Why won’t the parties heed the polls and give the people what they want?

The latest poll on voting intentions in the independence referendum provides much to chew over.

Conducted by TNS-BRRB as part of its monthly Scottish Public Opinion Monitor, the same questions have been asked since 2007, enabling the market research company to provide a longitudinal study of shifts and trends.  Consequently, the Herald would have us believe that the Yes camp is doomed.

Its front page carried an exclusive report of the poll findings, going heavy on the 20% gap that has opened up in favour of the naysayers.  But what it does not mention is that this finding is in response to a question which won’t now be asked.  For the sake of consistency, TNS has opted to stick with the question contained in the first referendum bill.  So we get a trend but a pretty meaningless one.

This latest poll has prompted a flurry of speculation on whether there will there be – or should be – a third option on the ballot paper?

As usual, those on either side of the divide have managed to unite around their opposition to the idea, albeit for different reasons.  Indeed, Margo MacDonald MSP proclaimed from the front page of yesterday’s Scotland on Sunday her preference for a straight yes – no to independence.

This is an issue vexing many in the SNP and opinion is divided. I suspect some are like me:  my attitude to the two/three question issue depends on my mood when I awake in the morning.  Some days, I’m all for going for it and on others, well nearly there might be good enough.  But like most – including the First Minister – I’ll be campaigning for a yes vote.  And if a third question makes it on to the ballot paper, for a yes-yes.  Just like last time.

How so?  Well, the prospect of a third question – that of near enough – was touted as long ago as October 2011 by Stephen Noon.  The man who is one of the key staffers in the Yes Scotland campaign.  With impeccable reasoning, he sets out in this blogpost why asking people if they want the Scottish Parliament to have more powers does not necessarily put the question in competition with one on independence.  Of course, things might well have changed in the thinking since then but he, as one of the architects of the referendum strategy, has not shared the shift publicly.

So at least, some on the Yes side are at least considering the possibility of a third question on the ballot paper.  Unlike the Unionists who continue to dismiss it out of hand and thereby, do the Scottish public a huge disservice.  But being out of step with voters’ aspirations has become their default setting.

This poll, like many others, shows that most people would prefer to transfer more powers to the Scottish Parliament – 37% in fact.  Indeed, add that to those who want full independence – 23% – and you have a clear majority for change, substantial change in our current constitutional arrangements.  Standing still lags way behind.

Also of interest is the demographic breakdown.  The gender divide continues with fewer women favouring independence, but more wanting more powers.  Those aged 35 – 44 are the age group most likely to vote for independence – a full third of them – while the 25-34 year olds are most likely to want more powers (44%) and pensioners most likely to support the status quo.

In class terms, those at the top – ABs – are most likely to opt for more powers, C1s and 2s want the status quo with DEs – those with least to lose and most to gain? – more likely to vote yes to independence.  There are also geographic differences – folk in Glasgow (yes, really), Mid Scotland and Fife and North East Scotland electoral regions prefer full independence, with sizeable proportions of those from Highlands and Islands, Central, Glasgow (again) and West Scotland opting for more powers and those in West and South Scotland most likely to choose the status quo.

What does all this tell us?  That things are very fluid and that there are no clear patterns or target demographics.  Unlike traditional election campaigns, this one has to appeal broadly rather than target key groups or seats.  The differential among the three options is marginal, suggesting that a lot could change between now and then, with the slightest swing in favour changing things considerably.  And these findings also suggest that less chattering from the classes and more discourse with the voters might help the debate along.

Does this poll settle the two or three question issue?  No.  But what is becoming crystal clear is that the parties have a responsibility to start thinking about what the people want and not what suits their own ends.  This is particularly true for the anti-independenistas.  The populace is largely with them but only to a point:  it does not want to stand still and increasingly and consistently, they want the option of more powers put.

It is not good enough for Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems alike to maintain that this will muddy the waters nor that this option was in no manifesto in 2011  Poll respondents suggest that most of the electorate would cope if the referendum ballot paper was a bit more crowded.  And since when did manifesto promises become such a point of political honour?

But then the SNP, the Scottish Greens and the SSP – and myriad independent independence supporters – are not off the hook either.

There is a suggestion abroad that when push comes to shove, folk will opt for independence rather than no change at all.  But that’s a big gamble to take and why bet the house on an unknown, when meeting people’s aspirations for substantial change would put us but a short step away from full self-determination.  That might prove unpopular with hardcore nationalists but this isn’t exclusively their vote either.  A loss on the full option wouldn’t necessarily scupper things for a generation; instead, a vote for a big transfer of powers could act as a springboard.  Yep, stepping stones all the way.

Whatever, the people of Scotland are making plain their preferences,  yet the parties ain’t listening.  It’s almost beyond perplexing.

What’s the worst that could happen?  Folk sit on their hands and their crosses if they feel they don’t have an option to vote for.   And a low turnout with apathy winning would be the worst possible outcome.

36 thoughts on “Why won’t the parties heed the polls and give the people what they want?

