Scottish independence referendum: It's clear that much depends on the question you ask – Brian Wilson

Polls about a repeat independence referendum are of little relevance, regardless of how the weekly pendulum swings.

Enough voters can be influenced by the way a referendum question is phrased to make a significant difference to the outcome (Picture: Leon Neal/AFP via Getty Images)
Enough voters can be influenced by the way a referendum question is phrased to make a significant difference to the outcome (Picture: Leon Neal/AFP via Getty Images)

There isn’t going to be one any time soon and arguments affecting people’s lives – currencies, borders, pensions, kinships – haven’t begun to be engaged.

Accordingly, the significance of a Survation poll showing 57 per cent wanting to stay in the UK does not lie in that headline figure. Rather, it demonstrates the significance of the question asked.

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In this instance, it was, “do you want Scotland to remain part of the UK?”, and “yes” had a 14-point lead. This caused our Justice Minister and juvenile tweeter, Humza Yousaf, to yelp about “rigged polls”. Let’s hope nobody told Survation.

In 2014, Alex Salmond’s triumph was to sucker the Electoral Commission into agreeing a question which, according to referendum experts, built in a five per cent advantage for “yes” – ie, the ”positive”.

With a different question, the result would have been even more clear-cut. There is no ‘right’ or ‘rigged’ question, just different ones which means great decisions hang on a form of words. That should be remembered.

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There is a more immediate issue for the Electoral Commission: campaign slogans on ballot papers. The Nationalists want “IndyRef2” while opponents would counter with pro-recovery messages.

This is madness. Not so long ago, posters were banned around polling stations, symbolising the dignity of the process. Citizens were granted a small space, free from last-minute pressures when exercising their democratic duty.

Now, unless the Commission says otherwise, the sacred ballot paper will be further reduced to a competition for the smartest slogan. Their message to all parties should be: forget it.

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