Scottish independence: Which way for polls after currency speeches?
- 20 February 2014
- From the section Scotland politics
George Osborne's announcement last week that the UK would be unwilling to share the pound with an independent Scotland, an announcement that was subsequently endorsed by both the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, and the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary, Danny Alexander, was meant to be a "game changer".
Strategists for the Better Together campaign claimed that those voters who were as yet not wholly committed to either a "yes" or "no" vote were particularly concerned about the prospect that independence might mean losing the pound.
The co-ordinated announcement appeared to be a determined attempt by the "no" campaign to regain momentum after signs that its poll lead had slipped back somewhat.
So, the first poll to be conducted following the currency row has been eagerly anticipated. Today it finally appeared - conducted by the internet polling company Survation for the Daily Mail.
The poll's headline findings suggest that, if anything, the "no" side's stratagem has not only failed to deliver any immediate boost to the Unionist cause, but has actually backfired.
The poll puts the "no" vote on 47 points, down five on a poll Survation conducted just a fortnight ago.
The "yes" tally is estimated now to be 38%, up six.
If the "don't knows" are excluded from the calculation the poll points to a 45% "yes" vote, up seven points on Survation's previous poll.
However, there is an important difference between the way in which this poll was conducted and analysed and the way in which Survation's previous poll was undertaken.
That difference probably accounts for most if not necessarily all of the apparent swing in favour of independence.
Even so, the figures are hardly in tune with the "no" side's expectation that the currency announcement would prove to be a decisive move in their favour.
The 45% Yes vote (excluding "don't knows") is well above the 41.5% average "yes" vote in other pre-currency announcement polls, including the 41% vote in another (pre-currency) poll from TNS BMRB released today.
To work as the "no" side hoped it would, the currency announcement needed to be believed by voters and succeeded in posing them with an unpalatable choice on an issue that mattered to them. It seems to have failed on both counts.
Today's Survation poll reports that only 37% of voters think that the Westminster parties really meant what they said. Just as many think they are "bluffing", while 26% say they just do not know whether to believe them or not.
Meanwhile, only 48% say they want to form a monetary union and share the pound with the rest of the UK in the first place. That mood is not new. The figure is almost identical to the 46% who backed that view in a poll conducted by Panelbase shortly before the currency statement.
Moreover, well before the announcement voters were telling pollsters that the currency was not a key issue for them.
In a poll conducted by TNS BMRB for the BBC, for example, the subject came eighth when voters were asked to put 10 key issues in order of importance to them.
At the same time, the Scottish Social Attitudes survey recently reported that voters' views about whether Scotland should and would keep the pound seemed to make relatively little difference to whether they intended to vote Yes or No.
Of course we should bear in mind that no one poll is definitive.
Any individual poll is always at risk of leading us astray because of the random fluctuations that come with any attempt to ascertain the nation's mood by interviewing just a thousand people.
We will need to await the findings of other polls to see if they confirm the impression that the currency row has not immediately shifted public opinion decisively in the "no" side's favour.
And the "no" side can hope that the issue will prove a "slow burner" that eventually eats away at people's confidence in the prospect of independence.
But in the meantime, there will be considerable relief in Bute House and not a little consternation in Downing St.
John Curtice is professor of politics at Strathclyde University, and chief commentator at whatscotlandthinks.org, where details of all of the referendum polls can be found.