Ashcroft NEW 2013By Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC

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The reaction to my poll last week on Scottish
attitudes to Trident has been fascinating, and telling. It is an article of
faith for the SNP-CND axis that Scots are overwhelmingly and passionately
opposed to nuclear weapons. My survey showing that most Scots want a
replacement for Trident when it comes to the end of its useful life, and that
more are in favour of the UK’s nuclear submarines continuing to be based in
Scotland than are opposed, has therefore caused a bit of a flap.

I was rather touched by the reaction of the CND spokesman who said (and I
am not making this up) that my findings must be wrong because they did not
match the views of people who went to their street stalls and public meetings.
He also reminded us that the results contradict CND’s own recent poll, which
found a large majority in favour of not buying new nuclear weapons, though their
question omitted to mention that the existing system is due to be

But you know you’ve touched a raw nerve when you start being denounced in
the official annals. On Friday a Nationalist MSP from Glasgow, Bill Kidd,
introduced a motion at Holyrood proposing:

the Parliament looks critically at the results of a new poll on support for
nuclear weapons in Scotland commissioned by Lord Ashcroft; believes that the
result stating that 51% of Scots want the Trident nuclear deterrent to be
replaced is misguidedly being used to suggest that a majority of Scots support
keeping nuclear weapons in Scotland; understands that the results of this poll were
intended to challenge the findings of a recent poll commissioned by the
Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament that showed a decisive 75% majority
of the Scottish public is against both the cost and the reasoning behind the UK
Government’s intention to keep all of its nuclear weapons stationed in
Scotland; understands that, while Lord Ashcroft conducted the poll to
supposedly show that "more than half of Scots are in favour of nuclear
weapons", the poll showed that only 37% of Scots believe so in principle,
compared with 48% who do not; questions the integrity of a poll that, it
understands, was privately paid for by a wealthy Tory backer; considers that
Lord Ashcroft is spinning the results, and believes that he should stop doing
so and accept what it considers the fact proven time and again that Scots want
rid of nuclear weapons.”

Where to begin? I did
not conduct the poll to “show that
more than half of Scots are in favour of nuclear weapons”, but to find out whether opinion is as black and
white as had been claimed; as I suspected, it is not. It is quite right that my
survey found 48% saying they opposed the UK having nuclear weapons in
principle, with 37% in favour – but this does not render invalid the answer to
the next question, which asked what people wanted to happen in practice. My
finding that 51% of Scots want a replacement for Trident, while only 34% would
give up nuclear weapons completely, reflects the shift in opinion that often
occurs between the ideal world and the real one. If most people really did want
Britain to get rid of nuclear weapons when Trident is decommissioned, they
could have said so.

It is amusing to see
the SNP questioning the integrity of the research on the grounds that I paid
for it. Curiously they did not express the same view in their press release highlighting my survey of marginal seats in March,
which showed a number of potential SNP gains from the Lib Dems, or when they welcomed my “super poll” at the end of last year which gave the SNP a 6-point
lead over Labour.

These days, most polls
(including my own) are published in full, so anyone can look in detail to see
whether a survey shows what it is reported to have shown, and compare findings
that seem at first glance to contradict each other. This is a welcome
development in understanding public opinion which can serve as a useful reality
check for those astute enough to use it.

But the rush to dismiss
or discredit inconvenient poll findings – to shoot the messenger – is a
hallmark of a political movement that is going nowhere. In 2008 Ken Livingstone
threatened to complain to the Market Research Society about a particular
polling firm on the grounds that it kept publishing “implausible” surveys
putting Boris Johnson ahead in the race for Mayor; we know how that story ends.
Likewise my own party’s failure, for a decade or more from the mid-1990s, to
come to terms with how the public saw it despite mounting evidence. More recent,
and to me more surprising, was the insistence on the part of US Republicans
last year that the published polls were wrong and Mitt Romney was on course to
become president.

When someone asks the
voters a sensible question it is worth studying the answer. But if the SNP wish
to continue believing that most Scots are unilateralists, and that this will
help to bring about an independent Scotland, they are of course welcome to do

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