SNP 2014. Labour 2015. Vote Leave 2016

by Atul Hatwal

Vote Leave are living the dream. Ed Miliband’s dream of the final weeks of the general election campaign that Labour was en route to power. The same dream which Alex Salmond had in early September 2014 as the independence referendum approached.

Dreams abruptly interrupted, for Miliband and Salmond, on election night as the exit polls were released.

About four years ago, within progressive circles, there was much chatter about a campaign concept which came to be deployed at the heart of both the SNP’s independence effort and Labour’s general election campaign: reframing.

Based in cognitive behavioural therapy, it offered a route to recast the way key issues, such as the economy, were perceived by the public.

Rather than face tough choices about public spending, Labour thought it could reframe the economic debate around fairness instead of debt, focusing discussion on the impact of cuts rather than the net fiscal position.

In the general election campaign, Labour led with this approach, highlighting the iniquities of Tory non-dom tax breaks and cuts agenda while being bombarded by Tory attacks on Labour profligacy.

At the independence referendum, the SNP tried to avoid fighting on the main macro- economic battlefield to refocus on the threat of Tory cuts to Scotland’s economy and way of life, most notably to the NHS, if Scotland remained part of the UK.

Last week, Vote Leave took a leaf out of the Labour and SNP playbook and attempted their own version of reframing.

By doubling down on immigration they moved the question at the heart of the day to day debate away from the economy.

Tactically there is a logic there but the net result will be the same as for Labour last year and the SNP in 2014.

The reality is that running away from a difficult question, particularly when that question is about the economy and impacts peoples’ jobs and livelihoods, is not an answer.

Campaigns might able to change what is being reported on the news but that isn’t the same as changing the way that people decide their vote.

At the general election and Scottish independence referendum, the polls tended to reflect the tenor of the news cycle, not the eventual decision of the public.

The same thing is happening again.

The longer immigration is top of the bulletins, the better the polling will be for Vote Leave.

It is seductive for them. But the longer they spend on their favoured topics, the longer the central Remain charge of a major hit to the economy, goes unrebutted.

Mark Textor, the Tories’ pollster at the last general election, suggested that one of the big reasons the opinion pollsters got the general election result so wrong was not skewed samples but poor questioning.

“We were polling massive numbers of voters every night and assessing how they looked at their choices, so we knew that in normal public-style polls they were saying they preferred Labour … but at the end of the day the actual outcome they wanted was a David Cameron-led Conservative government, and the only way to do that was to vote Conservative in their local seat.

We measured their preferred style of government … they might say: ‘Normally I prefer Labour’, but we asked: ‘Which scenario do you want as an outcome?’…so we knew there were a lot of voters who on traditional voting patterns were Labour voters but had made the tactical decision that the best choice was to vote for David Cameron … we were measuring outcomes and not just voting preference.”

Left-leaning voters, who would back Labour on a straight voting intention question, actually did not want a Labour government led by Ed Miliband, propped up by the SNP and pursuing the economic policies that they associated with his Labour party.

A few months earlier, Scots voters might have been telling pollsters that they wanted independence but equally they did not want to be booted out of the EU, to have to float a new currency and have their taxes raised to plug a burgeoning spending gap.

In both cases, to paraphrase Mark Textor, voting intention differed from the preferred outcome for a critical number of swing voters.

At the EU referendum, there’s a significant section of the public who tell pollsters that they back Brexit but also who don’t want to run the risk of an economic shock which might threaten their job and tip Britain back into recession.

In the voting booth, when these types of contradictory impulses collide, there is normally only one winner. As the well-worn phrase goes, “it’s the economy, stupid.”

It’s just under three weeks to the referendum. At this stage in the general election, with 17 days to go, the average polling for the week had the Tories ahead by 1 point, which equated to a Labour-led government.

By the last week, Labour and the Tories were exactly level in the polls.

On polling day, the Tories won by 8 points and secured an overall majority.

In the Scottish referendum campaign, at this stage, the No campaign were an average of 2 points ahead in the week’s polls. By the last week, the lead had extended to 4 points.

On polling day, the No campaign won by 11 points

In both cases the polls significantly under-represented the majority in favour of the status quo.

