With the SNP conference in full swing this weekend, a lot of emphasis is being placed on trust.
As Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, told delegates at Perth Concert Hall on Friday: "As we go through this week and this coming year there is going to be a theme that I think is very much our strongest suit, and that's the question of trust, trust in the Scottish Government. The reason for our success in office is that people trust the Scottish Government to act in the best interests of Scotland."
Speaking to the BBC about the SNP conference, however, Better Together's Blair McDougall expressed considerable doubt over the credibility of both Alex Salmond and his party's project, with the 'No' Campaign Director warning that:
"Salmond's claim that his plan is for a more socially just Scotland just doesn't hold any sort of scrutiny whatsoever...[And] I think the Scottish people can see through this, I think they look at Alex Salmond and they see someone who is willing to say anything and do anything to win this referendum."
Twisting the knife yet further, McDougall continued: "Salmond's is a campaign that is in deep deep trouble, that is losing confidence and that is losing the trust of the Scottish people...We're all proud to be Scottish, we all believe in Scotland, we just don't believe in Alex Salmond."
Interesting stuff. Not altogether true, though.
Take, for example, the latest Ipsos-MORI Scottish Opinion Survey poll, canvassed over 9th-15th September 2013, which asked 1000 respondents "Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way Alex Salmond is doing his job as First Minister of Scotland?"
Rather than declining in popularity as McDougall suggests, the survey results show that the SNP leader's satisfaction ratings have actually improved six points since May to give him a commendable net satisfaction rating (the proportion who are satisfied minus the proportion who are dissatisfied) of +8, while his Deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, enjoys the most popularity among respondents with a highly impressive +21 rating, up seven points since May.
For the sake of comparison, Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, each received negative - though improved - satisfaction ratings of -27 and -5 respectively, while Better Together leader Alistair Darling (+5), Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont (+6), and Green Party leader Patrick Harvie (+11) all enjoyed positive ratings, albeit with the latter two individuals being unknown to a significant number of respondents. Meanwhile, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson enjoys a neutral satisfaction rating having climbed 10 points since May.
Sticking with satisfaction ratings, the survey also asked respondents: "Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way the Scottish Government is running the country?"
Contrary to McDougall's suggestions, however, the results offer a fairly ringing endorsement of Salmond's majority government, with a thumping 57% of respondents saying that they are satisfied with its performance, against 34% dissatisfied, and 9% unsure. What's more, further breakdown of the results shows that even a majority of those who voted Labour and Liberal Democrat in the 2011 elections deem the Scottish Government to be doing a good job, with 54% and 50% respectively saying that they are satisfied with its work. Surprisingly, moreover, even 1 in 3 Conservative voters also said that they are satisfied with its performance.
This doesn't of course mean that everyone is convinced by Salmond's arguments on independence, but it does mean that the SNP and their leader enjoy considerably more credibility than Blair McDougall is willing to admit.
As senior researcher for Ipsos MORI Scotland, Christopher McLean, concludes:
"Over two years on from their landslide victory in the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections, the SNP remain the most popular party among voters in Scotland. Indeed, the SNP's popularity is aided by the high levels of satisfaction with the party's leading figures as both the First Minister and Deputy First Minister continue to achieve high approval ratings."
As a mater of interest, let's now look at another poll - conducted this time by Panelbase in August 2013 - which asked 1000 Scots: "On the basis of what you've personally seen and heard, which of these people do you think are telling the truth about independence?" Eight prominent figures were then listed - four from the 'Yes' side in the form of Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon, Dennis Canavan, and Blair Jenkins, and four from the 'No' side in the form of Alistair Darling, Michael Moore, Anas Sarwar, and Blair McDougall. With respondents also allowed to answer "I haven't heard them speak about independence" or "I don't know who they are", the results paint a telling picture.
Calculating the results is complex in places (see here for an excellent deconstruction and explanation), but the first thing to note is that, by tallying each person's positive votes against their negative ones, nobody - not even Alex Salmond - received a net positive rating. That is, for all eight individuals more respondents thought that the candidate was (always or mostly) lying than (always or mostly) telling the truth.
The net truth rating of each figure is given below, discounting the two categories of Don't Knows and calculating "Always or mostly truthful" against "Rarely or never truthful" from the respondents who expressed an opinion either way. It should also be borne in mind that the sample was divided almost exactly evenly between supporters of broadly Yes parties (the SNP and Greens) and those of broadly No parties (Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems), giving the following results:
Alex Salmond -3
Nicola Sturgeon -5
Dennis Canavan -19
Blair Jenkins -31
Alistair Darling -27
Michael Moore -43
Anas Sarwar -47
Blair McDougall -62
Although still slightly more distrusted than they are trusted, both Salmond and his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, thus do quite 'well' in the ratings on a comparative basis. The 'No' camp, on the other hand, does really pretty badly, with its combined net trust ratings showing that it is over three times as distrusted as the 'Yes' camp (-179 to -58).
Finally, a word on the man we began with. The results are clearly bad news for Blair McDougall, who should take comfort from the fact that 56% of respondents don't know who he is. A whopping 81% of those who do, after all, think that he is either rarely or never telling the truth. Perhaps something to bear in mind the next time you hear McDougall expounding on the credibility of others.