Fail To Prepare, Prepare To Fail

The No campaign seem to be obsessed with the story that appeared in Monday’s Herald, which referenced some briefing given to independence campaigners this week based on Yes Scotland’s internal research. In case you missed it, the story spoke of increased support among women (who are not more opposed to independence, simply more undecided) and a lead for Yes among families with children and young Scots. 

No have come back to it today, quoting a letter from Professor John Curtice, in which he reminds both campaigns about the rules for publication of British Polling Council polls. You may see something about this in tomorrow’s papers.

The No campaign’s response is exceptionally revealing. It was interesting, for example, that they chose not to challenge the details of the findings.

The most amusing phrase was their description of what Yes was doing as a ‘rookie mistake’. I can see some of you rolling your eyes and sympathetically thinking, “boys will be boys”, but behind this phrase and the detail of their response lies something much more important: what seems to be a complete lack of comprehension about the sort of research a political campaign should be doing at this stage of the electoral cycle.

For No to continue challenging Yes on the nature of our research tells me one thing loud and clear – they are doing nothing that is remotely equivalent. Whether this is a sign of complacency, I don’t know, but it brings to mind the phrase: ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’.

In the run up to the 2011 election I remember speaking to people who were concerned about the large Labour lead in the public opinion polls and I would reply by assuring them I expected the SNP to win comfortably. Any journalists reading this will recall their own experiences – the genuine, relaxed smiles of people in the SNP election team who remained confident of success (although never taking anything for granted) even in the face of the most depressing of polls. Why was this the case? Because we had our own research that was way more detailed, way more sophisticated and multi-layered than any public poll.

I no longer work for the SNP, and so won’t give away any of the important details, but I can assure you that the systems of research in place for Yes are a significant step ahead of what the SNP was using in 2010 and 2011.

In 2010-11, as we got closer to the election, the SNP had tens of thousands of pieces of information coming into the system, which gave us an exceptionally accurate picture of who was voting SNP, who was thinking of voting SNP and what part of the country they were in. We even knew down to constituency level, as anyone who looks at Alex Salmond’s campaign stops in the short campaign will appreciate – the system saw things and knew things the polls, and the commentators, were nowhere near picking up.

This invaluable information during the election campaign proper was built on a bank of background research that had been gathered for many months before: research that identified the underlying movements and told us clearly that the election was there for winning and winning well.

The 2011 system allowed us to predict with accuracy the SNP share of the vote. Where it came short was in understanding the impact on regional seats. But, as I said, what Yes is doing is built on these lessons and experiences and is built to be even better.

What the Yes research tells us is that No support is exceptionally brittle. They can rely on only a fraction of the population as firm and committed voters. There is still a mountain to climb, but have no doubt the ascent has begun and the movement is in our direction.

Yes support remains firm and ‘don’t knows’ are moving up the support scale – slowly and steadily – as our plan requires. This, despite the Oban Fireworks style barrage of negativity from the No side.

If I was in the No campaign today I’d be very worried that their big barrages have had such limited impact, and indeed, the evidence suggests, are beginning to backfire, especially among women.

Fear only works for so long, that much is clear. The big question for me is whether or not the No campaign can ever change their tune. Can a leopard change its spots? I won’t be holding my breath.

Stephen Noon