We know for certain that a good many Scottish newspaper and broadcast journalists read this website, so maybe one of them will enlighten us about something. The latest Scottish Social Attitudes Survey report contained a wealth of tables and statistics in respect of the independence debate, but the entire media seized, with complete and startling uniformity, on one in particular.
It was a curious choice to highlight, as it related to a vaguely-worded, ambiguous question with no relevance to the options which voters will actually choose between in the referendum. Yet the very same survey contained a much more interesting set of results which got either a dismissive passing mention or no coverage at all.
Since, as we’ve already established, there’s no Grand Unionist Black-Ops Society which meets in Pacific Quay to decide how best to serve the grim needs of the No campaign, we’d honestly like to know how not one single newspaper, TV channel or radio station thought this particular question merited lead status in their coverage of the SSAS. Because it presents a radically different picture of Scottish opinion to the one absolutely everyone decided, by miraculous coincidence, to paint.
The poll is pretty self-explanatory. The four options equate directly to (from top to bottom) independence, “devo-max”, the status quo and the complete abolition of devolution. (Or “support for devolution”, as the endearingly-guileless “Better Together” prefers to call it.) And the most obvious conclusion is that the status quo – which a No vote will represent in 2014 – is the least popular of the three “mainstream” choices. (Abolition not being advocated by any political party.)
If you strip out the “devo max” fans and the undecideds entirely, the results come out at pretty clear 54-46 victory for Yes. If you divide the same votes equally between Yes and No (as seems eminently reasonable) you get a closer 52-48 victory for Yes. And even if you split the devo-maxers and don’t-knows 2:1 in favour of No, independence only loses 47-53, a similarly tight result which, like the even-split distribution, falls within the standard 3% margin of polling error.
Allocating two-thirds of those who want far more powers transferred to the Scottish Parliament – basically independence except for the armed forces and Foreign Office – to the No camp seems a very generous division, but it still produces a referendum balanced on a knife-edge. Yet the Scottish media would have us believe instead that Yes voters are basically outnumbered by an overwhelming three to one.
(The figures also show that despite the orgy of British nationalism unleashed during the Jubilee and Olympics, support for independence in 2012 was still substantially higher – by 25% – than in 2010, and support for the status quo still lower. It’ll be intriguing to see the direction of movement in 2013, with no multi-billion-pound advertisements for Britishness running on every channel for weeks on end.)
So with the best will in the world, Scottish journalists, reporters and broadcasters – do you truthfully believe your coverage of the past week has accurately reflected not just Scottish opinion, but also a balanced view of the contents of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey? We know you’re there. We’d love to hear from you.