Scottish independence referendum: September 18 (UPDATED 18/9)

Polls aggregated and entrails examined ahead of next week’s knife-edge referendum on Scottish independence.

Friday, September 19

For literally anything you need to know about what to expect and when, Antony Green’s guide can’t be beat. Basically, we can’t expect any official results until about 3pm AEST, though presumably some manner of informal indication of how the count is going might emerge. There will not be any exit polls, but there is talk that a retrospective opinion poll might be conducted (how did you vote rather than how will you). The one final poll out was, as noted below, from Ipsos MORI, which was a phone poll of 980 respondents showing yes on 45% and no on 50%, rounding out to 53-47. I couldn’t be bothered running the poll tracker charts again because the result of the poll after bias adjustment was right on the trend, at 51.2% for no. My personal feeling is that no is likely to do it a little more easily than that, but only time will tell. The map to the right is derived from regional level polling data over the past few weeks from Survation and ICM, to give at least a broad-brush idea of where the independence cause is weakest and strongest. The actual results will emerge at the level of Scotland’s 32 local government authorities – at the link above, Antony Green maps their past voting behaviour, since support for the Scottish National Party is very likely a good proxy for how the referendum vote will go.

Thursday, September 18


A few hours after polls open, one final poll from Ipsos MORI – 53-47 to no. Ninety-five per cent report they will vote, which by early reports of turnout can almost be believed.


Okay, to tidy up the mess below: we’ve had 51-49 from the very authoritative Ipsos MORI, a phone poll with a sample of 1405; two online polls at 52-48, one from YouGov with a bumper sample of 3237, the other from Panelbase with 1004; and a phone poll from Survation, for which I assume the sample was about 1200 given such was the case in its only previous phone poll, at 53-47. The Survation survey in particular is very fresh, having been conducted entirely within the last 24 hours. Pumping all that into the poll aggregate is slightly better for yes than you might think, since Ipsos MORI and YouGov both get bias adjusted about 1.4% towards yes, and weighted heavily in the overall result. I’m a bit nervous about this – those bias adjustments seem excessive – but the current reading, which you may take or leave, is 51.2% no, 48.8% yes.


UPDATE 4: Survation has it at 53-47.

UPDATE 3: YouGov has it at 52-48. And the fun’s not over, because Survation have just revealed they’re about to lay on a surprise phone poll.

UPDATE 2: Mike Smithson of Political Betting tweets: “So 4 pollsters have NO on 52% and 2 on 51%. Maybe they are wrong but at least they are all wrong together”. The implication, I believe, being that we may be seeing a little bit of herding going on.

UPDATE: The Ipsos MORI poll turns out to be a nailbiter – 51% no, 49% yes. This is important because it’s a phone poll rather than online, and Ipsos MORI did a particularly good job of calling the last Scottish parliamentary election. YouGov to come in a few more hours, and then I’ll give the poll aggregate another run.

A new poll from Panelbase does nothing to relieve the monotony, once again producing a result of 52-48 in favour of no. However, this is the best 52-48 so far for the no camp, as Panelbase has been the most yes-leaning of the regularly reporting pollsters. The full numbers are 49.5% no, 45.4% yes, 5.1% don’t know. Full results here. The eagerly awaited Ipsos MORI poll will be along at 3am EST, followed by the final YouGov poll at 5am.

Wednesday, September 17

Three new polls have come in overnight – from Survation, Opinium and ICM – and every one of them finds no with a lead of 52-48. My poll tracker (methodology explained in the entry below from Saturday) now has no leading 51.7% to 48.3%, slightly higher than the 51.4% to 48.6% recorded following Sunday’s polls. More tellingly, the trendlines provide a fairly clear indication that the momentum to yes which was evident over a period of weeks has tapered off:

Of the three pollsters to have reported new results, Survation has the no lead narrowing from its result on Sunday, which had it at 54-46; Opinium also narrows slightly from a poll on Sunday, which had it at 53-47; while ICM is much better for no this time around, its previous poll being a small-sample outlier with yes leading 54-46. All three polls were conducted online; Mike Smithson at Political Betting says that, based on past form, the one we should be hanging out on is tomorrow’s final phone poll from Ipsos MORI. I had a paywalled piece in Crikey yesterday considering the possibility that the polls might just have it all wrong.

