft was named by the Conservative Party as having loaned it £3.6m.
Lord Ashcroft has become a significant figure in Australian politics having been identified as the single largest individual donor to any Australian political party during the Financial Year 2004/2005. The Australian Electoral Commission reported in February 2006 that Ashcroft (who gave his address as “House of Lords, Westminster, London”) had donated $1,000,000 to the Liberal Party in September 2004 just before the 2004 Federal election. It was the biggest single disclosed private donation in Australian political history
On 5 March 2010, Lord Ashcroft has been accused of avoiding VAT on opinion polls he commissioned for the Conservatives in 2005. The polls were carried out by YouGov and Populus, and are believed to have cost in the region of £250,000.
And 2 Days ago the Guardian tells us;
“Lord Ashcroft accused of misleading public over links to construction firm
Peer gave impression he had no role in firm when it allegedly built mansion for Turks and Caicos PM, Panorama claims
Ok, that’s the WHO.
And the Who tells us, that this Birkie is a right dodgy Birkie indeed.
Is he really going to be impartial? No chance.
Is he doing this on behalf of the Conservatives and the British Government? Very Likely.
WHAT? reasons would he have for financing such a poll?
His connections with the Conservatives, and he was possibly asked to conduct it by Downing Street.
WHAT? benefits would a poll which cast doubt on the question asked achieve?
It would cause people to possibly believe that the official question proposed by the Scottish Government is rigged and that the question should be asked instead, in the manner of the third version used here, and which has been touted in various forms by Rifkind,Forsythe, and Darling.
It would cast doubts on the veracity of the claims that trend from polling has been showing a steady rise in support of Independence, and that the support for the Status Quo is far greater than the 50% which has recently been reported.
It would paint the usage and design of the favoured wording of the official question by the SNP Government as being untrustworthy, and by extension Alex Salmond and the SNP Government as scheming. Both being undesirable traits. Would you buy a used car off this man,Salmond?
WHERE: was this poll conducted? ON Line
WHEN: was this poll conducted? Between the 26th and 31st January
WHO: Conducted it? We have no idea, it is not stated anywhere.
HOW: was the composition of the representative sample, reflective of the electorate, determined? We don’t know,we have a tables of males and females,and class groupings, but nothing further to go on.
WHAT: were the selection criteria? We don’t know, it is not given.
Were the constituents of the three groups questioned, randomly selected from the master pool?
So there we have them, the What, The Where, The Why, The WHO,The HOW
My conclusion from all that?
Its a very dodgy poll, from a very dodgy Lord, acting seemingly for the Tories,and it is spread all over Conservative Home.com, we can also assume that it is not entirely disconnected from the British Government, considering the Conservatives hold the reins.
It was meant to both discredit the Scottish Governments Question,and also the credibility and trustworthiness of Alex Salmond and the SNP in the eyes of the Scottish populace.
It was meant to cast doubt on popular perception that support for Independence is strong.
It was meant to show itself as being more authoritative than Mori’s recent poll, by being 3 times larger.
However,in closer examination, it fails to answer basic questions most pollsters would expect answered. In fact, it is well dodgy.
One final point on the poll. There are no Don’t Knows or Nil Response! Now how credible is that? Perfect figures for and against, is almost unheard of,and certainly more so with a sample of 3000.
It is what I would call Polling Propaganda.
Original Press Release
Guardian on Panorama Allegations