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Showing posts with label Professor John Curtice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Professor John Curtice. Show all posts

Thursday, 5 April 2012

A tsunami of misinformation–polarised politics, journalists and the media

On the same day as the Bradford by-election results were announced – a landslide victory for George Galloway over his Labour opponent, winning by 10,140 votes, overturning a Labour majority of 5,763, with 56% share of the total vote – Paul Routledge, political correspondent of the Daily Mirror headed his column

Imran races to victory

By the time you read this, Imran Hussain will have been declared Labour MP

At 10.30 pm on the same evening, Routledge said -

“Well, I got the Bradford by-election wrong … but so did the voters.”

A case of very sour grapes, Paul?

A look at Paul Routledge's biography on Wikipedia may or may not go some way to explaining this spectacularly wrong piece of political journalism.

Of course, we’ve had this kind of objective political reporting in Scotland for many years now, and SNP supporters have developed at the very least a healthy scepticism over the objective political reporting of the Daily Record, The Scotsman, The Herald, The Sunday Post and Scotland on Sunday over the last decade. That is not to say that things haven’t changed a bit of late, nor do I fail to recognise that a tiny number of Scottish journalists have been consistently fair and objective, while not pretending to be unaligned in their sympathies or their judgements.

I have stated my position on journalists many times. I don’t expect ‘balance’, i.e. giving equal space to two sides of an argument – or moral equivalence - where there is egregious imbalance in the facts. I did not expect balance when reporters entered Auschwitz: I do not expect flat-earthers to be given the same space and air time as cosmologists: I do not expect creationism to be treated as an equivalent scientific theory to evolutionary theory: I do not expect balance when innocent civilians – men, women and children are being murdered in the streets, whether by a middle eastern dictator or a Western Coalition of the Willing.

And so to today in Scotland …


Sherlock Holmes referred to the case of The Giant Rat of Sumatra, and now we have The Giant Rats of the Referendum Consultations, both of them becoming smellier by the day.

The focus today in The Scotsman is the smaller of the two rats, The UK Consultation, with extravagant claims being made about its outcome, based on 3000 responses.

I am deeply uneasy about consultations such as these, although I have up till recently loyally supported the SNP Government’s consultation, on the very shaky basis of my consultation is bigger than yours yah-boo cries to Michael Moore and his UK consultation.

The Three Arse Cheeks (in George Galloway’s new phrase for Labour, LibDems and Tory parties in Westminster) of the Unionist Coalition of Opposition to the Independence of Scotland were clearly going to claim to know the mind of the Scottish People, and since the old silent majority rubbish, beloved by unionists - especially Tories - had played out its usefulness, the silent majority had to be allowed to squeak in an approved line pretty damn quick before the Wicked Wizard of the North, Alex Salmond, had his evil way with the referendum timing and the formulation and number of the questions.

So let’s scan the front page and the headlines in today’s Scotsman, guardians of the spirit and traditions of fearless factual reporting, the voice of the nation, i.e. the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. (Whatever made you think the nation would be Scotland? Silly boy!)

Scots ‘to be asked one referendum question’

Scottish Secretary says straight vote on independence his ‘highest priority’

“Independence is different from devolution” Michael Moore

Two questions into one ballot paper don’t go, says Moore

Tunnock’s view on referendum doesn’t taste so sweet for Alex

The front page story, continued on to page 4,  is by Tom Peterkin, Scottish political editor. Alas, Tom doesn’t appear to rate a Wikipedia entry like Paul Routledge, and I can’t find a biography. A Google search under his name does turn up a lot of critical comments about his journalism, but the both the Scotsman and Tom will probably dismiss as them as cybernats.

In a total, including the Tunnocks’s piece, of over 1000 words, Peterkin gives about 80 words to Bruce Crawford MSP, the Parliamentary business secretary. In contrast, quotes from Michael Moore, Scottish Secretary abound in the article. There are a couple of paragraphs of speculation about the First Minister of Scotland’s position on the second question.

There is also a nice little table showing the results of the consultation, with impressively high percentage response in favour of those things Michael Moore, the UK and the Scotsman are also mainly in favour of.

The Peterkin piece closes with a paragraph that is intensely revealing, with an unfortunate choice of words that unintentionally gets to the heart of the real reason for the implacable opposition of the UK and the Three Arse Cheeks Parties – “the coalition parties” - to the independence of Scotland.

Some in the coalition parties have suggested that a UK-imposed referendum could be the ‘nuclear option’ if it is felt that the Scottish Government is taking too long to go ahead with two questions.”