Some further findings from Opinium: 50% do not trust that new devolution powers in the event of a no vote will be delivered as promised; 47% think Scotland will keep the pound against 37% who don’t; 44% think Alex Salmond should resign as First Minister if no wins (which I find very odd); and 45% think independence will damage the Scottish economy.

Sunday, September 13

No less than four new polls have reported overnight, of which two have “no” with reasonable solid leads of six or eight points, one is lineball, and one is the best poll yet to emerge for yes. These are reviewed in detail below, but first we take an updated look at the poll tracker. This puts the current result at 51.4% for no and 48.6% for yes, all but unchanged on the 51.2% and 48.8% recorded yesterday (based on like-for-like methodological comparison). An outline of the methodology was provided yesterday, in the bottom half of this post.

The polls in turn:

• The good news for the independence camp first: ICM has produced the second poll to show the yes vote in front, following on from the first of last week’s surveys by YouGov, and by a not inconsiderable margin – 49% to 42%, rounding out 54-46 after exclusion of the undecided. Unlike yesterday’s ICM poll, this one uses its usual online methodology. The caveat here is the unusually small sample of 705. Also, as noted below, ICM has been one of the more yes-friendly pollsters, such that the poll tracker adjusts it downwards by 2.0%.

• An online panel poll by Survation, which has tended to come in at the middle of the range, has no at 47.0% and yes at 40.8%, for a rounded result of 54-46 to no. The poll was commissioned by the pro-union Better Together campaign. Whereas the bulk of the polling for the referendum has been online, this one was conducted by telephone, from Wednesday to Friday, with a sample of 1044. As was the case with TNS yesterday, this is a first phone poll from an outfit whose previous polling was conducted online.

Opinium is an established online pollster which has made its first entry on the referendum, this being a survey of 1055 respondents. Its result is a lot closer to Survation’s than ICM’s, with 45% for yes and 49%, rounding out to 53-47.

• Panelbase in the Sunday Times has no on 50.6% and yes on 49.4%, but given its relative “yes” lean in the past, it’s comes out similarly to Survation and Opinium so far as the poll tracker is concerned.

Saturday, September 12

It’s now less than a week until Scotland’s independence referendum, which will be held on Thursday with polling stations to close at 10pm local time, or 7am Friday on the east coast of Australia. An official result won’t be expected until mid-afternoon our time. Before that time, the 32 local authorities that will be taking care of the business end of proceedings will report their results, which I guess we can expect to be done more promptly in the cities than the country.

The latest poll out this evening is an ICM poll for The Guardian which confirms the recent trend of being too close to call – 42% no, 40% yes and 17% don’t know, panning out to a headline figure of 51-49 with the exclusion of the undecided. According to Anthony Wells at UK Polling Report, we can expect a result reasonably soon from Panelbase, which I have determined to be one of the more “yes”-friendly pollsters. We might then see a relative lull before heavy-hitters YouGov and Ipsos MORI hold off until their final results nearer the big day, although there will surely be other results around the place between now and then.

My own polling tracker, which is laid out below, currently has “no” in the lead with 51.6%, but there is no sign that the trend to “yes” is levelling off. As I shall discuss, it would have been more like 51.3% if I had treated the latest poll differently, as maybe I should have.

A few things that have caught my eye:

• For those of you who know your way around Scotland, The Guardian offers mapped results of a year’s worth of Ipsos MORI polling in eye-watering detail.

• John Curtice, a political scientist of some renown, considers the contention popular in the “yes” camp that pollsters are under-representing respondents who don’t normally vote, whom they expect will give their cause a boost. However, Curtice finds that past non-voters who have been polled are leaning quite strongly towards no.

Stephen Fisher at Elections Etc observes polling before 16 constitutional referenda in Austria, Ireland, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Quebec, Scotland, Sweden, Britain and Wales (not us, alas), and notes there “does not seem to be a precedent for a close referendum at which final polls underestimated the Yes vote” (he in fact said “overestimated” but if you read the sentence in context, this was clearly erroneous).

