Ballot Box Scotland is Non-Partisan. This means BBS will not show any particular favour – or disfavour – to any particular political party. Nor will BBS ever take a position on either of the major constitutional issues.
BBS will never;
- Advise which party to vote for
- State whether any party’s polling or electoral results are a good or bad thing for Scotland
- Advise which way to vote in an Independence Referendum
- Advise which way to vote in an EU Referendum
This does not mean that BBS will not make objectively accurate statements about results. A poll which shows one party losing seats compared to the last election can fairly be described as being “bad” for that party, and vice versa. That does not entail a value judgement on whether such a result would be bad for the country as a whole.
But Not Short of Opinions
Ballot Box Scotland is not completely politically impartial. There are some areas of politics which are not fundamentally issues of partisan conflict, particularly those which relate to the basic functioning of our democracy. BBS will therefore occasionally take a position on some of these issues.
Ballot Box Scotland supports Proportional Representation. The UK’s First Past the Post System is democratically indefensible, as it completely fails to give appropriate voice to the majority of voters. BBS therefore supports electoral reform at UK level, which is now the only level of Scottish governance which does not have a proportional element.
As a consequence, BBS strongly defends Scotland’s existing proportional systems. None of these are absolutely perfect and BBS advocates further reform, in the form of Scandinavian-style Open List PR, but they are far better than FPTP. This means that BBS categorically rejects ill-informed agitation against, or spurious critiques of the fairness of, the proportionally elected List portion of the Scottish Parliament electoral system.
Party and Election Administration
Beyond the most obvious issue with our barely democratic voting system, Scotland and the UK maintain antiquated approaches to administering political parties and elections themselves. BBS therefore advocates for a range of reforms to bring the country more in line with our European neighbours.
Political parties should receive a degree of public funding, commensurate to their support at elections, which enables them to carry out their basic duties without undue reliance on wealthy donors. This is investigated in more detail in this briefing, and would make parties more accountable to the public and lessen the chances of policy “capture” by small numbers of wealthy figures.
Additionally, rather than requiring parties and candidates to lodge deposits to stand for election, a uniform system of subscriptions and entitlements should apply. Again, this has a more detailed briefing outlining how it might work, but effectively hinges the ability to stand for election on demonstrating past or possible electoral support rather than on wealth. This would put more power in the hands of voters.
Local Government Reform
Scotland has some of the largest and least local councils anywhere in Europe, home to an average of 170,000 people. Outside of the UK and Ireland the next largest local councils are found in Denmark, where the average population is around 59,000 – one third of the size of ours. This has an enormous impact not just on the delivery of vital public services, but also on our democratic systems.
Ballot Box Scotland therefore supports wholesale reorganisation of local government, towards something more in line with the European norm. Regionally sized councils like Fife and Highland need to be abolished in favour of councils for cities and larger towns alongside district councils for more rural areas.
This topic is explored in more depth in the BBS-aligned New Municipalism project.
Non-Standard Independence Polling
This particular Ballot Box Scotland policy may apply to other situations, but for now this section will describe its most prominent application. Scotland in Union, an organisation which as its name implies supports Scotland staying part of the UK, has taken to conducting polling of such poor quality that BBS will no longer provide coverage of it. When a “second-strike” for this was noted in a Tweet, it provoked one of the strongest storms of fury this project has yet experienced – at a time (in 2019) when those following BBS were about a tenth of what they are by late 2022.
Rather than ask either the same question as was asked in the 2014 referendum, or a close equivalent which offers similar “Yes” or “No” choices, Scotland in Union ask an independence question pitched in terms of “Remain” or “Leave”. This is, frankly, unhelpful and transparently more about their own campaign message than usefully gauging public opinion.
The argument often encountered is that the 2016 EU Referendum set a precedent that constitutional questions must use a Remain versus Leave formulation. That is obviously not the case, given 2014 didn’t set a precedent that they must use a Yes versus No format. Instead, the Electoral Commission will weigh up proposed questions in their own context.
