Last week I pointed out that most surveys indicated that the Scottish independence referendum is unlikely to pass. Nonetheless, a close look suggests that Thursday’s election will be extremely close, thanks to the elusive quality of political momentum.
Shown above are the results of opinion surveys conducted in Scotland on this question. Each data point shows the median of 2 to 6 surveys, and the gray zone indicates the 1-sigma confidence band.
The word “momentum” gets thrown around loosely in politics. To get back to its meaning in physics, one definition might be a change in opinion that looks like it will continue in the same direction. In that sense, “yes” has had the momentum.
The question may be decided by as little as one or two percentage points in either direction. It looks like “no” is still narrowly favored…but considering the movement since August, “yes” has an outside chance, maybe 1 out of 4, of winning. This will be a nailbiter.
Now, in the home stretch, Queen Elizabeth has spoken, however mildly, against the referendum. On Sunday, Her Majesty told a well-wisher, “Well, I hope people will think very carefully about the future.” A recent YouGov survey indicates that perhaps alone among public figures, the Queen is well thought-of in Scotland. From a political standpoint, she couldn’t speak unless it appeared that the referendum was close: if it was fated to pass, she’d have to go along; if it was fated to fail, best to appear above it all.
Can the Queen stop the momentum? If the polls simply stop moving, we won’t know if she was the decisive factor. But if they reverse, I’d suggest her words as a possible cause.