X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.spectator.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Coffee House

What difference the Scottish independence question makes

2 February 2012

11:39 AM

2 February 2012

11:39 AM

A very useful contribution from Lord Ashcroft this morning, in the form of a poll he’s commissioned on Scottish independence. What sets Ashcroft’s poll apart from previous surveys is that he
asks three different questions to three different sets of around 1,000 Scots.
 
The first is the question Alex Salmond wants on the ballot paper at the referendum: ‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?’ 41 per cent say ‘Yes’ and
59 per cent say ‘No’. The second alters the wording only slightly, to ‘Do you agree or disagree…’ and finds 39 per cent agreeing (i.e. supporting independence) and 61 per
cent disagreeing. So far, fairly consistent: the difference between these two sets of results is within the poll’s margin of error.
 
But ‘agree or disagree’ questions have a tendency to bias results towards the ‘agree’ side. Anthony Wells pointed this out in a great post a couple of days ago, with
some examples. For example, a single poll last
month had both 74 per cent agreeing that ‘The Government should not increase public borrowing any further and its top priority should be to pay off the nation’s deficit as soon as
possible’ and 49 per cent agreeing ‘The Government should borrow more in the short term to increase economic growth as much as possible even if it means reducing the deficit more
slowly’. In other words, at least 23 per cent of respondents said both that borrowing should be increased AND that borrowing should not be increased.
 
To counteract this phenomenon, Ashcroft’s third question asks people to choose between two different options: ‘Should Scotland become an independent country, or should it remain part of
the United Kingdom?’ Under this formulation, he finds significantly greater support for the union: 33 per cent choose independence, against 67 for staying in the UK. As well as avoiding the
bias towards agreement, Ashcroft suggests two other reasons for
this question finding less support for independence than Salmond’s:

‘First, the use of “be”, rather than “become”. Asking whether Scotland “should become an independent country” emphasises, however faintly, that
people would be voting for a significant change. This would probably dampen enthusiasm for independence… Second, and more striking still, the Salmond Formulation does not mention the United
Kingdom – a point made powerfully by Alistair Darling, among others.’

Ashcroft’s poll proves that the wording of the referendum question can have a significant effect on the results. It also gives the lie to the SNP’s claim that this week’s Ipsos MORI poll confirmed ‘that the momentum is with the independence case’ — as they were
comparing a more neutrally worded older poll with the new poll which used Salmond’s question.
 
What this all means is that, if the true will of the Scottish people is to be gauged in a referendum, a different — less biased — question will have to be on the ballot paper. As Ashcroft
says, ‘The question is too important to be asked in such a partisan way’.

Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.


Show comments
Close