18 October 2012

Scottish Independence: those chancy Ipsos-MORI trends...

A somewhat uncomfortable juxtaposition this, given yesterday's jeremiad against commentary on Scottish independence which obsesses unduly over polling numbers, and which campaign is ahead by a nose, or as circumstances might have it, by a proboscis of Pinocchioesque scale.  What can I say? I'm going hazard the Americanisation, threaten complicity in the saturation of our politics with statistics, and take a closer took at Ipsos-MORI's latest independence poll, published this morning.  Commentary on these polls tends to be governed by how the relate to the study undertaken immediately previously, and if the analysis hitherto is anything to go by, then the good ship independence isn't exactly holed below the waterline, but this October poll shows it leaking support in a less than encouraging fashion. 

It strikes me, however, that it might be interesting, and certainly wiser, to cast our minds back a wee bit further than July this year, to see the ebbs and flows of these opinion polls in their proper aspect.  Accordingly, in slight amendment to my past approach to presenting polling data, this time I'll be contextualising the new findings, not with respect to the immediately prior poll, but to all five Ipsos-MORI independence surveys back to August 2011.  There is no particular reason of principle for my stopping at this point. That was merely when easily-accessible data stopped, and is I think far enough back, to offer perspective to today's findings, without exhausting us all with too much information.  

The lesson of this longer-term perspective? Firstly, you're really struck by the volatility of findings beneath the topline. While in poll after poll you find lower support for independence amongst women, and higher support for it amongst poorer than richer Scots, the rates of difference are all over the place, sliding hither and thon like a drunken centipede, giving rollerskates a try.  Opposition to independence amongst men, for instance, has ranged across fourteen percentage points, from a high of 58% opposition last August, to January 2012's low of 44%, increasing in July, and falling again by two pips this October. Women's support for independence has been consistently on the slide in Ipsos polls (down from 34% last August to 25% today).

Beyond the extremes, how support for independence might break down by age is mostly hunchwork.  We can consistently say that the oldest cohort of Scots is the most opposed to independence, but shy of that, all one can soberly say about those under fifty five is that they are consistently inconsistent in their constitutional preferences.  By way of an example, take the youngest group, 18 to 24 year olds.  Their support for independence in Ipsos polls has vacillated 12 percentage points from the highest to lowest level of support.  Indecision even more so, shifting 18% upwards today, compared to just 3% of the cohort questioned who said they were undecided about Scotland's constitutional future last December.  Over-confident analysis of these fluctuating findings looks decidedly chancy.  

One final observation or two on the latest poll, before the charts.  Across all but one of the categories we're looking at here - of gender, of social deprivation and of age, indecision is on the increase, and not solely at the expense of the pro-independence side of things. The percentage of respondents who are undecided in October's Ipsos-MORI is higher than any of the other four, whether they are men, women, old or young, and with only one exception, whether those questioned were wealthy or impoverished.  Divided up into the five percentiles of deprivation, only the second least deprived 20% felt less uncertain this October about how they might vote, than every other category of people.  This is at its starkest amongst the poorest 20% of Scots, usually independence polling's strongest supporters.  While independence remains the majority choice of the poorest 20%, levels of indecision have increased from a low of 9% in last autumn's poll, to a full quarter or respondents today. 

All in all, though, these aren't splendid-looking polls for those who support independence. Levels of support for independence today are at their lowest since August 2011 amongst men, amongst women, amongst the poorest, amongst 25 to 34 year olds, those aged 35 to 54, and amongst the inveterately opposed old codgers, counting more than fifty five years to their name. I suspect my own feelings mirror those of most nationalists surveying these results: they simply underline the challenge before us, rather than fostering despair. Salmond's buccaneer sensibility is the right one. Confound the bean-counters. Make the arguments. Strive to persuade your neighbours, your colleagues and friends. Keep the heid. It's not sewn up just yet.

And with that, to the pretty charts.  Let's start with gender, and their shifting Ipsos trends.

After which, to age.  For convenience, I've broken all of this down into Ipsos age bands.  I pondered a vast, mad, spider's web of a line graph, but it make for an impenetrable thatch of data to try and tease through.  If anyone has particular requests or preferences in terms of the presentation of the information, do please let me know. You'll notice, by the by, that Ipsos use slightly different, slightly fewer age brackets than, say, TNS-BMRB. Chronologically, the pollster's findings were as follows...


