Wednesday, 11 May 2016

No Nicola, the SNP did not get the support of almost 50% of the population of Scotland.

In the aftermath of the recent Scottish Parliamentary election, a comment made by re-elected incumbent First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, reminds one of a recent post I made here emphasising the difference between INPUTS and OUTCOMES.

The comment comes from this story, where Ms Sturgeon is reported as confirming her intention to relaunch her party's campaign in favour of Scottish secession from the UK.  Fair enough; I don't think either Ms Sturgeon's or the SNP's position on Scottish independence comes as a surprise to anyone, and if she/they want to try and convince more people it's a good idea they should be perfectly free to do so.

But don't go about it by spreading blatant lies.

The lie to which I refer is this howler:
"When asked if Scotland can put an independence referendum to bed for the next five years, Ms Sturgeon said: 'No, the position I put forward in the SNP manifesto got the support of almost 50% of the population.'"
This is demonstrably false and so far off the mark as to be laughable.

The position put forward in the SNP manifesto did not get the support of almost 50% of the population.

The population of Scotland, according to the 2011 census, is 5,313,600.

The SNP received 1,059,897 constituency votes in the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary election.

1,059,897 divided by 5,313,600 is not even 20% of the population of Scotland.

Of course, not all of those 5,313,600 people are eligible to vote.  Many of them are children, for example.  The BBC reports the electorate of Scotland, for this election, as 4,099,407.

1,059,897 divided by 4,099,407 is 25.9% of the electorate.

I think what Ms Sturgeon meant to say, was that the position put forward in the SNP manifesto got the support of almost 50% of those who voted.

This is, at least, a more reasonable interpretation of events.  Turnout for this election was around 56% of the electorate.  There were a total of 2,279,153 valid constituency votes and 2,285,752 valid regional votes cast.

Of these, the SNP won 1,059,897 constituency votes and 953,987 regional votes, or 46.5% and 41.7% respectively.

However, there is an issue even with this statement.  That is that people vote for a particular candidate or political party for a wide variety of different reasons and considering a broad range of issues.  It's not possible to know for certain how many of those 1,059,897 people support Ms Sturgeons position on a second referendum.  Maybe some of them voted for SNP candidates due to their position on healthcare, or education or taxes, or defence, or any number of other issues or combinations of issues, or because they have a particularly good local MSP.

Pick any random person off the street and any random political party's manifesto and you are likely to be able to find some things in it which they agree with and some things in it which they disagree with.  Just because a person has voted for a particular party doesn't mean they support everything in that party's manifesto.  All it means is that, on balance, they support more of that party's stated aims, objectives and values, than that of the other parties/candidates.  Often times it's a case of picking the lesser of several evils.

In this particular case, I think it's pretty likely that most people backing the SNP are in favour of Scottish independence, but it is simply not possible to know that from the number of votes alone.

To determine that you have to have a referendum.  Which we did, in 2014.  And in which we found that 1,617,989 people, or less than one third of the population of Scotland, were in favour of independence at that time (to use Ms Sturgeon's favoured way of expressing these statistics).

If she hasn't already, I think Ms Sturgeon should be obliged to make a full retraction of this statement and go on record to correct any misunderstanding that may have resulted.

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