Now to my own poll tracker. The methodology runs roughly as follows: 1) Calculate accuracy ratings for each pollster based on the performance of their polls in the last week of the campaigns for the 2014 European, 2011 Scottish and 2010 Westminster elections; 2) Run a local area regression on the results with each poll weighted as per the relevant pollsters’ accuracy rating multiplied by the sample size; 3) Use the trend result thus produced to derive bias measures for each pollster, by averaging the deviation of their poll results from the trend; 4) Correct the pollsters’ results accordingly and run the regression again.

The bias adjustments made to the various pollsters’ “yes” results are as follows: Ipsos Mori +1.6%; YouGov +1.6%; TNS +0.6%; Survation -0.7%; ICM -1.5%; Panelbase -2.5%; Angus Reid -4.4%. The complication I mentioned earlier is that the latest ICM poll was conducted by telephone, whereas the nine previous polls from which I have derived its bias adjustment were online polls. I have nonetheless decided to apply their existing adjustment to the latest result. Since this poll is, together with the most recent YouGov, the very latest result in the model, and the bias adjustment used is a not inconsiderable penalty to “yes”, the effect is non-trivial. If no bias adjustment is applied to this poll, the “no” result comes down to 51.2%. If the poll is removed altogether, it is 51.3%.

A couple of further points to be noted. YouGov’s stunning poll result on Monday showing yes in the lead was a real outlier from a normally no-leaning pollster, and it shows up in the charts as the only data point with yes above 50%. Another poll from YouGov a few days later had no back in front. This was inevitably reported in terms of the momentum for yes having stalled, but that’s not the picture that emerges when the polling is aggregated. Panelbase’s polling before the start of this year had an enormous lean in favour of yes which has since been corrected, so the earlier results have been excluded. Angus Reid is, or has been, a fairly major pollster in Britain, but there has been no Scottish independence polling from it since August last year. Should it re-emerge in the next few days, I will have to think twice about applying the 4.4% correction noted above.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

359 comments on “Scottish independence referendum: September 18 (UPDATED 18/9)”

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  1. I hate to say it, but this genuinly was the only chance for Australia to become a republic in our lifetime. It could only have happened if the UK ceased to exist. Face it people, Australia will never ever be a republic on its own, it has to be forced on to us. We are far too resistent to change. We are too indifferant.

  2. With a 44.6%-55.4% fairly comfortable margin when the polls were quite a bit closer, a psephologist has to ask the question whether there was a Bradley effect.

  3. I’m guessing the polls averaged at 48-52 so this result is outside the MOE of the polls.

    I’d be interested to know how the polls were quite a bit out.

  4. Unitary State@306

    I hate to say it, but this genuinly was the only chance for Australia to become a republic in our lifetime. It could only have happened if the UK ceased to exist. Face it people, Australia will never ever be a republic on its own, it has to be forced on to us. We are far too resistent to change. We are too indifferant.

    I’m pretty sure this has nothing to do with the UK. Even if it was a Yes, being a republic would still not be in the minds of most of the people who still like the Royal Family (or at least Kate, Will and the baby).

    When we are ready to answer that question in the affirmative, I don’t think the UK or the royal family will stop us.

  5. Raaraa @310

    But honestly, can you ever imagine it possibly happening?? Unless there is some kind of major national catastrophe and this country wakes up from the vast indiffernce it is in. In any case, the fact that people care far more about the royal cult of celebrity rather than our own nationhood speaks volumes about what a weak and shallow outfit we are. Fullstop. Words cannot describe how upset I am that this referendum failed. I was *SO* hopeful.

  6. [The Scots should fight tooth and nail for control of Public Broadcasting in Scotland!!!]

    Absolutely. The BBC truly disgraced itself in this campaign. It has been exposed as a sinecure for a lazy,elitist, cynical (and even sneaky) London-centric mindset. It didn’t spot anything coming in Scotland cos its not in touch with the issues that drove 45% of Scots to the door, and isn’t interested.

    I suspect its just done itself quite a bit of damage north of the wall, and may need to be properly devolved itself.

    Guardian wasn’t much better. The rest I had no real expectations of.

  7. Diogenes@308

    I’m guessing the polls averaged at 48-52 so this result is outside the MOE of the polls.

    I’d be interested to know how the polls were quite a bit out.

