Is the indyref betting market being skewed by English money?

The odds for a YES vote moved in again today, to 7/2 from 4/1. That’s a fairly significant shift since the second debate, when the odds were 9/2.

I’ve seen an argument recently that the betting markets don’t really reflect opinion in Scotland, because large staking English punters are backing NO and skewing the odds. Let’s have a look at all of the money Ladbrokes have taken on the outright result since the debate finished on Monday night, broken down by country.


That seems fairly conclusive evidence  – Scottish money has overwhelmingly been for YES. In terms of numbers of bets taken, the same pattern appears:


So, even though most bets from England are for YES, a few bigger bets mean that the actual total stakes are more in favour of NO.

Based on all of the bets we have taken this week, there is certainly some evidence to back up the claim that a small number of wealthier, English punters are keeping the YES odds at a higher level than they would otherwise be.

Does that mean the betting markets are “wrong” and underestimating the true chance of a vote for Independence and missing the real “feeling on the ground”? Maybe, but it’s also perfectly plausible that people who have less emotional capital invested in the result are forming a more objective opinion on the likely outcome.


Matthew Shaddick

Matthew Shaddick has been Head of Poliical Betting at Ladbrokes since 2008. He's a writer and odds-maker with particular expertise in UK and US elections. Also known to dabble in music, literary and other out of the way betting markets. Sometimes issues tips on horse racing and football, which are best ignored.


Garve Scott-Lodge

Whilst I accept that within Scotland it’s quite feasible that much of the betting may be driven by optimism rather than reality, I believe a similar argument can be made about those in England.

If this were an ordinary election, for instance to the Scottish Parliament, punters in England would (generally) be betting from a position of being pretty low on information – it’s fair to say that newspapers and other media outlets would barely report it. However, what they did report would mostly be relatively neutral.

That’s a very different case this time. There is no media outlet in England in favour of Scottish independence. (There’s only one in Scotland which is!) There’s been very little reporting of the subject south of the border, but most of what there has been decries independence as ridiculous and reports polling suggesting only a third, (or in one case 23%) of Scots support it.

In the face of this, many punters in England will have been persuaded that a No vote is a ‘sure thing’.

As an example, following the most recent poll (53% No/47% Yes) the front page headline of the Daily Mail in Scotland today is “UNION ON A KNIFE EDGE”. The front page on the English edition is “8 MORE TORIES IN UKIP TALKS” with no mention of the poll.

Because of the bias in terms of information I’d say it’s quite likely that the Scottish betting numbers reflect the position on the ground more accurately than the English ones.


A very reasonable argument, but I slightly disagree.
Personally, as a non-Scot and having no strong opinion on the merits of the two sides’ causes, I’m just driven by the polls and the political science. I’m not really interested in how the mainstream media chooses to report things. NO is 12% ahead on the polling averages (which includes the latest Survation) and history tells us that undecideds are more likely (not certain by any means) to break for the status quo.
That’s not to say YES can’t win, but I think the probability is less than the overall betting markets currently suggest.

Garve Scott-Lodge

I’m not doubting your knowledge of the situation – you clearly follow it pretty closely. But I’d suggest you’re unlikely to be typical of those betting in England. Given the press and assuming the polls are correct, I wonder if the chap with the £600k bet realises that a 6% swing is all that’s required for him to lose his money?

As a Yes supporter, I and many like me could be kidding ourselves, but we do have reason to doubt the current polling. Our canvassing returns suggest this, as do arguments about the pollsters methods. The referendum is expected to have a turnout of over 80%, which means many people will vote who have never felt the urge to do so in the past. Pollsters weighting is largely based on past voting records. Whether the pollsters are (in general) even speaking to those who’ve not voted before is questionnable.

Finally, the grassroots part of the Yes campaign is far larger and more active than its opposition. Will tens of thousands of doorstep conversations in the last 3 weeks make a difference? Who knows? But if I were a bookie I wouldn’t be offering 4/1, that’s for sure.


Can’t argue with any of that. It’s certainly possible that the pollsters are wrong, given the unique nature of this vote.


Very tempted to put a good bet on for Yes. I regret not doing it in the last Scottish election as it was clear SNP would take it. The TV, papers, were way out. The mood for this is the same as then – more so in fact.

David MacEachran

mshaddick the two most cited polls YouGuv and TNS are both Conservative pollsters. They are actually run by Conservatives or Conservative backers. When the SNP won their first shock victory in 2007 the polls started to take an unusual shape.

Not only did the polls not predict a SNP victory but up here the entire media were reporting how New Labour had bounced back and they were crushing the SNP in every poll that was commissioned right up until the last 6 weeks before the 2011 election.

Ask yourself this, when was the last time you saw 10% of Conservative supporters change their voting intentions to their most hated rivals with just 6 weeks to go before the next election?

The answer is none by the way.

In 2011 there was a 15% swing in the polls towards the SNP, 10% of which was from the New Labour party. Furthermore, I used to do YouGuv polls but from the very beginning of 2010 they stopped asking me who I intended to vote for in either the General or the Scottish elections. They knew from my previous answers, always SNP, which way I was going to vote. It doesn’t take a genius to work out the were intentionally not asking people who had always voted SNP to skew their polls in to their preferred stance.

Up in Scotland we are all seeing the Yes campaign is rampant. Even the politicians in the No campaign have publicly declared through their newspaper and TV reporters that the Yes campaign has won the online debate.

We all know from the 2011 manipulation of the polls that they are lying as not only have most of the No debating pages been overrun by Yes Twibbons as previously No supporters have changed side but the only people who are staunchly No anymore are those with links to the Orange Order. Their lying polls can’t hide the fact of what we are all seeing for ourselves on our own streets where there isn’t one single No poster in anyone’s window that I have witnessed. In comparison I was driving along a different route that I rarely take and I saw three houses not just with Yes posters in their windows but with great bloody big flagpoles with Saltires in their gardens.

What this article is doing is providing independent facts that we are all witnessing with our own eyes.

David MacEachran

Just so you all know, Stephan Shakespeare and Nadhim Zahawi both worked for the criminal Lord Jeffery Archer. I’m sure you all know who Archer is? Zahawi is now a MP and is currently sitting in this Westminster parliament.

Why have I mentioned them? They are the founders of YouGuv.

TNS was founded by a member of the Saatchi & Saatchi team that ran the advertising campaign that brought Thatcher to power.


I think there may be some good reasons for thinking that the pollsters could be underestimating the support for YES. Deliberate bias isn’t one of them. Irrespective of their backers, these organisations are run by extremely diligent researchers and statisticians whose job it is to accurately measure public opinion. They would soon go out of business if they were regularly producing distorted results.

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