Category Archives: Constitutional corner

Wimmin’s week in the referendum (1)

So, a risible piece in the Telegraph from Cathy Newman, the latest Scottish Social Attitudes survey focusing on the gender gap in voting intentions in the referendum and a keynote speech by Margaret Curran to women in the Better Together campaign today.  Hmm, am I the only one to doubt that serendipity is at work here?

This, then, is a blog in three posts and firstly, let’s have some fun dismantling not just Cathy Newman’s meanderings but also Professor John Curtice’s frankly offensive stereotyping of how women think and behave as voters.

If you missed it, the Telegraph piece is here, out before the latest Scottish Social Attitudes Survey in which Professor Curtice is involved.  Setting that aside for this post, I spent a frustrating evening trawling What Scotland Thinks? disaggregating findings from previous surveys along gender lines.  And the lesson?  Pretty websites do not make for easy analysis. But also, sometimes it pays for academics to heed their own research.

However, perseverance pays off, as there are some interesting findings on the key constitutional questions asked over the years as part of the Scottish Social Attitudes survey, especially when you compare women’s responses to those of men.

For example, women are equally in favour of independence as men even if it makes no difference to living standards. More women than men think Scotland’s economy would be a little better off with independence or that it would make no difference. Both genders favour taxation powers being given to the Scottish Parliament and women are more in favour of Holyrood making decisions about defence as well as welfare. Beyond the devo-max option then. And here’s something radical – more women than men favour welfare being devolved to local councils.

So for John Curtice to suggest that women are more pessimistic about the economic consequences of independence – as he does in the Telegraph article – is just wrong. They might be less confident about independence and somewhat worried about its impact but that’s different. Are they risk averse? Not on this evidence which suggests that women are keen on exploring a range of innovative options for delivering powers, services and resources in Scotland.

What then of Professor Curtice’s statement that “gender of candidates makes very little difference in elections”? Sorry, wrong again, even just from my personal experience. I know that the votes of women helped me to be elected as a councillor, including those of women who had never voted before, because they felt they had a candidate who reflected their interests and needs. This “role model effect” – that more women in politics might suggest to women that their interests will be better represented – was shown to exist in a US study in 2001* which found that   women candidates/representation have a positive effect on women’s participation at a mass level. They boost women’s interest, knowledge and sense of political efficacy. And while a more recent study did not find links to increased participation, comparing findings across a number of countries showed that when you have more women in Parliament, both men and women are more likely to have positive political attitudes. Finally, research for the Electoral Commission into the 2001 UK General Election found that female turnout to vote was higher than men’s in seats where women were elected. This study also found that participation more widely can be affected by gender: women were less likely to campaign/volunteer in seats with a male MP compared to in seats with a woman.  And it’s an international trend: countries with higher numbers of female Parliamentarians tend to have less of an activism gap between men and women in politics.

Professor Curtice has form with these lazy assertions – he made them two years ago. Professor Fiona MacKay suggested then that Curtice missed an opportunity to think about more plausible explanations for women’s uncertainty in their attitudes to independence than simply that they were “feart” and “deficient men”. Sadly, it is an opportunity he continues to miss and it is a shame that Cathy Newman approached him for an opinion, rather than Professor Mackay or indeed Dr Meryl Kenny, who both happen to be experts in this field.

You’d think that the woman who does Channel 4 News’s Fact Check blog might have checked more than one referendum poll to get a proper sense of women’s voting intentions. Leaving aside the most recent Scottish Social Attitudes Survey findings, the trend in polling across the last six months suggests the gender gap – which admittedly is still, stubbornly there – is closing. And all the companies also agree that more women are still undecided on how to vote.

That is a good thing, not a weakness. Women want more information on independence and what it means for them, their families and their communities. On this, I agree with Margaret Curran and actually, would also concur that the Yes campaign needs to do more to get its message across to women.

For independence offers clear benefits to women – a living wage; better pensions; a written constitution to improve representation and enshrine equality. This last, in one step, would improve women’s lives. It’s no coincidence that in small independent countries like Finland and Denmark, women are more satisfied with life and think it is fairer for them. By contrast, Westminster isn’t working for women in Scotland – they still earn 12% less than men; they’ve been punished on state pensions for taking time off work to raise children; and of the £14 billion austerity cuts, nearly three quarters have hammered women and children. Margaret Curran suggests the childcare offer is “piffling”; Scotland’s women disagree with 29% of them thinking childcare would improve with independence.

