Or does it?
Today, Scotland on Sunday has the first exclusively Scottish poll on support for independence and anyone expecting a filip from last week’s SNP conference will be disappointed/relieved (delete as appropriate) that there isn’t one.
The YouGov survey found that 34% of Scots support independence, 52% are against, and a meagre 15% have yet to make up their minds or won’t vote. The poll also showed a gender split with only 27% of women in favour, compared to 42% of men, and a wide range of opinion across the age-groups. Those aged 25 – 39 and who are over 60 are least likely to support independence, with less than a third doing so in both age-groups.
Have we learned much? Yes and no.
It tells us that the SNP has a long way to go if it is to win its prize and that no matter how upbeat the conference, how detailed the roadmap, there is a case to be made and activists need to get out there and start converting.
It also tells us that well over a third of supporters in the bag at the start of a long and winding road is a very good place to be. It’s a small increase since the election in May, but support is travelling in the right direction.
More worryingly, despite Opposition parties being rudderless and leaderless, and to all intents and purposes, clueless, this has little impact on independence support. In fact, the Unionists can take heart, that despite their ineptitude so far in the debate, a majority of people are on their side. Of course, what the poll doesn’t tell us – because it wasn’t asked presumably – is how many of the naysayers are opposed to any constitutional change and how many want some change, just not full independence.
And it bursts one of the SNP’s bubbles, as well as demonstrating, again, the sophistication of the Scottish electorate. Just because we like you, and you have the best leader, the best team, the best record and we think you are by far and away the best current choice for government, that doesn’t mean that, by default, we will trust you on this big issue. Supporting the SNP on independence is not a given, something members and supporters need to bear in mind.
Also of concern to the SNP must be the small rump of don’t knows. Opinion appears to have polarised which makes the conversion to yes harder to achieve. A bigger, soft pool of don’t knows would be more heartening this far out from a referendum. Moreover, achieving a straight switch is harder than persuading a soft underbelly of undecideds. The road to the referendum is going to be long and hard.
And then there’s women. We know they are traditionally more conservative on the issue of constitutional change but this is a big gap in opinion. The SNP will have to think long and hard to ensure the campaign for a yes vote resonates with women voters and given the other demographic data, the party will also have to be clever at how it targets its message at women of different ages and circumstances.
Similarly, it needs to do more to convince pensioners – because they will come out and vote in a referendum – and also 25 – 39 year olds. This is young family territory, and also generally those who are starting to assume some of life’s great responsibilities. It is when staying in work, or getting a promotion becomes more important, when mortgage and marriage tends to feature, and bairns are born. This group of voters will need to be persuaded that its precarious existence on making ends meet is not going to be threatened by change.
And really, this is the message for the SNP and its supporters: get out there and make the case. Slow and steady will win this race, building gradually. But the case still has to be made. Ignore the sideshow of how many questions and what they might ask and whether they will be straight or curvy or whatever. It’s all irrelevant. The most important thing is to encourage people to vote for change, and that won’t be because the question is “just right”.
People will choose to vote yes, no matter what the question says, if they believe that change is possible, and indeed, necessary to meet some of their ambitions for themselves, their families and their futures. That is the important bit.
And therein lies the challenge. Ignore all the froth about the question, the process and the timing. What matters is getting out there and promoting the positive case for independence. This level of support at the start of the journey is heartening and incrementally, the poll shows small gains being made since May.
But more than anything else, it indicates that the SNP isn’t going to win this referendum just because it calls it: the Scottish people are more canny than that.