Like many people who support Scottish independence and who recognise that the SNP and Green Scottish Government is the only credible political vehicle for delivering independence, I was shocked – but not hugely surprised – by yesterday’s news that Nicola Sturgeon had been arrested for questioning by the police as part of their on going investigation into SNP finances. I had been expecting this development as Nicola Sturgeon was the last remaining person who had signed off on the set of SNP accounts which are central to this investigation who had not been arrested for questioning. Her husband Peter Murrell, former chief executive of the party and former party treasurer Colin Beattie had both previously been arrested for questioning, and like both of them Nicola Sturgeon was later released without charge, pending further inquiries. All three strenuously deny any wrong doing.
It’s important to point out right away that Scotland’s strict laws about contempt of court apply here, so it is very unwise to speculate about the investigation and I urge anyone commenting to refrain from doing so, specifically that means refraining from any imputations of guilt to any of those involved – social media is currently full of individuals who have already convicted and sentenced people who have not even been charged with any offence. Very often these are the same people who loudly protested that Alex Salmond was innocent before he had been charged with any offence. The exact same presumption of innocence applies now. So remember what yer maw telt ye – If ye cannae say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
Naturally this event will spark off another media feeding frenzy just as we were hoping that things were starting to calm down after a very torrid period for the SNP and we could start trying to focus on a positive case for independence, the many and manifest shortcomings of a Conservative government in meltdown and on how the British state is failing Scotland on so many levels. Boris Johnson and two of his allies have resigned from Parliament in an almighty huff, provoking three by elections which are likely to prove extremely difficult for the Tories and on Monday there were handbags at dawn between Johnson and Sunak, with Sunak making a bid for the moral high ground, something which he could only manage because his opponent’s moral integrity is lower than the bottom of a deep mine shaft filled with all the raw sewage that the Tories have allowed to be released into England’s rivers and lakes. Johnson has accused Sunak of talking rubbish, which to be honest is all that Sunak has ever done, all dressed up in a management speak spreadsheet. But that never stopped Johnson from giving him a job.
But no, instead we’ve got BBC Scotland being nostalgic for the murder tent, having been gifted a shiny new angle on a story that was getting tired. So it’s another enthusiastic whirl on the SNP bad roundabout for the Scottish media and a massively convenient distraction for Douglas Ross and Anas Sarwar from the many controversies in their own parties.
But it’s not all bad news. There is more than a glimmer of hope. This storm will pass as all political storms inevitably do, and when it does the outlook for Scottish independence is bright. Even as the police investigation into the SNP’s finances rumbles on, gleefully reported by a Scottish media which all but turned a blind eye to the many Conservative financial scandals involving far far greater sums of money and allegations that tens of millions of taxpayers’ cash was being diverted into private bank accounts, there are plenty of signs that even though support for the SNP has been dented, support for independence has been unaffected by the SNP’s recent travails and the accompanying Scottish media onslaught.
An opinion poll published on Monday – the field work for which was being conducted as news of Nicola Sturgeon’s arrest broke – has found that there is majority support for independence. The Find Out Now poll, commissioned by the Alba party found that just 39.2% of respondents would back No in an independence referendum compared to 43.4% who favour Yes, with don’t knows running at 10.8%. Once the don’t knows are excluded, support for independence is at 52.5%. This poll agrees with other polls from different companies in showing high levels of support for independence among younger age groups, rising to significant absolute majorities amongst those under the age of 34 – even when don’t knows are included. It is safe to say that support for independence is the settled will of the young people of Scotland, only amongst those over 65 is there clear majority opposition to independence. That’s very bad news for opponents of independence, the writing is on the wall for this so called union. Support for Scotland remaining a part of the United Kingdom is literally dying off.
A previous poll carried out earlier this year by Find Out Now likewise found a majority for independence, a poll commissioned by The National in January had 54% in favour of independence and 46% opposed once don’t knows were disregarded. In fact the company has pretty consistently shown majority support for independence since it started polling on the issue.
It is striking that the polling companies which do not weight responses by the result of the 2014 referendum, Find Out Now and Ipsos, both report significantly higher support for independence than those polling companies which do weight their results by the outcome of the 2014 referendum and their polls consistently find majority support for independence. Given that the referendum vote took place almost nine years ago, it is doubtful whether weighting an opinion poll in 2023 by a vote that took place in 2014 serves any real purpose.
It is normal for polling companies to weight their sample, they do this in order to ensure that their polling sample is accurately representative of the broader electorate. Done correctly this increases the accuracy of the poll. In the couple of years following 2014 it certainly made sense for polling companies to weight their polls about Scottish independence according to the result of the referendum, however as the years pass, the reference point used by polling companies has gradually drifted out of alignment with the current state of the electorate. Polling companies which weight their results according to the result of the 2014 referendum are using as an anchor point the composition of the electorate as it was nine years ago, not as it necessarily is today. The electorate now is very different from the electorate that voted in 2014, around 60,000 people die each year in Scotland, so that means that approximately 540,000 people have died in Scotland since the 2014 referendum.
The total electorate in the referendum was 4.2 million. 540,000 of those people, or 7.8% of 2014’s total electorate, are no longer with us. Given that then as now older people were far more likely to oppose independence and the 540,000 who have passed away since 2014 will disproportionately consist of older people who tended to oppose independence, it’s easy to understand why weighting polls about independence by the 2014 result will result in artificially depressing the true level of support for Scottish independence. And this is without taking into account factors such as the false recall of a vote which took place nine years ago.
Indeed it is quite likely that there are already consistent majorities for independence in Scotland. The British nationalist parties and their friends in the media will understand this too, hence the frenzied barrage of attacks we have seen of late on the only pro independence political party which is able to win elections and bring about that all important vote on independence.
So despite the fact that the SNP and the Greens are a flawed vehicle, I for one will be keeping the faith. Because the prize of independence is tantalisingly close.
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