I know from months now of engaging women voters, through the wonder that is Women for Independence – (subtitled “how to reach the other, really important parts of the population effectively on a shoestring”) –  that when the choice is presented between a fresh start towards a fairer, more equal society or things getting worse for them under the current system, they get it. They also get that this vote is not about Alex Salmond or any party but about them, their lives and their future. Those undecideds shift to voting yes, quite readily in fact.

And if you consider those research findings again, that women participating in politics act as a role model to encourage other women’s participation, you can see who might be “feart” and why.  Women for Independence’s experience has been exactly that. By offering a visible space for women to get involved in the referendum, we’ve attracted women who have never before done this kind of thing. Every week, new women join us and are willingly throwing themselves into the fray, empowered and enabled.  It’s joyous.

Which is why this is wimmin’s week in the referendum and why there has been an onslaught of information and myth peddling to stop the flow of women to yes and perhaps also, to stymie women’s participation in this campaign at all levels. Not least that it’s all to do with Alex Salmond…

Women for Independence is buoyed rather than cowed by all this activity.  They’re panicking, we’re not.  And in the last weeks of the campaign, we’ll continue to do what we set out from the start: to listen to women rather than shout at them; to treat them and their views with respect rather than misrepresent them; to consider them not as a homogenous group but as individuals with valid concerns; to give them information to enable them to make their own minds up, rather than trying to do it for them.

It’s disappointing that Professor Curtice and indeed, Cathy Newman can’t do the same.

*References available on request


The future is coming on

I know it sounds ridiculous, but I’ve written a book.  And it’s going to be published soon, apparently, by the lovely Luath press as part of Gerry Hassan‘s Open Scotland series.  Or maybe they’ll pulp it, which would probably do us all a favour.

Titter all ye like; it won’t match my own embarrassed guffawing about it.

In the book wot I wrote about Scotland’s 20-somethings, I wanted to use the lyrics from Gorillaz’ seminal* noughties track, Clint Eastwood, as chapter headings but this is a big no-no – copyright fees for such borrowing are eye-watering.  So sue me now for doing it here, Messrs Albarn, Hewlett and Jones:  I have nothing you’d want anyway.

I should probably explain why this song’s lyrics struck a chord while collating data and information for *The Book*.  In fact, it didn’t take long for it to play on a loop in my head during the project, which was a tad annoying, given that I’d spent much of the preceding ten years removing it as an earworm.

The Big Yin was ten when Clint Eastwood was released, but it stayed in his most-played tracks throughout adolescence.  Its use in films, in sampling and covers throughout the decade ensured its longevity, as did each year of pre-pubescent and pubescent children awakening afresh to its potency.  It’s taken me until now to get it.  It’s not the technology nor the concept that has given it legs, but the lyrics, and especially the chorus.

And what has this pleasing meander got to do with anything?

On Friday, in what is now Gordon Brewer’s Big Debate on Radio Scotland, I was rounded upon for suggesting that younger generations were probably going to vote yes.  On cue, up popped two possibly-planted No-voting 19 year olds to dispel my theory, which Harry Donaldson of the GMB seized upon.  Never mind the polls – for once, apparently – here’s the evidence in front of us.  All two of them.

And for all there’s been much chatter about how this referendum campaign has enervated Scotland’s youth, much of it has focused on 16 and 17 year olds who will vote for the first time ever in September.  No one has had much to say about those aged 18 to 29 and their voting intentions.  Partly that’s the pollsters’ fault, because they have been all over the place in mapping this demographic’s voting intentions.  They have used different age definitions at various points and the weighting of poll samples of 18 to 24s and 25 to 34s can create such margins of error as to make findings meaningless.  Nor is there much evidence of a trend, of a forward march relentlessly towards one outcome or the other, so there have been few talking points.  Indeed, such is the volatility of their voting intentions, that far from being the Independence Generation, they are more like the Mebbes Aye Mebbes Naw one.

But that has changed a little in the last three months.  These tables take poll data from ICM, TNS-BMRB and Survation, the only companies to have surveyed in each of May, June and July:



ICM May - July polls





TNS BMRB May - July polls





Survation May - July polls





There’s no easy way of presenting disaggregated data – or at least, I’m not useful enough technically to do so.  But these three polls all suggest that to varying degrees, there is a softening of the no vote, a shift to yes and a rise in the number of don’t knows. Indeed, among 25 to 34s who are much more likely to vote than 18 to 24s, ICM and TNS-BMRB even have Yes as winning in most months.

