The Grumpy Old Man

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....Elections, Referenda and Opinion Polls....

...A discussion on opinion polls and their effect on election candidates and the general public...

I had not intended to make any comment on the recent British General Election and Scottish Independence Referendum but when I looked back on them it made me realise that politicians seem to have very short, selective memories or they think the electorate in general has either or both of these afflictions. In addition they show themselves to be gullible and naive, and have the gall to think that the electorate in general is as well.

From last year's Scottish Independence Referendum a number of things spring to mind. One of them being the opinion polls predicting a win for the "yes" or independence camp by a narrow majority. What was interesting was that the polls were almost unanimous in that prediction with the only variation being the size of the majority.

Secondly, I recall the leader of the Scottish National Party saying that this referendum was a once in a lifetime opportunity and you would not see (in the event of a no vote) a repeat referendum for a long time.

And thirdly, having lived in Edinburgh some 50 years ago, I saw no new arguments in favour of independence. It seemed to be something that a few people felt "would be nice" and really very little more.

Additionally it became apparent, as the campaign boringly lurched to its conclusion, this "it would be nice" was driving the whole argument and nobody seemed to have paid attention to such mundane matters as "what currency would we use?" and "what about the European Union". One got the distinct impression that nobody in Scotland had actually thought through the potential ramifications of these questions and assumed that the status quo should remain. What they failed to realise was that the operations running these organisations may have had different ideas. As the campaign progressed it became apparent that the Bank of England (for sterling) and the European Commission (et al) certainly did have a totally different view. Much to the consternation of the "independence" camp.

With regard to the opinion polls, the end result (in Grumpy's opinion and a rather bleak "first past the post" view) was hardly a close run thing with the "no" vote of 55 percent and the "yes" vote 44 percent of turnout. In simple terms, the "no" camp actually polled 25 percent more votes than "yes" camp. That's not what I call a close run thing. If I was an opinion pollster, after all the years I'd been doing it, I would expect to be a little closer than that or I'd pack my bags and look for another job.

I find it galling that the politicians hang so much credence on these opinion polls. They were all rushing about like headless chickens sending out the big guns on their side and making all sorts of promises to the Scottish people in order to maintain their allegiance to the union. I didn't find it surprising that people got quite annoyed when it was pointed out that these promises to Scottish people would also mean similar changes south of the border!

But then history has shown that politicians are naive and stupid enough to believe these polls almost down to the last decimal point. I recall in a British General Election in 1992, a party leader was so convinced that his party was going to win the election and he would become the next British Prime Minister that he held an election rally that degenerated into an all out victory rally, only to find when the real election results came in a week later, he had lost. I ask you, how naive and stupid can you be, I suppose the only saving grace was that he didn't win! At least we haven't heard much of him on the political scene since that debacle!

But the vagaries of opinion polling in the UK are manifold and once again if I move onto the British General Election of this year we see that the opinion polls consistently showed no overall majority for any one party. From memory I believe this indication was shown by every single poll. Once again the politicians fell for the bait hook, line and sinker, spending the last month or so of the campaign discussing not policies, but who they would and who they would not hop into bed with to form the next Government. It was interesting to see that very few people seemed to fancy doing business with the Conservative Party and yet they were the eventual victors with an overall (maybe a little slim) working majority.

What was absolutely fascinating was the performance of the Scottish National Party who managed to almost totally obliterate all other parties north of the border. I take my hat off to them for their success but must ask how in the world they managed it when they could only muster a 44 percent vote in a referendum on what must be the biggest linchpin of party policy. In fact I'd go so far to suggest that the whole party revolves around little else.

Finally I must comment on a statement made after the General Election by the ex-leader of the Scottish National Party. He said that he believes there would be another Scottish independence referendum. I suppose he thinks that with the Scottish National Party holding 56 out of the total of 650 seats in the lower house he will have great persuasion and no problems in gaining a majority to initiate that referendum. Even with these figures he still claims it to be inevitable and would happen soon (during this Parliament?) I'm sure he would be most offended if he was accused of having poor arithmetic dexterity and a short memory. Once again he seems to think the electorate has!

I always used to think that politics was something of a circus and there are no prizes for guessing who the King Clown is this time!

But then, as I said in earlier grumps, my Pappy used to say "by gum Grumpy there really is nowt sa queer as folk!"