    The result won’t be outside MOE of every individual poll but it will be outside the MOE of several of them and well outside the MOE of any credible aggregate.

    Will take some picking through the entrails to determine if they got the % turnout chance for supporters of one side wrong, if they got the behaviour of undecided voters wrong, or if some respondents said Yes and voted No. Possibly all of these.

    It’s pretty normal to get a skew to Yes with polling for referenda of any kind. Some worse than others, eg polling of same-sex marriage ballot measures in the USA was at one stage getting results wrong by an average of 8 points.

  8. Lived in Scotland for 18 months some time ago and thus I was torn both ways.

    At the time I knew one SNP family and they were about as likely to get an independent Scotland – so I though then – as a Ukrainian friend of mine who always believed in and independent Ukraine.

    Shows nothing is set is concrete.

  9. Results for the Yes side in Glasgow must have been disappointing as well as the turn out.

    However, with an 85% turn out over all and a 55-45 split, this is a quite decisive result I would have thought.

    Nonetheless, some big questions to be attended to now – regardless.

  10. I could imagine lots of voters thinking ‘yes’ and then at the last moment going back to the devil they know. It is a momentous decision after all.

  11. To (boringly) update my earlier post with final figures (but can’t have outdated ones there in the ether):

    Although the YES vote on aggregate is very similar to the SNP vote in 2011, at the council level this relationship is weak. The 1997 referendum result is a much better predictor.

    The correlations, across all 32 councils for which we now have results, are:
    r=.82 between yes in the 1997 referendum result and yes in the 2014 independence referendum
    but only
    r=.44 between the 2011 SNP vote and yes in the 2014 independence referendum.

    Indeed, there’s a slightly stronger negative correlation (r=-.59) between the conservative vote at the 2011 election and the YES vote in 2014.

    2014 turnout correlates negatively with the 2014 YES vote (r= -.42), but so too does turnout in 2011 (by a slightly larger amount, r= -.50). So increases in turnout 2011-14 correlate positively with 2014 Yes vote (r=.29).

    That is, supporters of independence were likely to stay at home, but this was even more the case in 2011 than in 2014. So, boosting turnout helped boost the yes vote. But not by enough.

  12. [Nonetheless, some big questions to be attended to now – regardless.]

    Absolutely. We tend to looks at 55-45 through our Australian 2PP lenses and think “comprehensive win”.

    But in fact this was a vote about whether to EVEN BLOODY STAY in the state in which you enjoy citizenship.

    And they got all of 11 out of 20 Scots to agree that they would, in fact, stay in that state. 11 of them.

    The other 9 went straight for the door.

    Thats actually a bloody terrible result for the UK. And they’re going to have to do something meaningful about it or theyll find themselves at this point again.

  13. Big win for oligarchy. For the Scots, the English, the Welsh and the Northern Irish? Not so much. It is frustrating that no matter how poorly the political system of the UK serves the people of ALL four constituent nations, voters can be manipulated into fearing the prospect of a different future shaped by their own values. If the Global Financial Crisis and the failure to reform the economic model since then isn’t enough to trigger emphatic rejection of what system offers, what will? Decades of stagnation punctuated by great recessions? At what point will people decide, “You know what – if we do things our own way there are risks, but propping up a broken political system is even riskier.”

  14. NZ should hold a referendum to join Australia. There is provision for them in Our Constitution. I would vote for Tasmania and NZ to unite and become one State. “The Islands state” 🙂

  15. d@w – wasn’t there also a clause about Fiji – maybe that was in original draft of Constitution. Anyway, I’d love to see Campbell Newman trying to argue with a “Premier Bainimarama” at a COAG meeting!

  16. [If the Global Financial Crisis and the failure to reform the economic model since then isn’t enough to trigger emphatic rejection of what system offers, what will?]

    A comprehensible argument linking the GFC to the cause of Scottish independence might do the job. But there happens not to be one.

  17. This is an issue of concern.

    Not sure what this tally clerk is trying to do or how wide spread this was but an explanation is in order

    A single tally clerk corrects a mistake in the sorting of votes, someone called “undergroundworld news” puts it on continuous loop and this is apparently evidence of “the powers that be never going to allow a yes vote to succeed”

    I think it would be merciful to close this thread on the grounds of either stupidity or “tin foil hatdom”

  18. A comprehensible argument linking the GFC to the cause of Scottish independence might do the job. But there happens not to be one.

