Salmond v Darling: who won?

So, I went to bed last night somewhat discomfited.

The stress engendered by trying to watch the bloody thing in Scotland’s far-flung southern most corner hadn’t helped.  It might have been on ITV Border but it would seem there are two versions of this channel on Freeview.  Sadly, the folks appear to have the Cumbrian version.

The STV player crashed, indicating the level of interest in watching this debate all over the UK and no doubt, the world.  I even tried the pub next door but alas, the woman behind the bar didn’t know how to change the channel.  Frustrated at every turn, relying on twitter to gauge how it was all going was probably not wise.  By the time I arrived, the No side was crowing, the Yes side strangely muted.

So with only little more than half the debate to go, I finally got to settle down with my beer and popcorn in time for the First Minister’s cross exam of Alistair Darling.

Did my toes curl at the opening exchanges?  Yep.  Gathering all the online snippets and insider jibes of *he says, she says* didn’t seem appropriate or relevant. This was focusing on flotsam and jetsam and point scoring, no doubt leaving much of the audience of non-aligned and non-partisans in the dark.  Eek.

The section on the EU was better but surely the point wasn’t to get Darling to agree to remove the misinformation from the website but to agree with what the European President said? On the successful, independent country issue, well that was better, but surely Darling landed a few blows by getting some substantive points into his attempts to avoid answering the question?

Then it was Bernard’s and the audience’s turn.  It seemed that the No camp had prepared its questioners better.  Short, sharp and digging not just at the currency issue, but also having a pop at Alex Salmond personally.  But generally, thoughtful and often, heartfelt questions.  And if anyone can claim to have had a good debate, it’s Bernard.  His exam of both men was incisive and this made for the best segment.

My conclusion by bedtime?  It hadn’t been a great day at the office, as they say.  Alex Salmond could do miles better than this, surely.  I know, I’ve seen and heard him do better.  Trying to put myself in the shoes of all those undecided voters I keep encountering on the doorsteps, would the First Minister’s performance have propelled them further towards a Yes? Especially women, who largely want to vote yes but just don’t like that there are so many uncertainties and unanswered questions, particularly on economic matters? Frankly, I didn’t dare answer that one.

But what a difference the cold light of day makes.  I watched the whole debate this morning from start to finish.

On opening statements, it was positive versus negative.  Salmond won, hands down, setting out three areas he wanted independence to change for Scotland.  Darling slung some soundbites together and focused on what we can’t do and wouldn’t be allowed to do. It was no, not and never for Darling from start to finish.

The currency cross-exam and sections on it afterwards were uncomfortable but Salmond stuck to his key message – it’s my job to argue for what is best for Scotland.  And Darling got tied in knots when Bernard took over: on scoring points, Salmond actually won, subtly undermining Darling’s supposedly rock-solid reputation on fiscal management.

And Darling was often flippant throughout, dismissive of the Yes woman’s question about who subsidises who – never a good move on live telly – while Salmond was earnestly serious, calm and measured at every stage. He got across all the key messages for a Yes, on democracy, social justice and the economy:  Darling had little to offer in terms of what voting no actually means.

Then there’s the body language.  Coming out from behind the lectern to engage with the audience in the room and beyond was a good move for Alex Salmond.  At one point, Alistair Darling had actually turned his back on them and preferred only to engage with Bernard. And all that finger pointing.  At Salmond, at Bernard, at the audience.  Not good. Worse, he actually lost it at some points, hectoring and floundering and throwing out scare stats in equal measure. Meanwhile, Alex Salmond calmly set out the arguments for and was actually majestic on social justice issues.  Visibly angry at how ordinary people are suffering under Westminster austerity: many out there will have identifed with that.

Did Alex Salmond win it then?  No.  But he did among some of the key voting groups in this race to the referendum finish.

The 512 hardy souls who were polled by ICM immediately after the debate decided that Alistair Darling *won* 47% to 37%.  He clearly found favour among men, the over 55s and those living in Central Scotland, the Lothians, the Highlands and North East of Scotland.  Perhaps worryingly for the First Minister, only about two-thirds of those who had been yes before the debate or who were SNP voters think he won.