Michael Moore is the MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, and in the 2010 General Election, he retained his seat with an increased share of the vote. In that election, the LibDems experienced what proved to be a very temporary love affair with the electorate. Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk is typically LibDem country. Michael Moore succeeded Danny Alexander as Secretary of State for Scotland: both owe their position quite simply to the uncomfortable realities of Coalition for the Tories, (the Tories didn’t win the 2010 election – Labour lost it) otherwise Scotland would have had David Mundel. For that, and that alone, we may be grateful to Michael Moore.

Since then the LibDems under Nick Clegg have comprehensively betrayed the electorate, their supporters, the students and the poor and vulnerable by propping up the most illiberal Government of recent times. The LibDems were all but extinguished in the Scottish election of 2011, Tavish Scott resigned as leader, and, were there a general election tomorrow, the LibDems in the UK would face a similar fate. Even the electors of Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk  might re-examine their reflex LibDem voting patterns.

But this man is given a major platform by the Scotsman and by Tom Peterkin, and the Scottish Government, re-elected for a second term with a massive, unprecedented mandate to govern and hold an independence referendum, is given token and dismissive coverage.

The 3000 response, unverified, un-monitored UK referendum is given uncritical, highly selective coverage, coverage that ignores the block response of the Labour Party: 740 out of the 2,857 responses to the UK Government’s referendum consultation were the identical text from the Labour Party website. (Unless of course, you listen to John Curtice – see below)

Page 5 presents some quotes under the headline -

Hopes and fears, optimism and suspicion – people speak their minds

‘People’ turn out to be five organisations, one group of academics, two individual academics, an email from a member of the public, and Maitland Mackie of Mackie’s ice cream fame.

The five organisations I am fairly certain did not poll their members or employees to formulate their view: the joint submission from academics at the University of Edinburgh presumably did: Maitland Mackie may have sought the views of “70 staff and 500 cows work[ing] in a 'sky to scoop”  design chain”: the email from the member of the public represented a view expressed by only 4% of the 3000 respondents – that non-residents Scots should have a vote in the referendum – was presumably included because it closely accords with the view of The Three Arse and the Scotsman.

On the day after the 2014 referendum on Scotland’s independence, I entertain the hope that Tom Peterkin and the Scotsman receive jointly the Paul Routledge/Daily Mirror Award for spectacularly failing to predict the outcome of a vote.


There is however some balancing sanity in this total of three pages of less than objective reporting – a piece by Professor John Curtice on page 5.

John Curtice, a man whom I admire, takes a lot of stick from the kind of SNP supporters who also believe that the BBC collectively is the Great Satan, engaged in a conspiracy to frustrate the independence of Scotland. The reason for this is that he deals with numbers, with facts, and it takes a bit of effort and at least baseline numeracy and perhaps familiarity with the basis of sampling and polling opinion to come to grips with his arguments.

(As I write these words, I know that they will be closely followed by comments in the usual vein. I will publish these, providing they are not actually defamatory – as they often are – but I have given up trying to reason with with them, and have said all I intend to on that score. For those who are desperate to have confirmation of their views, they may find a more sympathetic home on Newsnet Scotland.)

I will not attempt to summarise John Curtice’s considered and precise analysis – it must be read carefully and digested. So which government is right on the big question?

It will, sadly, be promptly dismissed by some nationalists because its critique includes the Scottish Government consultation, and that kind of nationalist critic blanks off everything positive in their resentment at any objective criticism of the SNP.

Well, I support completely everything John Curtice says, I believe he is objective, a fine example of what expert analysis and criticism should be about, and I thank him for his formidable contribution over many years to Scottish life and politics and to my understanding of both.

And, no – I have never met John Curtice in my life, and have no connection whatsoever with him, except maybe a shared concern for Scotland, for truth and for factual accuracy.

And grudgingly, I thank the Scotsman for allowing him space to bring a breath of cold, fresh air to today’s coverage of the UK Referendum Consultation – and consultations … And there is a smidgeon of objectivity in their leader  on page 26.


Monday, 5 December 2011

Attitudes to independence – ScotCen and the economy

The September 2011 figures are out today on attitudes to independence from the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey conducted by ScotCen, part of the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen).

Here’s the Guardian’s report Scots back independence – but at a price

And here's a trailer to tomorrow's Guardian - Look north, Scotland

The Herald carries a picture above the statistics of Michael Moore, who looks as if he had just been performing a strange dance – or even a strange act - with three other people who have suddenly been removed – probably David Mundel, Margaret Curran and Willie Bainthe Anti-Scotland Coalition.