    The market liberalism implemented by UK governments since 1979 led to the financial sector growing too large relative to the real economy, to excessive financial innovation and opaque financial instruments, to reduced job security, and to extreme inequality of income (which is connected with many social ills). The current policy elite in London have no interest in reversing the policies which made the crisis so severe and which ensure continued stagnation for the UK. The Scots are strongly opposed to market liberalism. Within the UK they are but eight percent of the population; they have zero chance of changing the status quo. With their own sovereign state, they would have at least some capacity to create an economy along social democratic lines with less income inequality, less systemic risk, and a more carefully regulated financial sector than the UK’s. The desire for a reversal of failed market liberalism was a major factor in the Yes campaign. It wasn’t driven by anti-English sentiment. It was chiefly about Scots wanting social and economic arrangements of THEIR choosing instead of being lumbered with failed policies which they don’t support.

  19. These were prominent themes in the Yes campaign: Arguments about the kind of economic theory people want, the relative merits of market liberalism (or neoliberalism if you prefer the pejorative label) and social democracy, the need to reinstate aspects of the welfare state dismantled since 1979 or to defend those aspects under threat today, the crisis of extreme income inequality and the question of what to do about it. Here are some examples.

    Yes campaign argument: the UK’s economy is too reliant on the financial sector.

    As part of the UK, Scotland suffers from the UK’s toxic mix of too little productivity and too much reliance on the City of London.

    Yes campaign argument: Scotland would be better off with an industry policy and a research and development chain comparable to that of a social democracy such as Finland.

    I spent a year working in Finland, where there are pockets of manufacturing all over the country, supported by adequate funding and a research and development chain that’s embedded in the education sector. The Government has a clear industrial strategy, and as a result the manufacturing proportion of their GDP is more than double ours. By contrast, Westminster is entirely focused on the City, leaving manufacturing on its own to sink or swim.

    Yes campaign argument: University education should be free at the point of access – it should not be subject to user pays policies.

    The amazing thing about free tuition fees is that no matter what your family background, you can go to university and not have to worry about finding the money. I also think it’s great that the Scottish Parliament wants to guarantee education or training to all young people in an independent Scotland.

    Yes campaign argument: An independent Scotland could reduce income inequality to the healthy level which exists in the social democracies of Scandinavia.

    We know from looking to our Scandinavian neighbours that countries that have less inequality between rich and poor have far fewer social problems and score higher in every measure of contentment. In the UK and USA, the wealthiest 20% of the population earns seven to 10 times as much as the poorest. I believe that an independent Scotland could emulate countries such as Denmark and Norway in driving equality.

    There are many other examples but I think I’ve made the point: arguments about reversing the failed policies which caused the UK to be hit particularly hard by the Global Financial Crisis featured prominently in the Yes campaign. Scots are philosophically much closer to social democracy than to market liberalism; they want a financial sector which is carefully regulated and not too large as a share of GDP; they favour a welfare state which gives people the basic security they need to thrive.

  20. Well said Nicholas.

    The future political actions will be fascinating.

    Labour had its four poorest areas disobeying them.

    Will a more left wing party replace them in those areas?

    Of course without control of income, more powers to Scottish Parliament are a poisoned chalice. the SNP might be wise to let the Lab/Libs administer the Bankers/Westminsters austerity.

    Scotland has no chance now of charting an alternative.

  21. Kevin

    [It’s pretty normal to get a skew to Yes with polling for referenda of any kind. Some worse than others, eg polling of same-sex marriage ballot measures in the USA was at one stage getting results wrong by an average of 8 points.]

    Thanks for that. I didn’t know that.

  22. Unionists celebrating their victory in George Square Glasgow.

    Yes supporter stabbed.

    Nazi solutes, singing the Famine Song.

    [The good news: ‘Unionists’ are so happy at the result they’re burning the saltire in George Square, singing the Famine Song and telling asians to leave the area. Is this ‘No Borders’ with a twist? Luckily, you’ve defeated ‘narrow nationalism’.]