For the general election and Scottish independence referendum, the final vote boosted the status quo option over the polls’ predictions by a roughly similar margin – 8 points in the general election, 7 points at the independence referendum.


Think about that and Mark Textor’s dichotomy between voting intention and preferred outcome when you read reports about Vote Leave’s momentum in the run up to referendum polling day.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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19 Responses to “SNP 2014. Labour 2015. Vote Leave 2016”

  1. Matthew Moore says:

    My suspicion is that the polls don’t understate ‘status quo’ supporters, but rather that they understate right-wing/ non-trendy causes.

    It’s trendy be in favour of Labour, and Scottish independence. It signals virtue.

    We know the pro-indepdence, pro-Labour types are now all pro-EU. So under this framing of the polling error, it benefits Leave.

  2. James Martin says:

    I thought you would have given up the Mystic Meg act after confidently predicting on here that Jeremy would finish last in the leadership contest Atul?

  3. Disenfranchised says:

    I have news for Labour Uncut, those at the bottom have nothing to lose, and the “status quo” will have no meaning for them.

    They are overwhelmed if they stay and damned to unemployment if they vote to go, according to the banks and businesses who Labour now seem to take advice from now.

    I wouldn’t underestimate the subdued anger of the disenfranchised vote – there are a lot of us about.

  4. Anon E Mouse says:

    This bloke really needs to leave the bubble that is London. Does he actually speak to normal people?

    Votes to leave the EU will win by a landslide.

    We are on the way to a new world where the EU does us a great deal to stay in the single market….

  5. Martin Haigh says:

    @Disenfranchised – to be disenfranchised is to be deprived of a vote, so “the disenfranchised vote” is an oxymoron. I suggest you improve your command of the English language then you might not stay at “the bottom”.

    I’m not sure that lessons learned from the general election can be tranpslanted to the referendum, they are very different beasts. There seems to be a large and highly motivated segment of the electorate who want to stop immigration and have been hoodwinked into thinking that leaving the EU will achieve this. Leaving aside the desirability of stopping immigration, Brexit will barely make a dent in it. The day after we leave the EU, tens of thousands of people will arrive at our ports & airports as tourists, and a significant number will stay to work, disappearing into the grey economy which keeps our country running. Migration is part of human life, always has been, always will be.

  6. daodao says:

    I agree. In the privacy of the polling booth, economic factors will sway waverers’ voting intentions and I expect a Remain win by >10%.

    The permanent loss of sovereignty to Berlin (acting through Brussels) is too much of an abstract concept for the average voter.

  7. Tafia says:

    who want to stop immigration and have been hoodwinked into thinking that leaving the EU will achieve this.

    That is the drivel of a Guardian reader.

    What they want is immigration controlled. That every immigrant that comes here – from no matter where, is documented and with a visa and is here with a job to go to before they get here and somewhere to live before they get here. They do not want them to be able to access the benefits system including housing benefits and in work benefits such as tax credits) until they have not only been here a minimum length of time but worked a minimum length of time. Likewise until they have been here a minimum length of time they do not want them to be able to access social housing. Nor do they ant them to be able to access the NHS likewise until they have been here a minimum length of time.

    And before people on here say that’s outrageous, I suggest you look at life in other first tier EU countries such as Germany, France, Holland, Italy, Spain etc (where most of them already are or are planning to tighten their restrictions even further) – because I guarentee you, you wouldn’t want their benefits and social welfare system. It looks good until you scratch the surface. For example, how many of you would accept if you are single and signing-on, if you haven’t signed off within a certain length of time you must move to a different area or your benefits stop. Completely. Or no dole for under 25’s still living in the family home, or only being able to claim benefits for 6 months maximum and even then only after you have been in full time work for a minimum of two years, or if you sign-on for more than three months you will be allocated a job which if you refuse you lose access to all benefits on the spot.

    disappearing into the grey economy which keeps our country running. The grey economy – just like the balck economy is illegal and not only exploits people but is massive tax fraud as well.
    They do not want the free-for-all that EU migration brings.