But only 4% of women thought Darling won; more in the 35 to 54 age group thought Salmond won; in Glasgow, the voters were almost evenly split on it. And among the undecideds generally? Overwhelmingly, whether they had been undecided before or still were after the debate, they thought Alex Salmond won. In fact, post-debate, an astonishing 40% of undecideds reckoned Alex Salmond won, compared to only 14% who believed that Alistair Darling did.

Who had the more appealing personality?  Men plumped for Darling, women overwhelmingly plumped for Salmond, as did voters in most parts of Scotland.

Who had the better arguments? On this, Darling emerges as a clear winner.  But again, not among women or undecided voters.

And on voting intentions in the referendum?  It would appear that what many thought of the debate made no difference to voting intentions.  Young voters 16 to 34 might have thought Darling won but as many of them intend to vote yes as vote no, while the opposite is true of the 35 to 54 age group.

And it might be small numbers, but more of the undecideds before the debate had shifted to yes than to no afterwards.

But given that over half of those undecided voters are still undecided, it’s clear that this debate didn’t provide anything like a game-changer.  No is still ahead and according to this poll and the general consensus, won the debate.  Yet, look below the waterline and Darling might not have had quite such a good debate as the pundits have opined, nor Salmond taken the *pounding* favoured by the headline writers.

Alex Salmond actually managed to close the gap in voting intentions – down to 6% between No and Yes – and in particular, close the gap among women and young adult voters.  Yes would win in Glasgow, Mid Scotland and Fife, Highlands and the North East and over a quarter of Labour and Lib Dem voters would vote Yes.

The strategy then appeared to work, in parts.  It was never designed to appeal to partisans like me – after all, my vote was won a long time ago.  And occasionally, it pays to remind myself – and indeed, ourselves – of this.  These debates aren’t about us, for us nor aimed at those of us who are already voting Yes but at all the others who can still be persuaded to in the six weeks that remain.  I think I’ll sleep better tonight realising that.

 

 

 

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An easy way to bury good news

So, the Sabbatical has begun and officially entered day two.  Time to get down to some serious blogging then.

I had intended to add my tuppence worth of perspective to the Gunn show or Lallygate – why has no one named it yet?  But frankly it’s all been said.  I’m on the Sillars’ side of things here, right down to believing in the conspiracy theories of infiltration: I am nothing if not my mother’s daughter.  We oldies in this campaign might induce eye-rolling from younger activists as a result but to dismiss the role that we can and do play is pushing it a little. But then that was always the arrogance of youth and long may it continue.

Hugh Wallace makes some fair points in his riposte but he is wrong on the idea that the “leadership” should be urging us over the barricades on the flotsam and jetsam of this campaign.  The media was always going to be biased against independence: it is an entirely conservative institution which is part of the problem not the solution to Scotland’s democratic deficit.  To pour resources into fighting it would be futile and counter-intuitive. As the last week has shown, everyone trying to do this on the Yes campaign’s behalf sucks up energy, people and time – crucially, time when the clock is ticking down to 18 September – of those left to clear up the mess.

And as to others’ involvement in it all, well Edinburgh Eye does a majestic take down which is both comprehensive and brave.  Because of anyone has been guilty of creating a climate in which critics are to be silenced (after being abused and insulted of course) it is that blog.  Those wordles are mighty interesting and worth a look, if only to determine which blogsites are spending more of their time talking about the cause, the campaign and reasons to vote yes and which are not.

There are three things to add to it all.  First, an oldie but a goodie: when the storymaker becomes the story or the messenger becomes the message, it is time for those individuals to go and find something more interesting and useful to do instead. The First Minister’s loyalty was admirable but misplaced. He should have allowed Campbell Gunn to resign and accepted it with the usual equanimity which accompanies such setpieces.  Now, the thing plays on.  How can a media advisor advise if he can no longer engage with everyone he is expected to advise without having the credibility of his advice questioned?  The same rule of thumb applies for Wings over Scotland.