Unlike the social grading used by TNS-BMRB, which is based on the occupation of the "head of household", Ipsos favours distinguishing its respondents into one of five categories of affluence, running from the 20% who live in Scotland's most deprived areas, to the 20% who stay in the least deprived quarters of the land.  

One infelicity of this approach is that it is a bit tricky to entitle the data in a readily comprehensible way, save for the extremes of poverty, and extremes of wealth.  For accessibility, I've styled the arid categories 2, 3 and 4 as - second most deprived 20%, the middle 20%, and the second least deprive 20% respectively.  The charts run in order down the page, from poorest to richest to aid in their construction.  Already starkly hostile to independence, this month's poll records the lowest level for support for independence from the richest Scots yet, falling beneath 20%, while levels of indecision, as elsewhere, look to be on the rise.



  1. Everyone spins polls according to their political prejudices. But if polls have any validity at all, and if they don’t why discuss them, then clearly things are not going too well for the nationalists. It shows good sense to admit this. The problem for Mr Salmond is that his clever strategy of putting forward a vision of independence, designed to calm the fears of the Scottish electorate, is not working. In the end everyone understands what independence means and they are not buying. In order for the SNP to win something needs to change in the next two years. Either some unforeseen event must work in their favour, or there must be a change in policy. I’ll only really fear that the nationalists are winning if the bookies make independence the favourite, but if I had no worries at all about this matter, I’d clearly not bother to campaign at all. You’re right not to give up, as even longs shots have a chance. The greatest danger for unionists is complacency.

  2. Effie - 'in the end everyone understands what independence means and they are not buying.;

    Yes, I think this is right. The Scottish polls have been weird for a few years now but I believe there is an underlying distrust of the nationalist project - bolstered by frequent crowing by some nationalist posters that Salmond is 'cleverly' not 'frightening the horses' by saying what he really thinks on issues such as the monarchy.

    All this does is reinforce the view of Eck as a trickster (a view of course not confined to unionists) and it does harm to the nationalists. One for the SNP strategists to tackle.

    LPW -' Firstly, you're really struck by the volatility of findings beneath the topline.'

    Yes, volatility, but a more worrying apathy as well. The council election turnout was respectable and compared well with England, but we still have that 50% Holyrood turnout to ponder - and in the coonsil by-election in my own constituency, Hillhead, a turnout of 14% - 14%!! And Labour fought hard - I got phone calls from the party and from Ann McKechin to get my arse oot, and I know the SNP exerted pressure also - and won the seat with, I must say, a good candidate. And after that, 14% turnout? That, for both nat and unionist, is our real problem

  3. You've pointed out a good number of trends here, most important of which is the fact that the more financially well off someone is, the less likely he is to support independence. I suppose this is only to be expected though since the status quo has made that individual wealthy whereas the status quo only offers more of the same to less privileged people, especially when a Conservative government in London is forcing constant doses of austerity down the throats of everyday Scotsmen.

    Anyhow, I've written a short piece about Canadian provincial politics on my blog that you might find of interest. I'll also probably put together another piece about Scotland and Scottish independence at some point in the near future as well.

  4. Groundskeeper Willie20 October 2012 at 13:52

    The important poll is the 'bought and sold for English gold' one that showed Scots would be more inclined to vote yes if they thought they would be better off by doing so. The price seemed to be about £500 pa.

    I anticipate two years of the SNP insisting independence will make us all richer by at least £500 pa.

  5. It looks from the stats that those with most fear redistribution, and the "older deprived" fear there might be nothing to redistribute.

    Salmond has done nothing to foster debate on the Scottish economy now or what we could do differently after independence.

    Not so long ago there was a welcome call on here for such a debate. To no avail.
    Are we all, like Salmond, too frightened or too ignorant to talk about economics?

    People often hearken to "The Swedish Model", with little to no understanding of how it works.
    The Finns followed it quite successfully.
    Then they became mesmerised by Nokia, dropped the R&D, training and diversification, and ignored the lessons of the Swedish banking crisis of the early 90's.
    I'd advise against saying this in their presence