  8. John p Reid says:

    Well said Tafia

  9. paul barker says:

    Half of Labour voters dont realise that The Party is officially backing Remain & thats hardly surprising given the almost complete absence of campaigning at any level. Its not all Corbyns fault, the whole Party seems paralysed.

  10. Unhygienix says:

    @James Martin

    Trotskyist entryism cannot and will not affect the referendum in the way the Labour leadership election was.

  11. Unhygienix says:

    Might be worth looking at the same issue in Quebec Indy refs. I don’t know for certain but believe you will see a similar pattern.

  12. Martin Haigh says:

    @Tafia: you seriously think that leaving the EU will make employers more compliant with tax & NI regs? I mean Seriously? As the post-Brexit economy tanks and interest rates rise, the going rate for off-the-books employment will plummet. Desperate employers will join desperate unemployed people in a race to the bottom.

  13. Tafia says:

    will make employers more compliant with tax & NI regs? Have a little think my brainless one. The fact that we would control our own borders, control rigidly who enters and leaves and nobody has the right of free entry largely eliminates it does it not?

    As the post-Brexit economy tanks and interest rates rise,
    Have a little think. Can you guarentee that? And if we remain can you state it definately won’t happen. Because if you can’t either way, you are just a waffling c**t.

    Desperate employers will join desperate unemployed people in a race to the bottom Greedy employers (including Labour donors) are already doing that.

  14. Disenfranchised says:

    @Martin Haigh – how very pedantic and petty.

    Open borders – as that seems to be what you are advocating – is one of those wonderfully fluffy ideas that seems to be in vogue at present.

    But the result is that we remove that one area of a functioning democracy – Community.

    If communities are to be forever changing to accommodate these migratory flows, how can any city or council plan for the infrastructure, and how can families plan for a stable future?

    Our country is now divided in so many ways, and won’t be united by any of the political parties, and without democratic unity there is no law; and when law goes we will return to medieval barbarity.

    I believe that the die is cast, and I also believe that there are those within the Labour party that want this destruction.

    I am proud to be at “the bottom”, where innocence is a ‘fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work’, and I am immune to the condescension of those, who think themselves superior because they can distinguish a noun from a verb.

    But, that’s Labour’s dirty secret, isn’t it? Labour now has a sneering contempt for the people who created the party

  15. Martin Haigh says:

    @ Tafia

    I think for a living so don’t patronise me with your pathetic ad hominems, you troll. I can absolutely guarantee it (will you people learn to f****in spell!!!) The economy is on life support, propped up by zero interest rates. It cannot withstand a shock of any kind right now. Mark Carney has said as much, for those with ears to hear.

  16. Tafia says:

    Martin Haigh – But you are saying interest rates will rise if we leave as a reason to stay. When even if we stay they are going to rise – so your argument is a double negative and you are a waffling c**t as a result.

    And how you can pay any attention at all to what any economist or banker says about this if they failed to spot the biggest financial crash in global history until it hit them between the eyes is beyond comprehension. Even so, all economists, bankers and politicians on both sides of this are not giving ‘definates’ or indisputable forecasts. They are ALL caveating every claim they make with might, may, could, possibly etc etc because know of them know anything for definate.

    There are only two indisputable 100% true facts about the Referendum:-

    a. If you vote Remain you are voting to stay in the EU exactly as it is and as such giving it approval.

    b. If you vote Leave you are voting to Leave the EU as it is and as such giving it disapproval.

    All other arguments are purely speculative.

  17. Rallan says:

    LOL! The Wisdom of Atul Hatwal has become comic relief for Labour Uncut. It always makes me chuckle.

  18. Yellow Submarine says:

    I hope Still is right and agreed with him until 2 days ago. It’s just people care about who is PM or keeping the £ in Scotland. I’m not sure they do care about EU membership. This feels more like a national by-election than a general election. And of course ” the economy stupid ” is about voters focusing on the bottom of Maslow’s Heirarchy. The problem with Immigration is it affects many voters in the same way. It may be abstract but it’s also Primeval. Anyway I hope you’re right and thought you were right. Hopefully I’m just having a wobble.

  19. nunu says:

    and yet Ralan he was right about the english postal votes reports at the 2015 G.E, although I think Leave will do it.

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