You don’t have to look beyond my last blog post to know I’ve just spent a week outside Scotland. Before we dashed for our airport taxi on the way out I grabbed the morning papers and somewhere over the South of France got to an interesting article in The Scotsman of 21 July by Bill Jamieson entitled A serious case of referendum fatigue.
It’s a thoughtful piece for all sorts of reasons, not least for his analysis of what the first minister was up to when she declared after her meeting with Theresa May that another separation referendum could be held as early as the first half of next year. Jamieson goes on to cite a then current article by George Kerevan on the need, post-hypothetical independence, for ‘fiscal consolidation’, every economist’s favourite euphemism for government cuts. There were two, not necessarily conflicting, views about Kerevan’s article: either it was a welcome dose of nationalist realism, or it was one of many opening gambits in a renewed push for separation.
I mention the Kerevan article because it’s an example of how febrile nationalist politics is in Scotland (see my pinball wizards post for more examples). A mere ten days later, amidst all the other fervour for or against this, that or the other, who remembers it?
Jamieson’s concluding sentence is worth quoting in full:
And whenever it [a second independence referendum] comes – whether the first half of next year, 2017 or beyond – the ranks of unionist supporters will have been thinned by sheer exhaustion.
This had me tutting and sighing audibly, to the consternation of the Frenchwoman next to me on the plane. No Bill, I thought, we will not have our ranks thinned by sheer exhaustion.
I wasn’t sure if or how I could use my objection to Jamieson’s conclusion on my return from a break when the parochialism of Scottish politics was far from my mind, but I tore the article out anyhow and brought it back with me.
I was glad I did because yesterday the excellent Neil Lovat (@neiledwardlovat on Twitter), who specialises in objective analysis of facts and claims about facts, posted this graph on Twitter:
A brief explanation may be helpful. What he has done is take the average of opinion polls every month since the independence referendum and shown the percentage of respondents who would vote Yes or No in another referendum (blue = No, orange = Yes – he excludes Don’t Knows). He’s then used a statistical technique called regression analysis to get a ‘best fit’ line through the data over time. Put simply it’s the trend of all those monthly averages.
If you’ve got this far and can take the data and analysis on trust, the conclusion’s pretty obvious – the trend not only shows a greater proportion of ‘Nos’ throughout the period, but the gap between Nos and Yesses is widening. As Lovat puts it in the tweet that accompanied his graph ‘indy continues to lose ground.’
Before anyone gets too precious about the detail of the data, yes I know individual months show a different conclusion, and I know that throughout the period the No line is below the 55% achieved in the referendum, and the Yes line above the 45% it achieved. But it’s the trend that’s important after the initial post-referendum euphoria (for the Yes camp), and the gap is widening.
It’s widening despite all the many complaints, real and imagined, that the SNP in particular continue to pump out against anything to do with the UK.
So amidst all the marching and flag waving (notably a Yes rally in Glasgow yesterday) don’t forget to touch base with the cold hard reality of facts. I hope Nicola Sturgeon and her advisers do, otherwise they’re likely to get the most almighty shock in the highly unlikely event of another separation referendum in ‘the first half of next year.’
And, Bill, I do rate your journalism highly. But please, no more unionist ranks thinned by sheer exhaustion. It ain’t going to happen.