As with all polls, the advocates for opposing sides rush in where angels fear to tread to offer their partisan interpretation of the figures, and lofty, disinterested academics lay claim to a dispassionate analysis. I am not always easily persuaded that those claiming heroic objectivity truly are objective: there are quite a few Scottish academics around who are anything but objective, not to mention one or two captains of industry, and it is true that an expert can usually be found to say whatever those seeking his or her services wish to be said, e.g. experts called as ‘objective’ trial witnesses for a fat fee.

However, over the years, there is at least one Scottish expert that I trust and that is Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University, who is also a consultant for ScotCen.  He gives his objective view of the figures, one with which I don’t quarrel. It is that the appetite for a more powerful Scottish Parliament and for independence has grown in the last year, but it is still no higher than it has been on previous occasions since devolution, and the SNP has a long way to go before the referendum to persuade the electorate to vote for independence.

I will try to avoid the selective juggling with figures that goes after the publication of poll results, and simply focus on the three key facts, as I see them -

32% of those polled want full independence. So did 32% of Scots in 2004, and in 2005, 35% of Scots wanted out of the UK. Since devolution (1999) the figures have fluctuated narrowly around a low of 23% a year ago to the 2005 high of 35%.

58% of those polled want to stay in the UK with devolved powers to Scotland. Last year it was 61%. Since 1999, the figures have ranged from 44% in 2005 to that 61% figure last year.

Money matters – support for independence changes radically if voters believe they will be in pocket or out of pocket.

The poll has been properly conducted by a reputable organisation of integrity, and its sampling procedures and methodology are sound. (The sample size is significantly lower this time than in every previous years, under 1200 as compared with the 1500/1600 of all previous years.)

Repeating the core conclusion -

The support for a fully independent Scotland has increased since the same poll last year,

The support for continued membership of the UK and for devolution has fallen since last year.

Economic perceptions matter a helluva lot.


Over the last 12 years, somewhere between a quarter and a third of Scottish voters polled wanted full independence.

Over the last 12 years, somewhere between half and 60% of Scottish voters want to stay in the UK and have a devolved Parliament.

Those who want to go back to pre-devolution status and remain in the UK are in the minority, say around one in ten

The don’t knows are about one in twenty.

Something odd happened to preferences around 2004 and 2005, and anybody who claims to know why is engaging in speculation.

Some unknown factor or factors are at work  when one tries to relate the figures to the election of a nationalist minority government in 2007 and the return of that government with a massive majority in 2010.

If this poll is predictive of how Scotland will vote in the referendum, the outcome would not be full independence.

Neither unionists nor nationalists can take unalloyed comfort from these figures.


The decade and a bit since devolution has been one of the most unpredictable periods in recent history, not just in the UK, but in Europe and globally.

Devolution, a radical enough event in its own right, designed by the Labour Party, still at their power peak after their landslide UK victory, to kill Scottish nationalism dead, failed in that primary objective, as forecast by the the likes of Michael Forsyth and Tam Dalziel.

On the 9th of September 2001, a single catastrophic event changed the nature of global politics, and led to the invasion of Afghanistan.

In 2003, the US and the UK launched an illegal war against Iraq, supported by an uneasy coalition of other nations.

In 2005, Tony Blair was returned as Prime Minister with Labour holding 355 MPs but with a popular vote of 35.2%, the lowest of any majority government in British history. (His popularity had been in decline even before the disastrous Iraq War.) Blair resigned in the same year, and Gordon Brown became Prime Minister.

In May 2007, the first ever Scottish Nationalist Government was elected by the Scottish electorate.

In 2008, the global financial and banking system went into near-meltdown, and catastrophe was narrowly averted by massive borrowing and effective nationalisation of some of the UK banks.

In May 2009, the UK Government and the UK Establishment finally failed in its long legal battle to prevent the British people knowing the truth about MPs – a blocking action led by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, a Scottish Labour MP - and the initial sordid facts of its investigation into MPs' expenses were published by The Telegraph, including claims by the Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw that they were forced to repay. The Speaker resigned in disgrace, and criminal prosecutions followed against MPs and members of the House of Lords, resulting in imprisonment in some cases.

