Tuesday, 1 May 2012

An election this week and no polls in sight.

Clarification is required, no obviously “Scotland only” polls in sight.

The local council elections are days away. Normally before any national poll there are a flurry of opinion polls, they appear in such abundance that we often seem to know what the result will be well before any official announcement. We even get “polls of polls” for goodness sake.

These council elections are different. There have been UK wide polls, the most recent by Yougov, and there have been the usual ongoing monthly polls by UK newspapers, but no published Scots specific polls.

The important terminology there is “no published polls”, because if the internet and its various components such as the twittesphere and blogosphere are to be credited then such polls have indeed taken place.

That would give two scenarios; that some organisations are paying for polls but refusing to publish the results or that internet chatter is wildly inaccurate and no polls are being done in Scotland. We also haven’t even seen one on independence preferences in the lead up to the local elections.

That no polls were being done might have a sliver of credibility if not for the internet’s contradiction. This is, after all, “just” a local council election, and it would be notoriously more difficult to predict by polling as it doesn’t use a simple “first past the post” system. That would have us also believe that an approximate algorithm couldn’t be constructed in order to give a rough idea. The only substantial surprise in recent years was May 5th 2011, and perhaps that tells us something today.

With any election approaching there’s a high degree of interest, even among those not normally politically inclined, as to what the outcome of our perceived democracy might be. It is natural to wish to know what our friends and neighbours might be thinking or doing, yet the media is so far largely treating us to a stone-wall of silence. Yet the same media will sell its own product by supplying that same information.

Against this apparent national news blackout we’re being treated to tales of imagined wrong doing and seemingly never ending spurious accusations of impropriety on the part of our duly elected officials. Spurious is perhaps a mild word, manufactured might be better, as spurious indicates error, manufactured demonstrates intent, and there can be no other view on the current media circus than intent when a nation has the utterly incredulous situation that it’s leader consistently responds to these charges by referring himself or herself to the nations watchdogs and is just as consistently cleared of any wrongdoing.

The only other viable conjecture is media distraction from the real process, electing based upon policy stance.

The polls, which are of almost universal interest, are missing; the unsubstantiated scandals appear never ending, when one would suspect the opposite in a healthy democracy.

The first thing that we become aware of is that we do not therefore live in a healthy democracy, at best it is ailing, well on the way to imminent life support, at worst it is but a sham, an illusion to pacify the perceived unwashed. In a true democracy the people are sovereign and participate in every major decision.

The next point of note is that the polls, typically published as soon as the results are tabulated are obvious by their absence, this excludes a few “UK wide” polls where Scots subsamples are so small as to be relatively worthless.

This lack of Scots polls could be a lead on from last year, it’s unlikely all the pollsters got it so wrong then, but what happened to those that didn’t. The likelihood is that they were simply rubbished, none were printed or published. If there’s a movement afoot that you want to try to keep somewhat subdued the last thing anyone wishes is to give it momentum, impetus and renewed vigor. That’s one possibility for not publishing, for suppressing.

There’s a second reason the poll purchaser may not want to publish, where they simply don’t believe the results they’re getting. Credibility has some worth after all.

The third significant reason that one could entertain for not publishing is that there’s no sustained interest; that between the date of commissioning and the earliest date of publication the interest or fundamentals behind the story in question just died. The ongoing smear campaigns coupled to increasing political activity all indicate this isn’t the motivation here. Then there’s the fact we haven’t actually voted yet.

No Scots specific polls, are we in for a surprise on May 3rd 2012 which will make May 5th 2011 look like a storm in a teacup, either way?

There are three possible significant outcomes on May 3rd:

1 - The SNP secure some 80% or more of its increased field of candidates as elected officials.

2 – There is largely little change in the political makeup of local authority representation.

3 - Or the Nationalists lose vote share and labour again becomes the largest local party in Scotland.

Discussing the national outcomes at local level in reverse order, a switch in electoral representation of less than 5% from SNP to Labour would again see Labour as the largest local party in Scotland. This would most likely lead to “hardball” between Holyrood and Westminster in the referendum run up and substantial crowing by Labour and their supportive media about the result. Much will be made about the Nationalist “storm in a teacup” and as yet unstated real “benefits” of Union.

The middle path has the status quo largely unchanged. It may well even be proclaimed and heralded as a victory for the Union, with “unchanged” being confabulated to “no desire” for change. It’s an interesting scenario as a “largely unchanged” result in the eyes of the media and Union parties equates to an actual loss of standing being spun as a victory. The middle “unchanged” result could be anything between a small increase in SNP councilors to perhaps as many as 10% more. As part of this picture one would expect the present discourse between the respective governments at Holyrood and Westminster to continue mostly in its current vein.

Should the “unthinkable” be repeated with a similar landslide as May 5th 2011, expect there to be reasonably rapid and beneficial changes to take place. These will be changes not just good for Scotland, but helpful to England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well. If Scots elect some 80% or more of the proposed cadre of SNP candidates it will be a message London can’t ignore. The SNP will be in the position Labour was for decades, with the exception of Westminster representation which will now have the very real potential of falling to Nationalist hands at the next election, the SNP will have total dominance in Scotland.

This is a situation unacceptable to Westminster; there will be public furor, disbelief and angst with private quiet deliberation. Expect a quickly modified approach, possibly already planned for; the fear and scaremongering will continue publically while privately there will be an acknowledgement of failure.

Expect the conversations between Bute House and Downing Street to become more mature as Number 10 accepts the position it discovers itself in. After May 4th 2012 we can anticipate a better relationship between the two parliaments begin to grow, and we can look forward to the world as a whole taking much more interest in the affairs of our tiny nation. It should help to focus everything on a fair and free debate leading up to 2014.

Our choice will be revealed as the votes are counted on May 4th, appropriate announcements will be made. Until then we must simply wait as it doesn’t appear to be in the interest of those who may know to supply us with any advance notice of the possible outcome.


  1. Another thought-provoking article. Well done, Hazel.

  2. I like the favourable projection,Oh how my wishes would come true.I do hope for this result,but I still have a bit of the fears,still life has disappointments and you get more the older you get, and I have become somewhat used to them.I was hoping for a Murdoch trap to be sprung or a nice parry from Alex,still time to do it all tomorrow.

  3. I have heard, though have no proof, that Scottish Labour commissioned their own polls which didn't predict a positive outcome for them at all. I'm sure if they had done, we would have heard more about them.
    I am though hopefully optimistic that the SNP will take a far greater share of the vote. It may be a total disaster for Scottish Labour, but in the long run may do them some good, as they may have that long hard think they should have had after last May's result.

  4. Is the subtext of this article that perhaps there have been commissioned polls, but those commissioning them have concealed the results?

    If that is the case, where does that straw tend to blow?

    1. Internet chatter suggests polls have been taken. Whether they have or not I don't know.
      If they have, only those who paid for/commissioned them know the reasons as to why they have not been published.