Given the strong associations that Remain and Leave have with the EU Referendum, it is vanishingly unlikely they would be considered neutral framing in a future Independence Referendum. In addition, the Electoral Commission aren’t silly, and they can read Tweets. The push for this framing of the question comes entirely from the pro-Union side of the debate, and indeed Scotland in Union’s polls are presented as justification. Surely, whatever your constitutional position, we can all recognise “use this because we think it helps our side” isn’t meaningfully neutral?
For what it’s worth, I do not believe that in an actual vote it would make a vast amount of difference. I also do not believe that Yes/No is likely to be used again – perhaps a framing which offers long-form choices of “Scotland should be part of the United Kingdom” versus “Scotland should be an Independent country”, which don’t allow a snappy single-word summation beyond “Union” and “Independence” would be more appropriate.
Nonetheless, the approach taken by SiU polls leaves them completely incomparable to standard Independence voting intention, and thus BBS does not cover their constitutional polling. It is not partisan to deny coverage to polling commissioned and specifically designed by what is itself an explicitly partisan body to advance their own cause. Should the need arise to treat any organisation which supports Independence (such as Progress Scotland) in a similar manner, BBS will not hesitate to do so.
Redfield & Wilton
Redfield & Wilton Strategies are relatively new kids on the polling block. When they announced that they were going to do a monthly tracker of Scottish voting intention, I was pretty thrilled – finally! Some consistent, predictably spaced polling for Scotland! Just what we need!
Unfortunately, their figures for the Greens and Lib Dems especially have often been odd, and vastly more variable than should be the case for a monthly tracker. For example, they have found Lib Dem support much higher than any other pollster, in excess of the party’s support before their 2011 collapse. The Greens meanwhile have bounced from 13% down to 8% back up to 14% over only the course of few months. Their Senedd polling has been similarly odd for those two parties, suggesting halving or doubling of support between months.
Inconsistency in particular is a big problem. It’s not uncommon for pollsters to have known “house effects”. Ipsos for example are well known for higher SNP and Independence shares than any other pollster. Ahead of 2021, Survation consistently had Labour in a near tie with the Conservatives, when every other pollster had them more clearly in third place. Crucially though these are or were consistent effects; the same effect showed in every poll. We can therefore take the known effect into account when discussing such polling figures. When there isn’t a consistent effect and support bounces wildly about, we can’t.
Other people, including other pollsters, have raised eyebrows at Redfield & Wilton findings. A now-private account for example pointed out at the height of some of the controversy around Suella Braverman, favourable opinion was very high amongst… Lib Dem voters. A senior figure at Survation was also amazed to see their London polling was showing younger people were more likely to vote Conservative than older people, and Inner London more Conservative than Outer, in complete defiance of all known political dynamics in the capital.
In short, I simply do not feel that Redfield & Wilton polling is reliable enough to cover. I don’t take any pleasure in this decision. For one thing, I like covering polls, and it’s genuinely frustrating to me that what is going to be the most frequent Scottish polling is something I largely ignore. For another, if there’s one thing I do not like, it’s people being mean to me – see the policy below.
I'm Not Obliged to Be Your Punchbag
As a result of adhering to the policies above, I often find myself being accused of being biased. My experience is the overwhelming majority of people who follow BBS are perfectly sensible, reasonable folk who are capable of discerning objective fact from beliefs they would prefer to be true for partisan reasons, and understanding that when I’m sharing my own beliefs on democratic structures it’s rooted in principle not partisanship. The support I have received throughout this project has been fantastic, and I’m very grateful for it.
That said, even a small number of people being needlessly unpleasant can become completely unbearable very quickly. I am one person, running this project in good faith, and I don’t deserve to be treated with scorn just because you don’t like something I’ve said. In the past, I have had too much of a tendency to push back against people being nasty, which just made me feel even more miserable. Going forward, I intend on being much more liberal with my mute and block buttons.
Nobody on the internet, regardless of what they are doing or what position they hold, is obliged to leave open avenues for strangers to be horrible to them. I therefore have a zero tolerance policy for nasty comments – you will quite simply be blocked. If you don’t agree with a BBS statement, that’s fine! You can argue your case! We may even have a robust exchange depending on how feisty I’m feeling that day. But when folk with usernames like NatBasher2014_55 or SaorAlba1320 pop up to give me personal grief, I don’t have to accept that as part of the role, and you will be blocked.