My normal preamble: I am a Scottish voter, an SNP member, I hold no role of any kind in the party, and I speak only for myself. I am in favour of Scotland becoming a fully independent country. I am a former Labour supporter, but was never a party member or activist. I was a member of the SDP for a few weeks in 1981. I am anti-nuclear weapons and anti-nuclear power.
I am not a psephologist or statistician either.
The Reform Scotland poll deserves some attention, but in my view, like any online poll, it cannot claim the kind of statistical validity that a poll by a polling organisation such as Ipsos MORI can claim, nor can it be seen as representative sample of the Scottish electorate. Here’s why I say that about a poll, that, if valid in this way, would give me considerable satisfaction.
Online polls by definition are completed by visitors to that online site who chose to respond to the questions, i.e it is self-selecting. It is likely that the majority already read that site regularly, and that a minority came to it by other, e.g. randomly, or by specifically being directed to the poll by other means.
For example, I did not complete the poll, for the simple reason that I did not know that Reform Scotland existed. But had I visited the site and completed the poll, it would almost certainly have been because another SNP supporter directed me to the site. (I speak from experience of other such online polls.)
Doubtless, members of other parties do the same thing, and the intensity of this kind of poll behaviour – completely valid as a PR objective but tending to be destructive of the polling purpose – will increase as the referendum approaches and online polls multiply. What I am saying is that this segment of online voting is in the main representative only of how effectively parties get their vote out, as in an election.
Now that I know about Reform Scotland, what do I now know about Reform Scotland. Here’s what it says about itself, in its invitation to me to sign-up for information – and I have, because I now want to know what this think tank is thinking …
“Reform Scotland is an independent, non-party think tank that aims to set out a better way to deliver increased economic prosperity and more effective public services based on the traditional Scottish principles of limited government, diversity and personal responsibility.”
It says it’s independent, non-party. Well, think tanks always say that – as Mandy Rice Davies would say, well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?
Since think tanks are composed of people, it is always a good idea to look at who they say they are. With some think tanks, this would be the least reliable indicator, but I think we may be reasonably certain that Reform Scotland is comprised of exactly the people they list, and only the people they list, and that no shadowy individuals or groups are standing behind the curtain as in, say, some think tanks on global warming, i.e. the ones that think that mankind - especially that part of mankind who have become obscenely rich from despoiling the planet - has nothing whatsoever to do with global warming.
Reform Scotland receives its funding “from individuals, charitable trusts or companies which share its aims.” Since it seems to be a well-structured, transparent organisation, with a proper separation of powers (an Advisory Board and a separate Board of Management in the form of Trustees) it is doubtless possible for any member of the public to view the funding sources. Its people in many cases occupy significant positions in Scottish public life, and have not only their own reputations to protect but that of the other organisations to which they belong.
It has, in its own words, a vision, which like many such vision statements is essentially meaningless, since it would be endorsed by anyone anywhere across the globe as applied to their own country, and certainly by anyone in Scotland.
Had it said its vision was for a free, dynamic and independent Scotland, it would of course have differentiated itself radically, but would then have become an independence think tank, if not a political party (there already is one with that vision!) and would have started with an a priori assumption about the means of achieving its vision. If it excludes such a possibility, it would not be a think tank worth the name, but it hasn’t, as far as we can determine, although it favours devo plus.
THE ADVISORY BOARD
The Advisory Board decides on policy and strategic objectives – the Trustees, the Management Board are responsible for day-to-day operations. Both boards have the same Chairman, not a good thing for an organisation in my view, and he is Ben Thomson, chairman of the Noble Group. The Noble Group describes itself as follows -
“Noble is an independent UK investment bank that provides a unique range of professional services to fast growth small/mid cap companies and investment vehicles. Founded in 1980, the company has over 120 employees based in Edinburgh and London.”
Ben Thomson, a former Scottish international athlete, is deeply involved in Scotland, and is very significant figure in finance and the arts in Scotland. The other twelve board members include Wendy Alexander, Jim Mather, Derek Brownlee and Jeremy Purvis, which is a fair political spread. The composition of the Advisory Board seems to me to about about as widely based as it reasonably could be, and embraces a great deal of academic and financial expertise, and Martin Sime, chief executive of SCVO (Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations) is an important inclusion.
All things considered, I would call this a reputable think tank, one that I as a voter will treat very seriously, and had I still been in business and responsible to a company, would have advised them to treat it seriously as well. I am glad that such a think tank exists, and wish it well.
This no doubt will come as a great relief to the two exalted Boards of Reform Scotland, who have been waiting in trepidation since their inception for one old Scottish voter to discover that they existed and offer his imprimatur.
You can relax, guys and gals – you’re OK for the moment …
The poll, if it means anything at all, is encouraging for supporters of independence. Clearly, the SNP liked it and welcomed its outcome. (For the benefit of another respected nat blogger, may I reiterate that when I say the SNP, I mean the official spokespersons of the party, not the broad mass of the membership. I speak for neither, only for me.)
The full results are here Reform Scotland poll – pdf
Reform Scotland says this about its poll – “
“We do not claim that this poll is totally scientific as it was self selecting.”
I am cautious, for all the reasons given above, but if it is accepted as a reasonably representative sample of Scottish public opinion, the following figures interest me more than the headline results -
1. If there was a Scottish independence referendum tomorrow where you could only vote either yes or no to independence, how would you vote?
28% of respondents who most identified with Labour as a political party said YES to that, as did 25% of LibDems and, 9.2% of Tories – three parties opposed to independence - but only 54.5% of Greens, a party committed in Scotland to Scotland’s independence said YES.
65.2% of those identifying with Other as a party said YES. (Unsurprisingly, 97.5% of SNP supporters said YES.) Out of 809 people answering the question, 535 said YES and 425 of them were SNP identifiers, which means that 110 people who don’t identify with the SNP - i.e. 20.6% – would say YES to independence if a poll were called tomorrow.
Does this mean anything? I don’t know. The party affiliations and the no affiliation numbers don’t equate to the real voting patterns in May 2011, other than roughly in the SNP dominance – 53.9% of the 809 respondents identified with the SNP – and those who identified with no party represented 12.9%.
If Reform Scotland has the money, and really wants to keep its finger on the pulse of Scottish opinion, they should commission a real poll from Ipsos MORI at regular intervals until the referendum.
That would really make me sit up and take notice …