Today sees the publication of the second poll to be conducted since the announcement that the UK government would not contemplate sharing the pound in a monetary union with Scotland. However, like the first such poll, it needs to be interpreted with caution.
The poll, by ICM for Scotland on Sunday, puts the Yes vote on 37%, unchanged from the previous ICM poll conducted a month ago. The No vote, however, is up by five points to 49%, while there has been a five point drop from 19% to 14% in the proportion who say they are undecided. Once the Don’t Knows are excluded, the Yes tally stands at 43%, down three points on the previous poll.
At face value such figures suggest that the currency announcement might have succeeded in persuading a significant body of hitherto undecided voters to vote No – just as Better Together strategists suggested it would do.
However, we need to remember that the Yes tally in last month’s ICM poll was remarkably high. At 46% the Yes share of the vote (after excluding Don’t Knows) was the highest – and still is the highest – in any independently commissioned poll so far. Moreover, we noted at the time that all of the movement to Yes since the previous ICM poll last September occurred amongst those aged less than 45, and thanks to a deficit of younger respondents (and especially of those aged 16-24) these respondents had been upweighted, in some cases quite heavily. There was thus an apparent risk that the size of the swing to Yes since September might have been exaggerated by the impact of the weighting scheme.
Indeed, ICM have amended their weighting procedure such that now it only tries to ensure the sample has the correct overall number of persons aged 16-34 rather than ensuring it has the appropriate number of 16-24 year olds in particular. The effect of the change is that those in the youngest age group are only upweighted by 1.25 rather than by as much as two, while there is now less chance that the weight is being applied to a small and thus potentially unrepresentative group of voters.
So all in all, we should not be surprised that there has been some fallback in the Yes side’s share of the vote since the last ICM poll – just as a change of methodology meant that we needed to be cautious when the first post-currency announcement poll, by Survation for the Daily Mail, showed as much as a seven point swing to Yes. Today’s poll still shows a three point swing to Yes since ICM’s first poll last September – and now at least some kind of swing is in evidence across all age groups rather than only amongst younger people in particular.
Thus the best judgement we can make is that so far there is insufficient evidence to suggest the currency announcement has made much difference to the balance of the Yes and No vote. On average the two post currency announcement polls put the Yes vote on 44% as opposed to 42% last month – which given all the methodological caveats about both exercises is too little of a difference to make much of either way.
What though we should note is that in the nine polls to have been conducted so far this year the Yes tally has averaged 42% (once Don’t Knows excluded). In contrast the Yes side stood at just 38% in all of the polls conducted between September and November last year. The exact short-term impact of the currency announcement may still be uncertain, but the evidence that we are now looking at a rather tighter race than we were just a couple of months ago, albeit one where the No side are clearly still ahead, continues to accumulate.
Much like the Survation poll, this latest poll also suggests that one important reason why the currency announcement may not have had much impact is that it is not widely believed. Only 35% of all voters (and just 16% of those who are still undecided) are clear that Scotland would not be able ‘to use the pound in much the same way as it does now’, a formulation that admittedly could be taken to cover using sterling without a formal currency union as well as with one. Nearly half (47%) believe that Scotland would be able to carry on using the pound.
Of particular interest is the fact that Labour supporters (that is those who say they voted Labour in 2011) have reacted rather differently to the currency announcement than either Conservatives or Liberal Democrats. No less than 71% of Conservative supporters believe that Scotland would not be able to continue using the pound, while just 15% believe it would. The equivalent figures for Liberal Democrat voters are 60% and 28%.
In contrast almost as many Labour supporters (39%) reckon that Scotland would be able to use the pound after independence as think it would not (42%). By deploying George Osborne as the principal spokesperson for the currency announcement, the No side may have served to undermine its credibility amongst Labour supporters, who of course comprise the largest portion of the unionist camp.
Meanwhile, the EU Commission President, Mr Barroso, apparently has even less credibility in the eyes of Scots than Mr Osborne. Just 23% believe that an independent Scotland would definitely or probably be denied membership of the European Union. Even No voters are split down the middle on this issue.
Evidently the No side needs to remember that neither UK coalition nor foreign politicians are necessarily the best advocates when it comes to trying to persuade Scots of the merits of their case. Maybe the next time they have something important to say they would be better off getting their leader, Mr Darling, to say it?