Tory commentator* David Torrance was a little mean about us on Twitter last night, but we won’t hold it against him. As a ubiquitous cross-media Scottish pundit, though, we’re a bit more concerned about his journalistic diligence and grasp of arithmetic.
The bespectacled biographer appeared on the evening’s edition of Scotland Tonight, and tweeted a question about the preceding interview with Blair Jenkins, in which the Yes campaign chief had claimed to recall opinion polls in recent years showing a majority for independence. Helpfully, we sent over a link, annotated with details of several that fitted the criterion of a higher Yes vote than No vote.
But it turns out that according to Mr Torrance, getting more votes than the only other option in a two-choice referendum doesn’t count as a win.
The problem was that only one of the examples we cited showed support for independence over 50%, rather than simply being higher than opposition to it. But of course, you can’t vote Don’t Know in a referendum. If people don’t know they don’t vote, and if they don’t vote their views aren’t counted. If only three people turn out in autumn 2014 and two of them vote Yes, that’s still a majority and you still win, because anything else is a ridiculous affront to the simplest principles of democracy.
It’s not a complicated argument, but Mr Torrance continued to dispute it with people far more distinguished than ourselves (having initially denied the one outright-majority poll, from 2006, existed at all), which we found odd and a little discomfiting. You’d expect a professional political commentator to be able to grasp the difference between a multi-party election (which has the possibility of a plurality) and a Yes/No referendum (which doesn’t), but it seemed to keep escaping him.
Curious, we had a look a little further back on his timeline and found an intriguing exchange from the previous evening. During a discussion involving the Labour For Independence group and our dear old pal Duncan Hothersall, a Green activist had revealed some polling data about Labour members which we’d covered way back in December 2011, as well as another poll analysed by Lallands Peat Worrier in summer 2012, both of which showed that roughly 20% of Labour voters support independence.
(A proportion that until that point Hothersall had been ridiculing as preposterous.)
Torrance’s reply was “Finally some evidence!”, which seemed a curious thing to say, given that he’s a political analyst/journalist, the data had been in the public domain for 15 and six months respectively, and Ipsos MORI and YouGov (who conducted and published the two polls in question) aren’t exactly obscure sources.
Sadly we couldn’t conduct a direct Twitter conversation about any of this with him, because David suddenly blocked us many months ago, just after a perfectly pleasant chat about Mrs Thatcher and without a cross word having been exchanged. Only as a result of Monday evening’s events did we finally find out that our crime was apparently being “tiresome and a little bit obsessive”.
But as that seems to mean “doing your research properly and knowing what you’re talking about even when you’re not being paid for it”, it’s an insult we’ll wear with pride.
*Mr Torrance contacted Wings Over Scotland on Twitter within minutes of the publication of this article, expressing his anger at this description, which he claimed to regard as a personal slur. (Although in making the complaint he did also throw out terms like “paranoid”, “deranged” and “maniac”, which seemed perhaps a wee smidge hypocritical.) Nevertheless, while it remains our honest personal impression of his political views, formed over many months, we’re happy to note here in the interests of fairness that Mr Torrance emphatically denies any such preferences.