Some weeks ago I was telephoned by an opinion poll company. I was asked if I was aware of proposals for devolution in Norfolk and Suffolk.
When I admitted to knowing something about the topic, I was invited to give my views in a formal interview. I asked who they were working for and was told that it was Norfolk County Council. I agreed to participate, and the opinion survey commenced.
Immediately a problem became apparent. It is understandable that opinion questions have to be structured, usually by a yes/no answer, or a linear scale from “not very much” through to “a great deal”. In this case, the structure asked questions along the lines of “Do you think Government should operate at the lowest practical level?” Well, who would not? But to affirm it would imply approval of the devolution proposals, when I believe they are seriously flawed.
My caveats added to the yes/no replies could not be registered by the survey.
As the questioning went on, an image came into my mind. In it, I was a sheep, reluctant to be driven through a one-man-and-his-dog-style gate.
The last part of the interview invited me to give a free format view. I was able to say that the creation of a mayor for Norfolk and Suffolk would be an added tier of government, when what was needed was a reduction in the layers of administration, with an accompanying merging of back office functions.
I have no idea what are the conclusions of the survey I took part in, but I would urge great caution in using them as a reliable guide to the views of the public on the issue of devolution.