I’ve included the 35 to 44s to show that here too, there is movement, though all pollsters suggest more of a roller coaster ride in voting intentions.

Effectively, the polls suggest that these voters are the key age demographic for the Yes campaign:  the closer we get to Referendum Day, the more the gap is closing between No and Yes and might even be opening up in some ages between Yes and No.  Moreover, there are still plenty of their votes to be won, with consistently more than a quarter saying they have yet to make up their minds.

These age groups are clearly the furrow to plough for Yes in the remaining forty days of the campaign. Yes needs to nail the myth and the fear that free university tuition would be threatened by independence.  It needs to get childcare back on the agenda, ignore those spouting millions and billions to talk it down and win the argument that free childcare is good for children, good for families and good for the economy (and isn’t on offer within the UK). It needs to emphasise how these young adults are the hardest hit by Westminster, especially if they are in work, and how key changes in tax and earnings policy in independent Scotland will benefit them in particular.  And it needs to do the vision thing, offering up independence as their one chance, their one opportunity at a better future.

This recent polling data suggests that younger adult voters in Scotland actually get this last, fundamental argument in the independence case.  The new poster campaign with its focus on “one opportunity” suggests Yes gets it too (though mixing the messaging dilutes its impact, as does the stark, male styling).

And this analysis suggests three things:  such a high level of undecideds among three key age groups means there is all to play for and that this referendum is not over yet;  given their lower propensity to actually vote, getting them out to vote on Referendum day is a challenge requiring precision planning;  Yes needs to win over as many of the undecideds as it can in all three age groups, to counter the much higher number of No voters in the over 55s in particular, who are also much more likely to vote.

While it might all come down to differential turnout on the day, there’s a message to be taken to the nation’s Grannies in particular.  Vote no because you think things are fine as they are, because at your time of life, you can’t be bothered with the change and you’d rather have the “devil you know” and you could well be consigning your grandchildren to a future they neither want nor have voted for.

That’s a stark and hard message for Yes to get across but it must find a way to hit home that those with the least to gain from independence could thwart the aspirations of those who will benefit the most.  20 and 30 somethings could help by initiating the inter-generational conversation: a wee blast of Clint Eastwood and especially, the chorus would be a good place to start:

I ain’t happy, I’m feeling glad
I got sunshine in a bag
I’m useless but not for long
The future is coming on


*seminal means making the Rolling Stone’s top 100 of the decade – it’s in there at 38.  My blog, my rules.

Salmond v Darling: who won?

So, I went to bed last night somewhat discomfited.

The stress engendered by trying to watch the bloody thing in Scotland’s far-flung southern most corner hadn’t helped.  It might have been on ITV Border but it would seem there are two versions of this channel on Freeview.  Sadly, the folks appear to have the Cumbrian version.

The STV player crashed, indicating the level of interest in watching this debate all over the UK and no doubt, the world.  I even tried the pub next door but alas, the woman behind the bar didn’t know how to change the channel.  Frustrated at every turn, relying on twitter to gauge how it was all going was probably not wise.  By the time I arrived, the No side was crowing, the Yes side strangely muted.

So with only little more than half the debate to go, I finally got to settle down with my beer and popcorn in time for the First Minister’s cross exam of Alistair Darling.

Did my toes curl at the opening exchanges?  Yep.  Gathering all the online snippets and insider jibes of *he says, she says* didn’t seem appropriate or relevant. This was focusing on flotsam and jetsam and point scoring, no doubt leaving much of the audience of non-aligned and non-partisans in the dark.  Eek.

The section on the EU was better but surely the point wasn’t to get Darling to agree to remove the misinformation from the website but to agree with what the European President said? On the successful, independent country issue, well that was better, but surely Darling landed a few blows by getting some substantive points into his attempts to avoid answering the question?

Then it was Bernard’s and the audience’s turn.  It seemed that the No camp had prepared its questioners better.  Short, sharp and digging not just at the currency issue, but also having a pop at Alex Salmond personally.  But generally, thoughtful and often, heartfelt questions.  And if anyone can claim to have had a good debate, it’s Bernard.  His exam of both men was incisive and this made for the best segment.

