I feel instinctively European in cultural and political terms, because I am a member of a dwindling demographic that remembers what Europe was like before the European Union: I know what Europe has accomplished and the fate it has protected me and my family from for over fifty years. Contrary to right-wing myths, it wasn’t WMDs that kept Europe from internecine strife, it was the institutions of the European Community, initially an economic union (the EEC) and now a political union.
So it was was incredulity, then contempt, followed by sadness and a deep anger that I watched the Cameron fiasco unfold. The signs were clear last Wednesday at Prime Minister’s Questions in Westminster. One after another, right-wing Tory eurosceptics - or rather europhobics - stood up, in an orchestrated public lobbying of their own leader, mouthing jingoistic nonsense about the British Bulldog and the need to stand firm against the wickedness of Brussels. The same mob welcomed him back from his European negotiating disaster as a conquering hero, with one nauseating, fawning speech after another.
The British Bulldog is now an out-of-control pit bull, rampaging uncontrolled by its anti-social and irresponsible owner, the UK right-wing establishment, posing a threat to the stability of all its neighbours. But they have responded quickly and effectively by placing a cordon sanitaire around it, marginalising its baleful influence on civilised behaviour, then ignoring it while they get on with real life.
This unfortunately creates problems not just for the immature and selfish owner of the dog, but for his immediate and extended family and his entirely innocent neighbours, who are now going to find major obstacles in interacting with the wider community on which they are dependent.
One neighbour in particular, Scotland, has been concerned for some time about this dog and its owner, and their plans to get clear of them - while respecting and pitying his unfortunate family - are well-advanced. But in view of recent extreme behaviour by the British Bulldog, they may have to accelerate them.
I think I’ve taken that rather tortured analogy as far as I can. But one more comment. Today’s G2 Guardian supplement revealed that Cameron deliberately keeps a full bladder before important meetings and speeches to maintain focus and concentration. Perhaps that explains his odd, tight-mouthed look – but the result at the EU summit was that he pissed all over his relationship with 26 members states.
Right at this moment, the 26 countries are in deep difficulty in reaching a deal, and if they don’t, it will be disaster of global proportions, not just European. What is abundantly clear is that the UK could have been part of those discussions without having sacrificed anything, had Cameron stayed to negotiate and influence, instead of posturing. Deal or no deal, the 26 countries won’t easily forget that he opted out.
TODAY’S TIMES POLL - REFERENDUM TIMING
On Sunday - blog link – I wrote the following -
I think the Scottish Government may have to re-think its timescale for the independence referendum, and by that, I mean bring it forward. 2014 at the earliest is now beginning to look like too late.
Today, the Times has a two-page spread on its own Ipsos MORI commissioned poll on the timing of the referendum. The First Minister has made it clear that he is still committed to his second half of the term timescale, but I suspect the pressures will grow, not from the unionists, with their early-referendum-and-fail scenario, but from a much wider constituency, including among SNP voter and supporters.
The results for those certain to vote were as follows -
1st question - the ‘devo max’ option: 68% in favour among those certain to vote. 28% disagree with 4% undecided.
2nd question - the independence option: 38% in favour among those certain to vote. 57% disagree with 5% undecided.
The timing of the referendum:
As soon as possible: 33% in favour among those certain to vote.
Within the next two years: 31% in favour among those certain to vote.
Between two and five years from now: 29% in favour among those certain to vote.
There should never be a referendum: 3% in favour among those certain to vote.
The total figures for all polled, i.e. including those not certain to vote, are lower – devo max 64%, independence 35%.
I have two observations to make on this poll -
Firstly, the wording of the devo max option was posed as the first question – or appears to have been - and its wording was as follows -
Q. The referendum may contain separate questions. The first question will ask whether you agree or disagree with a proposal to extend the powers of the Scottish Parliament to include more laws and duties and more tax-raising powers, while Scotland remains part of the UK. If the referendum was held tomorrow, would you vote to agree or disagree with the proposal.
Ipsos MORI is a polling organisation with an impeccable pedigree and reputation. I am not a psephologist. But I have professional experience of formulating and asking questions, and analysing the answers – in interviewing, in questionnaires, in psychometric testing and in negotiation.
My training and experience taught me the following things that are relevant to the above poll -
1. The sequence in which questions are asked matters profoundly, regardless of what guidance and disclaimers the questioner or the question paper may offer.
2. In psychometric questionnaires, the questions must speak for themselves, be unambiguous in their wording, and any preliminary guidance offered by the person applying the questionnaire – if one is present – must follow a rigid formulation. No ad hoc clarification may be offered of the meaning or wording of the question.
3. The distinction between between the agenda of the person commissioning the test and that of the organisation applying it, and the professional constraints on reconciling these agenda must be managed with great care to avoid distortion of the results.
If I understand the above Ipsos MORI question above correctly, it was the first to be asked in their poll. That sequence matters.
The question as worded refers to the referendum possibly ‘containing two separate question’, but it then goes on to say that the ‘devo max’ question will be the first question in the referendum, but that is not my understanding.
The only thing that is certain is the the referendum will contain a simple YES/NO question on Scottish independence. There may be a second, devo max type question: if there is, it is likely that it will be the second question on the ballot paper, not the first. Unless the Times and Ipsos MORI know different (or the Times report today misquoted its own questionnaire) then the question claims a predictive knowledge of the referendum question sequence that no one else has, and which may be just plain wrong.
Additionally, the wording in the Ipsos MORI question says -
“… The first question will ask whether you agree or disagree with a proposal to extend the powers of the Scottish Parliament to include more laws and duties and more tax-raising powers, while Scotland remains part of the UK …”
I don’t think I am alone in thinking that some might interpret “while Scotland remains part of the UK” as meaning “while still part of the UK before independence”.
On that interpretation, as a committed supporter of independence, I would have answered YES to that question. If I was committed to the Union and devo max, I would also have answered YES, on the interpretation that I was voting for Scotland to remain part of the UK.
This seems unclear to me, and obviously affects the interpretation of the result. However, I have not yet read the full Ipsos MORI figure, I may be a psephological dunce, and someone may clarify matters for me speedily and put me in the corner in a pokey hat.
My observation on the timing question is simply this – I believe it to be significant, to be a growing trend, and that the SNP, while not responding prematurely to straws in the polling wind, will be ill-advised to ignore the possibility that the FM may have to re-think his timetable or lose the zeitgeist.