In May 2010, a UK general election outcome created the potential of a hung Parliament, the radical difference between the voting patterns of Scotland and the rest of the UK became even more starkly apparent, with Scotland returning only one Tory MP. A Tory-led Coalition Government was hastily formed after John Reid, a Labour peer and others deliberately wrecked the possibility of a Rainbow Coalition involving Labour, the LibDems and the nationalist parties.

In May 2011, the Scottish electorate returned Alex Salmond and the SNP Government for a second term with a massive majority.

In England, serious criminal rioting that started in London spread to other English cities, but not to Scotland.

As of this moment, there is another European and global economic crisis that carries even greater dangers of economic meltdown than the 2008 crisis.


All of the above is the context in which the Scottish peoples views on independence were canvassed. The Scottish electorate is one of the most sophisticated in the world. Having been betrayed by UK politicians, betrayed by Scottish Labour politicians and betrayed by the Liberal Democrats, they see a Tory-led government that they didn’t vote for attacking their living standards.

Sophisticated or not, they can be forgiven for being confused, and for feeling that no expert, media pundit or politician can be wholly trusted. But despite that, they made a massive act of trust in trusting the SNP, a party unequivocally committed to independence with their future for what will be five unpredictable and turbulent years. They also consciously and deliberately punished the Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish LibDems for their betrayal of their hopes. They never trusted the Tory Party anyway, and never will again.

Anyone who tries to confidently explain the narrow fluctuations in the support for independence in polls over 12 years such as these is either a fool or a charlatan.

But the latest poll seems to confirm this– it’s the economy, stupid! It won’t be Braveheart politics or nostalgia for an imagined vanished golden age that determines how people will vote in the referendum, nor will it be intellectual and emotional commitment to the principle of independence – it will be their perception of which party has their economic and social interests at heart, can protect jobs and incomes and has the competence and the resolve to shield them from the global storm that is raging around them.

But can such a question as the independence of the nation really hinge on whether the voter is £10 a week better off or £10 a week worse off? I hae ma doots on that one – answering a simplistically loaded survey question is one thing – making the huge leap to freedom is a much bigger question. I believe the majority of Scots will decide based on a more complex argument than a tenner either way, even though the real difference between a YES or a NO might be £20 – not inconsiderable to many, and to a working family, £40 a week or more.

Since voters will be subjected to a barrage of contradictory statistics, whose version will they believe?

Will they gamble their future and that of their children and grandchildren on a crude monetary criterion? The demonstrably economically incompetent Labour, Tory and LibDem parties, or the party in which they placed their trust in May 2011?

In uncertain times, people have an instinct to “keep a hold of nurse for fear of finding something worse” (Hilaire Belloc). But when they look at Nurse UK, they see something that all their instincts now tell them does not have their interests or Scotland’s at heart. Yet before they let go of that clammy embrace for ever, they will have to be certain that the new hand that they clasp will guide them through the storm.

The SNP has a window of somewhere over two years and a lot less than four to give the Scottish electorate the confidence they need to take that decisive step into an unpredictable, but exciting future.

The Scottish electorate will vote in the referendum as if their life depended on its outcome - because it does …

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Professor John Curtice, Calman, the SNP, LibDems and "parrot talk"


Will it, do you think, blow the SNP out of the water as Robert Brown” (LibDEM MSP) “ has suggested?”


No - the truth is – that bill that is published tomorrow – is in fact the true legacy of the Nationalist victory in 2007. The nationalists haven’t been able to get that referendum bill through, but their victory in 2007 forced the Labour Party in particular to re-think its attitude towards devolution, to work together with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to produce this proposal that the Coalition is now putting forward. So, the SNP will undoubtedly put out a lot of criticism about this, but the truth is, they are probably principally responsible for this proposal at least getting as far as the statute book.”

Robert Brown, normally a nice, reasonable man (weren’t all the LibDems once!), was clearly rattled by this analysis and by the SNP’s spokesman, Alisdair Allan, MSP’s perfectly reasonable comment. After acknowledging that the proposals were designed to strengthen the UK, he dismissed Alisdair Allan’s wish for fiscal autonomy as “parrot talk”.

There is parrot talk here, Robert Brown, but from you, not Alisdair Allan – Unionist parrot talk from a member of a party that is currently betraying every promise it made to the electorate, and betraying Scotland in the process.

The Tories were opposed to Scotland's independence - Labour was equivocal, and only agreed to it to protect their Scottish power base - the LibDems are federalists - they regard Scotland, not as a nation, but as a region of the UK.

Only the SNP have always been fully committed to a Scottish Parliament and to full fiscal autonomy - and independence.