While the rest of the world has gone slightly mad in the last twelve months, Scotland has been a place of relative calm. Having had our independence referendum and two major elections year after year, since May there’s been very little drama in Scottish politics of note. It’s been refreshing for many I’m sure.
The two issues that remain at the heart of Scottish political life though are the effects of Brexit upon the country and also the potential second Scottish independence referendum that the SNP have floated as an option in the face of a particularly messy divorce between the UK and EU.
The two are inextricably linked, as Nicola Sturgeon remains of the opinion that a new indyref is “highly likely” because of the route the UK seems to be going down and the perceived belief that the clear win by Remain in Scotland in the EU referendum showed that there was enough groundswell to carry a second Yes campaign to victory.
This week two polls were published detailing the current state-of-play when it comes to independence for Scotland, and it shows there’s lots of work still to be done – and that Brexit isn’t helping.
Both polls, from YouGov and Panelbase, showed that support for independence remained roughly where it was in 2014 – with Yes up to 46% with both firms among those who know how they’d vote.
46%, though, is not enough to gain Scotland’s independence. 1% growth is not evidence to show that leaving the EU is affecting Scots’ attitudes towards leaving the UK have changed that much.
There’s merit in the argument that we haven’t left the EU yet, and we also have no clue as to what Brexit will look like, apart from the mantras spouted by Tory politicians that Brexit will mean something along the lines of: Brexit, red white and blue or breakfast. It’s certainly possible that when the effects of leaving the EU become clear to people that their minds will change, but it would be foolish to launch a new campaign on the back of this single issue that hasn’t proved to be enough of a vote-winner, at least in theory.
What we can gleam from the recent polls on Scotland’s independence is an insight into the battle lines for a new referendum based on the allegiances to parties and issues.
YouGov’s poll was particularly informative, with a large sample size and a breakdown according to how people voted in the last indyref and in the EU referendum back in June:
It’s interesting to note that these four groups have demographic characteristics, and it’s that level of granular detail that’s important to moulding a potential new campaign.
Another, perhaps more traditional, way of looking at it is by party allegiance. YouGov bases its weighting on the 2015 General Election, but it’s very surprising that only 74% of SNP voters would vote Yes in another indyref while 96% and 86% of Tory and Labour voters, respectively, would vote No. Reaching across those boundaries, and making sure that the SNP turns its position as the perceived most competent party into a support for independence.
There’s already been some analysis by the Common Weal on the demographics of winning a new independence vote, but I don’t think there’s enough discussion on how to turn that data into vote-winners. We saw over in America last year that the data-driven demographic-heavy analysis of voting behaviour doesn’t hold as true as the statistically-inclined among us would like to believe, so it’s time to start looking at what would actually win a second indyref for the Yes camp.
If the polls at the moment are a true reflection of the level of support for independence, a 4% swing isn’t a big push to get over the line, so it’s a case of convincing just 1 in 10 people that voted No last time to change their minds.
What a second Yes campaign needs then is an idea of just what will change people’s minds. From evidence we have on voter behaviour in the last indyref, we know that the potential ceiling of support for independence is far higher than the 50% it needs – it’s just that people were too unsure about some of the key aspects, such as currency or EU membership, or not enthused enough to vote for something that was such a dramatic shift.
We saw that an analysis of independence voting compared with risk-taking showed a strong correlation, so those more inclined to take risks were more likely to vote Yes.
If I were running a poll, either for public consumption or by a political campaign, what I’d do is see what “flavour” of independence that the Scottish public want most and then campaign based on that. Issues like EU membership, currency used, whether we’d have a monarchy are all questions that voters ask themselves when making their voting decisions, and there isn’t enough evidence to show what would help people make the move from No to Yes.
We saw how effectively this issue-based campaigning worked in the last indyref. Food banks and nuclear weapons, two very disparate issues, were seized by the Yes camp and substantial hay was made out of them by showing that an independent Scotland could get rid of these symbols of inequality and imperialism. By latching on to the untapped concerns of real people, in a way that the right-wing have done so effectively across Europe and the US in recent years, there is room to convert festering indifference into crucial votes.
A new indyref seems like it is on its way, whether sooner or later, and it’s time to listen to No voters about what will turn them around and what will make those that voted Yes last time do so again.
Focussing on the EU won’t work, so independence supporters need to engage those not so interested in an independent Scotland about what things they would need to see to vote Yes a second time around.
The rest of the world, and even rest of the UK, seems to be moving at breakneck speed towards a new era of isolationism and populism. In these troubling times, we here in Scotland should be working on how we can counter-act these things on our own by showing our credentials as an open, tolerant democracy that listened to the people on both sides of our divides and worked together to form a country that we can all be proud of.