My conclusion by bedtime?  It hadn’t been a great day at the office, as they say.  Alex Salmond could do miles better than this, surely.  I know, I’ve seen and heard him do better.  Trying to put myself in the shoes of all those undecided voters I keep encountering on the doorsteps, would the First Minister’s performance have propelled them further towards a Yes? Especially women, who largely want to vote yes but just don’t like that there are so many uncertainties and unanswered questions, particularly on economic matters? Frankly, I didn’t dare answer that one.

But what a difference the cold light of day makes.  I watched the whole debate this morning from start to finish.

On opening statements, it was positive versus negative.  Salmond won, hands down, setting out three areas he wanted independence to change for Scotland.  Darling slung some soundbites together and focused on what we can’t do and wouldn’t be allowed to do. It was no, not and never for Darling from start to finish.

The currency cross-exam and sections on it afterwards were uncomfortable but Salmond stuck to his key message – it’s my job to argue for what is best for Scotland.  And Darling got tied in knots when Bernard took over: on scoring points, Salmond actually won, subtly undermining Darling’s supposedly rock-solid reputation on fiscal management.

And Darling was often flippant throughout, dismissive of the Yes woman’s question about who subsidises who – never a good move on live telly – while Salmond was earnestly serious, calm and measured at every stage. He got across all the key messages for a Yes, on democracy, social justice and the economy:  Darling had little to offer in terms of what voting no actually means.

Then there’s the body language.  Coming out from behind the lectern to engage with the audience in the room and beyond was a good move for Alex Salmond.  At one point, Alistair Darling had actually turned his back on them and preferred only to engage with Bernard. And all that finger pointing.  At Salmond, at Bernard, at the audience.  Not good. Worse, he actually lost it at some points, hectoring and floundering and throwing out scare stats in equal measure. Meanwhile, Alex Salmond calmly set out the arguments for and was actually majestic on social justice issues.  Visibly angry at how ordinary people are suffering under Westminster austerity: many out there will have identifed with that.

Did Alex Salmond win it then?  No.  But he did among some of the key voting groups in this race to the referendum finish.

The 512 hardy souls who were polled by ICM immediately after the debate decided that Alistair Darling *won* 47% to 37%.  He clearly found favour among men, the over 55s and those living in Central Scotland, the Lothians, the Highlands and North East of Scotland.  Perhaps worryingly for the First Minister, only about two-thirds of those who had been yes before the debate or who were SNP voters think he won.

But only 4% of women thought Darling won; more in the 35 to 54 age group thought Salmond won; in Glasgow, the voters were almost evenly split on it. And among the undecideds generally? Overwhelmingly, whether they had been undecided before or still were after the debate, they thought Alex Salmond won. In fact, post-debate, an astonishing 40% of undecideds reckoned Alex Salmond won, compared to only 14% who believed that Alistair Darling did.

Who had the more appealing personality?  Men plumped for Darling, women overwhelmingly plumped for Salmond, as did voters in most parts of Scotland.

Who had the better arguments? On this, Darling emerges as a clear winner.  But again, not among women or undecided voters.

And on voting intentions in the referendum?  It would appear that what many thought of the debate made no difference to voting intentions.  Young voters 16 to 34 might have thought Darling won but as many of them intend to vote yes as vote no, while the opposite is true of the 35 to 54 age group.

And it might be small numbers, but more of the undecideds before the debate had shifted to yes than to no afterwards.

But given that over half of those undecided voters are still undecided, it’s clear that this debate didn’t provide anything like a game-changer.  No is still ahead and according to this poll and the general consensus, won the debate.  Yet, look below the waterline and Darling might not have had quite such a good debate as the pundits have opined, nor Salmond taken the *pounding* favoured by the headline writers.

Alex Salmond actually managed to close the gap in voting intentions – down to 6% between No and Yes – and in particular, close the gap among women and young adult voters.  Yes would win in Glasgow, Mid Scotland and Fife, Highlands and the North East and over a quarter of Labour and Lib Dem voters would vote Yes.

The strategy then appeared to work, in parts.  It was never designed to appeal to partisans like me – after all, my vote was won a long time ago.  And occasionally, it pays to remind myself – and indeed, ourselves – of this.  These debates aren’t about us, for us nor aimed at those of us who are already voting Yes but at all the others who can still be persuaded to in the six weeks that remain.  I think I’ll sleep better tonight realising that.





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