Secondly, a much wiser burd than me suggested a litmus test for any engagement on any issue in the run up to September. Does what you are about to say, write, tweet, post, share, ask, posit or pronounce help deliver a Yes vote in September?  Will it help those who are currently undecided but interested edge towards voting yes?  Go on, try it yourself.  Look at anything written about Clare Lally or J K Rowling by some supporters on the Yes side in the last week and then ask yourself how those utterings might convince someone to vote Yes.  And then go and read Andrew Wilson’s brilliant piece on J K Rowling and contrast and compare.

Thirdly, morale counts in this campaign more than any other, just as impressions do in all campaigns.  Thankfully, few beyond the anoraks tune in every week to First Minister’s Questions but it is a key arena in the battle for morale. The First Minister last Thursday was in the trenches, on the backfoot, being made to defend a situation not of his own making nor choosing, having to answer issues that weren’t in the script for the week.  And every week, he is seen to be rocking and reeling not only drains his energy and saps life from the narrative arc around him and his leadership role, but it puts a spring in the step of the No camp.  He is pivotal to this campaign and it is one reason why the other side is so keen, week in week out, to make the campaign about him and not about the issue. We really shouldn’t be helping them do so.

Finally, every time the Scottish Government and the Yes campaign are having to rebut, the good news, the news we want people in Scotland and especially, the undecideds, to hear and take on board, is buried. Yes, the media would try to do it anyway but why would we want to make that job an easier one to achieve?  If we are all talking about stushies – and we are – then no one is talking about the positives.

Which allows us at last to arrive at the point of this blogpost.  To shine a light on good news stories wiped off the headlines and the schedules last week, which No and the media are happy to bury but which we should all be shouting from the rooftops.

Drilling is about to begin in a new North Sea oil field with potential to produce 96 million barrels of oil.  And no, the story isn’t that the UK Energy Minister misappropriates the term country but that here is evidence that there is plenty more oil in the sea yet and that is good news for the future economic prosperity of an independent Scotland.

Statistics show that there are now more women than ever in Scotland in employment. There are 1.2 million now employed, the highest since records began in 1992 and an increase of 35,000 since last year.  Now there might well be issues with pay, with job security and even the nature of these jobs if we scratch below the headline figures. Yet, some of the levers we need to address these things currently sit with Westminster.  Look at what we have achieved – are achieving – for the women of Scotland with the powers we currently have and think about what more we could do with independence.

It’s not every day the Daily Record would describe a poll as a bombshell but that is indeed what happened this week. Its latest Survation poll found that the gap between Yes and No continues to narrow, with Yes up to 39% (up 2 points on the previous month) and No down to 44% (down 3 points). Better still, the survey findings suggest the gender gap is also narrowing and also that young people are now more likely to vote yes than no.  That in itself is a major turnaround. The poll also shows that the SNP and Yes’s instincts right at the start of this long campaign were right – the risk of more Tory governments Scotland did not vote for in the current constitutional set-up is a key consideration for many.  A majority would vote yes (44 to 38%) if they thought the Conservatives would win the 2015 General Election and form the next UK Government.

So, if you want to be saying anything negative at all or having swipe at anyone anytime soon, feel free to unleash your worst on the Tories and the fact that the Union gives us governments we neither vote for nor want.  I find highlighting the devastating impact of austerity on the incomes and quality of life of women and children goes down well.

 

Poll latest: whose voters are coming out of the closet?

Even an ardent poll anorak like me is on the verge of giving up.  They are all over the place and have made a mockery of the burdz most recent prediction.  Ho hum.

Certainly, there are big discrepancies amongst the various polling agencies, particularly on how and when they are sampling, which may account for some of the variance in findings.  Or there again, maybe not.

The only way to determine what is going on is by tracking the same pollster’s findings over a period of time.  This – hint – would be a lot easier to do if the media would commission the same company to ask the same questions in the same way of similar sized samples at the same time of the week.  

