Fraser Nelson

A skewed response to a skewed question

A skewed response to a skewed question
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‘A clear majority of people in Scotland now back independence, according to an exclusive poll for the Sunday Express. Using Alex Salmond’s preferred referendum question, the Vision Critical survey found 51 per cent would vote ‘yes’ with 39 per cent against. If such a dramatic result were repeated in the autumn of 2014, the First Minister would have an absolute mandate to negotiate an end to the Union with England.’

So runs the story. CoffeeHousers may have spotted two of the snags: the poll uses Salmond’s laughably loaded question, and seems to have been conducted by a chain of opticians. Further inspection gives a sample size of around 2,000 people, yet only 183 of those people live in Scotland — making this little more than a straw poll. But it has still led Salmond to claim breakthrough, and that Cameron’s supposed intransigence is sending Scots running into his welcoming arms.

The serious opinion polls into the subject are collated by UK Polling Report here, and show how support for independence has oscillated between a quarter and a third in recent years — depending on the question, the number of options, etc. But no pollster has put a question as loaded as Salmond’s before, until this inadequate poll today. Perhaps we will see more scientific attempts in future.

My hunch is that Cameron’s intervention will not have helped Salmond. The idea that an independent Scotland would not be allowed to use Sterling knocked him for six, and the more one thinks about his idea of a Scottish Defence Force, the more ludicrous it becomes. The remedy to nationalism is to examine the question closely, and to ask: just what major Scottish problem does separation solve? I really can’t think of a single answer to that question.

To many Scots, the whole thing is a bit comic (the ballot paper mockup, above, is just one of the many circulating the internet). But there's a serious edge to it too. Scotland has the worst, most expensive poverty in the developed world. Foreign academics come to the east of Glasgow to study how a rich country can get social policy so wrong, inflicting such damage on a society and its people. The question is whether full self-government can yield the solutions that devolution patently hasn't. And the answer just has to be no .