Here’s The Daily Record raising some legitimate questions about nurse Claire Austin. And here’s The Daily Record’s Torcuil Crichton explaining that the fair questions the Record itself put were really groundless and vile allegations made up by the SNP and pro-independence ‘trolls’.

Crichton and The Record editor who commissioned both pieces will chuckle about this naked hypocrisy because that’s just the way much Scottish journalism is. Too many papers; most losing money hand over fist; most dominated by unimpressive men who can’t cut it elsewhere and spend a lot of time scratching each others’ backs. And, most of all, whether they’re paid to be Tory mouthpieces (Daily Mail, and that includes some Labour folk who’ve taken that route) or they owe their position to the Labour allegiance (some are in both camps, of course), indigenous Scottish journalists are overwhelmingly the products of good-old-boy-unionism.

And what of the polls these good-old-unionist-boys publish?

Well, the Scottish papers are saying that latest polls show that the race across the UK is tighter than many thought while making is clear that the Tories are firmly ahead. That benefits only the Tories and is all about getting the Tory vote out. The message to Tory voters in marginal seats is ‘please don’t take this for granted – look how close Corbyn is’. Meanwhile, the papers are stressing that the Scottish polls show the SNP faltering. Of course, the SNP lead in Scotland is much greater than the Tory lead across the UK, but this is not convenient for the papers so they play that down.

In the end, the unionist papers – including the Daily Record – can see the possibility of the Tories taking some seats in Scotland from the SNP and they want to help as much as they can. They also want to suggest that a solid win for the Tories in England has validity while an overwhelming SNP one in Scotland is irrelevant. One way they help the Tory cause is the way in which they report polls.

The polls can be measures of public opinion, but the questions they ask and the timing of those questions are more often all about the papers skewing reportage to suit their own agenda. The polling companies don’t mind – they more they help with wildly varying polls, the results of which can be manipulated editors, the more they get their names in the papers and the more they can charge for their services to the private sector.

The polling industry is owned by super-rich people. Yougov, for example, was founded by Nadim Zahawi and Stephan Shakespeare. The former is now a Tory MP and the latter a former adviser to Jeffrey Archer. Readers here most likely think of ‘nice’ pollster Peter Kellner when they think of Yougov. But political polling is mainly a loss-leader through which polling companies improve their visibility to private sector customers who pay huge fees for secret research. The smiley guys on telly are the dummies for the money-men behind them with their hands up their, er, backs.

When pollsters say that this election is the most volatile ever, they’re bullshitting. In fact, political campaigns don’t shift opinions – and therefore votes – that much. Minds are mostly made up over the years and months preceding the campaigns. That’s why Labour isn’t really trying in almost all constituencies in Scotland. So the apparent volatility of the electorate is most likely a product of the way questions are put and timed. Volatility makes for headlines, and therefore more mentions of the polling company’s name.

And there it is. The good-old-unionist-boys of the Scottish press publish free advertising for the polling companies in return for the latter providing figures saying the right thing at the right time to generate their anti-independence stories.

You might notice, by the way, that most of the polls reported in Scotland didn’t come from the budget of the Scottish papers – obviously they don’t have the money. No matter, when there’s enough propaganda going around you can just pick stuff up free by ‘reporting’ other papers’ content – the pollsters love this cascading because each time it happens they just get more free advertising.

Best advice? If you’re rich and want market-sensitive knowledge about elections which most investors don’t have, then pay the pollsters for secret polling. If you’re not, avoid media and polling company manipulation and just say ‘No’ to the polls. And maybe read ‘Viz’, where you’ll get more impartial and valuable political analysis that in most Scottish papers.



7 Responses to Scotland’s unionist papers and the polls
  1. An enlightening read as always. Thank you for giving us the benefit of your experience and insight. In these times, clarity is to be welcomed.

  2. I think this article by Robin McAlpine in 2016 gives another little insight into the protectionist workings of the Scottish media.

    “About two years ago I wrote a single critical piece about a bad piece of reporting (without even naming the journalist) and someone else on the same group of newspapers told me that I could whistle to get mention of Common Weal in the paper again. They were largely as good as their word.

    So I’m sure I’ll pay another price for writing about them (we asked a sympathetic BBC insider for tips on getting Common Weal on the radio and the genuine response was ‘try a football phone in’). Dying empires always get angry.”

  3. The Unionist parties in Scotland are clearly running scared of what private polling is telling them.
    “No more independence referendums” is the message they are punting and
    that can only be because they know that if another one is held,there is a strong possibility they will lose it.
    Having said that,the SNP may not be too certain of success at present and are wating for the disaster that is Brexit to unfold.
    Absolutely right Eric about the function of the polls in the unionist press.

    • Thanks, Jim. Yes, I’m sure there’s lots of private polling for rich folk and institutions. And I’m sure you’re right. If that polling was saying No would win again the unionists wouldn’t be running scared of a referendum.

      • That would depend on the lead No had, wouldn’t it? They know as well as we do that in the last referendum Yes went from 30% to 45% (and possibly higher before the ‘Vow’). All the polls have suggested that the gap since has only tightened and is essentially now tied and too close to call and in margin of error territory.

        Even if they think they will win a second IndyRef they cannot KNOW they will and the polls are no help. They basically have to hope 4 out of 5 Don’t knows split for No and they know that is unlikely.

        Sturgeon is on record as not fancying IndyRef2 under these current polling figures. Before the Brexit we were all working up to a campaign to move the polls. Brexit changed everything and we are going regardless of the polls.

        Neither side knows they can win this but Yes only needs to win once and only, in essence by ONE vote.

        It’s squeaky bum time in Unionist Land and they don’t want another IndyRef because they cannot know they are going to win it and they greatly fear they won’t. As the reality of Brexit clarifies the 62% who voted Remain and even some who voted Leave are going to recoil in horror.

        Bring it on.


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