There are few things more amusing than reading the comments of British nationalists on social media when there has been an opinion poll showing majority support for independence. It was not too long ago, when opposition to independence was usually in the lead, that those same British nationalists were constantly bandying about the results from those very same polling companies that they’re now desperate to discredit.
Today’s outburst of hysterical denial has been prompted by an opinion poll carried out by Panelbase for Business for Scotland. It shows that support for independence is now at the 54% mark, a rise of 2% on the previous Panelbase poll. This is that highest support for independence asking the standard question has been for years. It comes following a series of opinion polls which have given independence a lead. Today’s poll is the fifth poll this year from Panelbase, all but one of which has put independence in the lead, and that exception put support for independence at 49%. Moreover, and more worryingly for the British nationalists, when don’t knows are included today’s new poll breaks as follows: Yes 50%, No 43%, Don’t Know 7%. This is a result which is well outside the usual 3% margin of error in opinion polls.
We can now be confident that we are living in a Scotland where there is majority support for independence, and moreover a Scotland where support for independence is well on the way to becoming the settled will of the people of Scotland. The longer that this pattern becomes established, the more likely it becomes that undecided voters will break for yes. The days when there were large majorities in Scotland against independence are long gone and likely never to return. So how are all those SNPbad stories in the media working out for the British nationalists?
Naturally, not everyone is happy about the idea of a Scotland where there is consistently majority support for independence. The denial is strong. There is a great disturbance in the yoonstream on social media. The same people who hail the skewed question from Scotland in Union polls as conclusively demonstrating there’s no appetite for independence are rejecting this poll claiming that it is a leading question. You know, asking people “Should Scotland be an independent country?” is a leading question because it seeks a yes response for independence. Funny how they didn’t consider it a leading question on 19 September 2014.
Details of the poll were first published in The National before being picked up by the rest of the media. There are a number of British nationalist idiots on Twitter who professes themselves to be greatly relieved by this poll result, believing it to be a poll of just National readers and imagining that if only 54% of readers of a pro-independence newspaper support independence then the cause of independence is dead. That’s the special kind of stupid that you get when you believe that the human rights of a statue are more worthy of protection than the actual human rights of living breathing human beings.
Others of the staunch persuasion are smugly insisting that it’s only a poll and since not ever voter in Scotland was asked then it’s meaningless. Every time there’s an opinion poll which delivers a result that isn’t to someone’s liking, you get clowns on social media popping up to insist that the result counts for nothing because they hadn’t been asked the question. Then there are those who scoff that only 1078 people were asked so that means that just 578 people want independence. Then there’s people like the British nationalist called Theresa who complained on Twitter that no one in her family has ever been asked the question, so she refuses to believe the result of this poll. How do you solve a problem like Theresa? Well you don’t. There’s no cure for stupid.
Some people are in for a very big disappointment, or at least they would be if they had the intellectual capacity to grasp how opinion polls work. Gosh, if only there was some way of ensuring that everyone in Scotland could answer a question on whether they wanted independence, you know, maybe by some sort of ballot. We could call it a referendum.
Asking 1000 people is standard in opinion polling. It’s basic statistics. As long as your sample of 1000 people is correctly weighted to ensure that it’s representative of the larger population, 1000 people is all you need to give an accurate picture of what’s going on – with a confidence level of 95% and with a margin of error of 3%. That means that 19 times out of 20 you’ll get an accurate result which is within 3% either way of what is actually going on in the population. In the case of this latest poll, it’s in line with previous polling, so it’s unlikely to be an outlier. If there had been a series of polls showing independence between 50% and 52% and suddenly we got a poll putting independence on 40% or on 60%, then we’d suspect it was perhaps an outlier. That’s not the result in this latest poll, meaning that we can be more confident that it reflects reality accurately.
Increasing the confidence level and decreasing the margin of error significantly means asking hundreds of thousands of people – which isn’t feasible for an opinion poll. It’s not a simple matter that asking 2000 people in a poll makes it twice as accurate as a poll of 1000. In fact if the 2000 people asked don’t represent a balanced and representative sample, the result is less reliable than that of a properly weighted poll of 1000 people. This is why online opinion polls on platforms like Twitter where 30,000 or more people have responded are less accurate than a properly weighted opinion poll of 1000 people. If you want to read more about this, there’s a useful explanation of how polling works here https://people.howstuffworks.com/political-polling.htm
To those who bewail the fact that support for independence is not even higher, I would simply point out that a rapid shift of public opinion in favour of independence could just as easily be followed by a rapid shift of public opinion in the other direction. Instead what we are seeing is the slow and steady progress of the independence movement to building solid and secure support for independence in Scotland. We are moving in the right direction, and we will have solid and secure foundations from which to launch our campaign in the independence vote when it comes – as it most assuredly will.
We now have 54% in support of independence despite the fact that with the exception of The National, the entire Scottish media is hostile. That’s impressive. It’s even more impressive when you consider that the Scottish Government has given up on campaigning for independence for the duration of the current crisis. When we are able to resume campaigning properly, nothing will be able to stop us.
All that British nationalists have left is the comfort of ignorance. They were convinced that Brexit was going to destroy the independence movement. They were wrong. They were convinced that the Alex Salmond trial was going to destroy the independence movement. They were wrong. They were convinced that the covid-19 epidemic was going to destroy the independence movement. They were wrong. Instead what we see is a gradual and steady increase in support for independence. British nationalism is on the wrong side of history, with nothing left but its statues commemorating oppressors, slavers, and colonialists.
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