  23. A comfortable victory for the NO vote. The Scots voted with their head and not their heart.

    It was better to stay married with your financial certainty intact than risk going it alone 😈

  24. swamprat

    Are those Scottish Unionists or extremists coming from other parts of Europe? Has the referendum divided the country so much?

    I’ve seen people calling Scotland “North England” now on social media.

  25. Centre

    It ain’t over yet by a long shot.

    [The No campaign desperately abandoned all pretence of being an alliance and turned into a red-and-yellow-branded Labour one, only to lose in Labour’s core Glasgow heartland and doom the party to all but certain defeat in both 2015 and 2016. The SNP will likely take advantage at the ballot box, but win only a poisoned chalice. The Tories will triumph in the next UK election as saviours of the Union, then be forced into an EU referendum only a demented minority of them really want, and which will result in a disastrous exit from the EU. And of course, the Lib Dems were dying no matter what.

    So it goes.]

  26. Worth reading: suggests no voters will die off first; only half of yes were SNP voters; undecideds actually broke to yes not no; biggest issues were currency for no and NHS for yes; nationalism of either stripe was less important than economic security (for no) and democratic deficit/ disaffection (for yes); even no voters expect it’ll come up again inside a generation.

  27. The role of the Orange Order and sectarianism may have played a significant role in the result. Scotland has 16% Roman Catholics and 32% Kirk; significantly different from England. The role of the Kirk in an independent Scotland would be open to review. Certainly last week there were “No Popery” signs at No rallies.

  28. The Tories are the historical unionist party. (From the defeat of the 2nd home rule bill until1969 they were the Conservative and Unionist Party). From the tin foil hat analysis going on here we can only conclude that the No majority harbingers a massive improvement in the conservative vote at the next general election.

  29. I think that the Answer to the West Lothian Question is English devolution. But not devolution to a whole of England Parliament, instead there should be devolution to a Northern English Parliament and a Southern English Parliament or two.

  30. Well that was a poke in the eye for both the Pollsters and the Yes Voters.

    On a simple Yes/No vote – how can Pollsters be so far off the mark?

    Interestingly the betting markets were on the money.

    The Yes campaigners must surely have gotten the message by now – give up. Given how shite the No Campaign was – imagine how much worse the Yes Vote would be against a concerted, well run campaign.

    Milliband must be thanking his lucky stars – a loss would have meant he would have had to resign and the UK Labour party would be decimated in any future ex-Scotland elections.

    Cameron must be thankfull as he would have had to resign (not a bad thing in my mind – resign anyway – the result was too close for your credibility – oh, you don’t have any.) And now you have to deal with all the over the top promises you made about power and taxation/revenue sharing and keep England Wales and NI onside, too.

    I think it is right and good they are satying. If Yes had of won the upside would have been:

    1. Milliband and Cameron gone
    2. UK would have left EU quick smart leadng to more instability in EU Zone and possible and of the Euro.
    3. Further rise of UKIP.
    4. Collapse of UK Labour Party vote and Power outside Scotland.


    1. More economic uncertainty and low growth impacting on many innocent No voters.

    [The Scotland Independence Polls Were Pretty Bad
    8:34 AM Sep 19 By Nate Silver]
    [Why Pollsters Think They Underestimated ‘No’ In Scotland
    11:03 AMSep 19 By Carl Bialik and Harry Enten

    With two notable exceptions, opinion polls released this month about Scotland’s independence referendum vote gave an accurate picture: “No,” a vote against leaving the United Kingdom, was the steady favorite. But pollsters underestimated the extent of “no” support, making this the latest referendum with a voting-day swing toward the status quo.]
    [ Scottish Regions’ View On Self-Governance Hasn’t Changed Much Since 1997
    1:50 PM Sep 19 By Carl Bialik

    One of the unknowns heading into Scotland’s independence referendum was how different parts of the nation would vote. But now that we know how the regions voted, it turns out that we had a decent guide all along: how the regions voted 17 years ago on a similar referendum that decided whether to create a Scottish parliament with some self-governing powers.]

  32. Compact – Nice to see a mad bastard back. I hope things go well for you and yours.

    When the Bookies gave up and paid up early it tells you that ‘No’ was it.

    They have a real bit of ‘skin’ in the game.

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