Scottish nationalists may want to get the champagne at the ready. Word reaches Steerpike that Andrew ‘Calamity’ Cooper – the serial bungler whose last project was the EU Remain campaign – is being sounded out to lend his expertise to Scots trying to save the union.
The SNP want a referendum within two years; Theresa May has said ‘not yet’ but plans are being made by unionists. Unsurprisingly, Cooper has been at a bit of a loose end since the EU campaign. A campaign is currently being set up in preparation of a second independence referendum — with the working title ‘New Direction’. It’s thought that Populus, Cooper’s firm, is the frontrunner to be the official pollster — thanks in part to the firm being used by Conservatives for focus groups on this and other issues.
Cooper has form in Scotland. It was here that he pioneered Project Fear, a relentlessly negative campaign that put off so many Scots that support for independence rose from 30pc at the start of the campaign to 45pc at the end. Undeterred he repeated the formula for Remain, with the same staggeringly counterproductive results: support for Brexit moved from 35pc to 52pc.
Not that Cooper could see what he was doing. On the day of the EU referendum, he sent round his firm Populus’s final poll for the vote, showing that Remain should win by an astonishing ten points. Many involved in the Remain campaign have since pointed to Cooper’s misguided polling as a reason they lost — making them believe they had a lead they did not. Jim Messina, the former Obama strategist who worked with Lynton Crosby to deliver David Cameron’s 2015 majority, worked with Cooper on Remain. The experience led him to describe Cooper as ‘the worst pollster I have ever worked with’.
If the SNP could have one person advising the unionists, they’d choose Cooper — whose failure to learn the lessons of the near-defeat in the 2014 referendum led to proper defeat in the 2016 EU referendum. Ahead of the general election, Cooper’s firm Populus declared that Cameron had a ‘0.5 per cent chance’ – its final prediction – of winning a Tory majority. This figure was produced by ‘feeding polling data and other information into a proprietary computer model to produce a percentage likelihood of various outcomes’ — to little avail.
Mr S recommends that New Direction look in a new direction for a pollster before it’s too late – otherwise the Union will be in greater trouble than anyone first imagined.