Meanwhile, let’s make the most of what we’ve got:  let’s look at the latest YouGov poll findings, commissioned by the Scottish Green Party, against the poll the Scotsman commissioned in October 2010.   

  Constituency vote     

  Regional vote     

 
  Oct 10 (Jan 11)     

  Oct 10 (Jan 11)     

 
Labour     

40 (41)     

+1     

36 (40)     

+4     

SNP     

34 (32)     

-2     

31 (26)     

-5     

Conservative     

14 (15)     

+1     

15 (15)     

0     

Lib Dem     

8 (7)     

-1     

8 (7)     

-1     

Don’t Know     

13 (11)     

-2     

13 (12)     

-1     

Green     

    6 (6)     

0     

The headline findings suggests a hardening of support for Labour: the biggest shifts are on the regional vote and it suggests the list strategy being deployed by them might well be paying off.

Otherwise, it’s much of a muchness, especially for the Greens who, despite garnering considerable air time for strong stances on the Parliament’s tax varying powers and the budget, are showing little sign of momentum.  Their 6% share won’t be enough for them to leap beyond their current two seats. 

As usual, the interesting stuff is in the demographic breakdown, especially in Scotland’s squeezed middle, which the burd has wittered on about in previous poll analyses

Folks, brace yourselves, for there’s movement here that few of us will believe and even fewer are going to like.

Women?  Well, no comfort here for the SNP and the First Minister.  The trend is downwards:  4% fewer women intend to vote SNP on the constituency vote now than in the autumn.  On the regional vote, it’s 6%. 

The shift in voting intentions amongst 40 – 59 year olds is well within the margin of error, with a point gained or lost there for nearly all the parties.  But there appears to have been considerable shuffling by the over 60s – the age group most likely to actually turn out and vote:

  Constituency vote     

  Regional vote     

 
  Oct 10 (Jan 11)     

  Oct 10 (Jan 11)     

 
Labour     

28 (23)     

-5     

24 (24)     

0     

SNP     

44 (41)     

-3     

40 (32)     

-8     

Conservative     

16 (20)     

+4     

16 (22)     

+6     

Lib Dem     

9 (12)     

+3     

9 (9)     

0     

Don’t Know     

9 (10)     

+1     

6 (11)     

+5     

Green     

    6 (6)     

0     

Some comfort here for the SNP, for they are still well ahead of Labour but it appears to be a pretty soft vote. 

Looking across the headline figures and the various demographic shifts, only one party stands out as being on the rise. 

The Conservatives.  Yep, you read it right.

They appear to be flatlining, but underneath the headlines, there is a bit of a swing on: 

  Conservatives  

 

   
Constituency vote  

 

14  

15  

+1  

Male  

 

12  

13  

+1  

Female  

 

15  

17  

+2  

40 – 59  

 

11  

13  

+2  

60+  

 

16  

20  

+4  

C2DE  

 

9  

12  

+3  

       
Regional Vote  

 

15  

15  

0  

Male  

 

13  

13  

0  

Female  

 

16  

18  

+2  

40 – 59  

 

11  

14  

+3  

60+  

 

16  

22  

+6  

C2DE  

 

9  

12  

+3  

Bizarrely, Scotland’s squeezed middle appears to be veering rightwards, even though they are the “squeezed middle” because they are most likely to be affected by the ConDem government cuts and reforms.  The shift appears to be at the SNP’s expense, especially on the regional vote, which is precisely where the Conservatives need to do well to increase their tally of seats.

What’s going on?  Who knows.  It might just be down to the weighting which reflects the generality of the UK population’s political inclinations, rather than the peculiarity of Scotland’s.  Hopefully, in a few weeks’ time, YouGov will move to more appropriate weighting and we will be able to see how accurate these findings have been. 

Or it could be that Conservative voters, notoriously reticent with pollsters, have decided that now is a safe time to come out of the closet.  

Whatever, poll movement in Scotland in the direction of the Tories is noteworthy.  Whisper it, but this poll suggest the Conservatives are making a comeback.