  1. What colour is the sky in your world? The only party to have raised the issue is the SNP. Kate points out in the blog that Stephen Noon of the Yes campaign raised it in oct 2011.
    While a number of civic orgs are arguing for it too, no unionist party or group has argued for it to be on the ballot.
    It is increasingly clear that Alex Salmond is the driving force for a devo max option on the ballot paper. Given your opposition to this I wondered what you thought of this. Clearly you don’t.

    • You seriously understimate the wisdom of Alex Salmond. He is making the unionist side refuse a position that many would like to see on thre ballot paper. He cannot put it on the ballot paper and he knows that so he has challenged them to devise a question that appeals to a significant section of Scots. A nuimber of them have already confirmed that if they do not a Devo Max or FFA choice they will vote for independence. It is extremely unlikely tha theywill have a Devo Max question.
      If they do however this immediately knocks the status quo out and I’m entirely confident that if it becomes a contest between uncomplicated independence and complicated Devo Max with Trident, foreign invasions and oil revenues still flowing to London independence will win.
      Theres a long way to go yet.

    • Actually it has been an option for much longer than since October 2011. It emerged during the consultation on the referendum bill in the last session of the Scottish Parliament. If you look at the White Paper published in November 2009 for example the option of Full Devolution is discussed. And the draft referendum bill laid out a possible question.

      But – as with much of the discussion going on in the wider community right now – the other parties simply ignored the National Conversation. Indeed I think when the SNP won a majority it was extremely obvious that the unionist parties had no grasp at all on the work that had already been done on the referendum because they had paid no attention to it at the time and they never imagined that the SNP would be in a position to hold a referendum.

  2. I agree with Dave that defence and foreign policy are two of the strongest arguments for indepedence. That’s why I don’t have a problem with Devo Max as a concept cos you know if you win someone over to Devo Max the next steps are very very small! And the arguments very persuasive! Trident, Iraq etc. We have to recognise that for many people independence is a big step.We are at the stage now where most people are almost there. What is stopping them?

    In my view it is the idea of Breaking Up Britain. Many people instinctively recoil from that, which is perfectly understandable. That’s why it is so important to take people with us and not just bark at them it’s independence, nothing less! That’s not going to win anyone over.

    What made me really stop and think about this stuff was the experience of talking to voters and asking them do they believe in independence and then do they believe in more powers – the old activate script. And if you keep asking them what powers would they like to see the Scottish Parliament have control over 9 times out of 10 people who said they DIDN’T believe in independence would end up saying I think the Scottish Parliament should really be in charge of everything in Scotland.

    So we need to think about what is going on there. What are people really telling us? I think they are telling us that, yes, they want Scotland to be self-governing, they want us to take our own decisions and stand on our own feet. But they don’t want to break up Britain. They want what is good about Britain to continue, they want the social and family and cultural ties that bind to stay in place. And in a way all the debate around Devo Max and everything else is like struggling to find some kind of arrangent that is going to alow for that, that is going to allow for Scotland to be independent but to still have a place within the UK.

    The problem is that we are having this conversation with the electors pretty much on our own. Labour and the Tories (and I suppose the Lib Dems) just haven’t caught up, they aren’t listening,they don’t want to hear.

  3. Peter A Bell

    Rubbish. The well informed section of the SNP always understood that progress would be gradual. It was never going to be any other way. I am among that group. It also understood that this gradual progress would only be made by campaigning vigorously at all times for independence, nothing less. Any lowering of aims in this respect would have lowered gains and concessions.
    The dichotomy between fundamentalist and gradualist is entirely false and mostly the product of the media.
    A victory for Devo Max is a victory for the status quo and probably will put us decades back in the pursuit of independence. Better to get defeated narrowly in a Yes/No than find ourselves in the murky and complicated waters of begging Westminster for further powers. That is a process that can be strung out for ever and the hiatus that would follow such position would make campaigning for independence almost pointless . In actual fact it wouldn’t put us a single step nearer independence – probably the reverse in fact

  4. As Gordon Johnston says the fundamental question is independence or not. Should we approach a referendum with a devo max option on the ballot paper I will have torn up my SNP membership card long before we reach the day. Devolution is power retained and I have no interst in any process that does not result in Scotland becoming an independent sovereign nation.
    And don’t give me any guff about “moving towards independence”. We could “move towards independence” for the next two hundred years – till long after their is any Scotland or any point in Scotland.

    • You would do well to remember that if it wasn’t for the gradualist approach you so thoughtlessly reject there wouldn’t even be a referendum for you to vote in.

      • There was never a gradualist approach.
        There was gradual progress, which is a completely different thing.
        This was achieved by energetically promoting independence and gaining support for it. Any gradual progress was achieved as concessions to try to stop us.
        There were apparently well meaning persons in the SNP all the years whispering that we should accept little bits of this and that. They did not understand the nature of the game – or they were among us as false prophets. Their like will be among us today.
        In the late 70s for instance the SNP had listened to these people and accepted some form of devolution that devolution would have come off the table and we would have been offered half of it.
        We got a devolved Scottish Parliament because we were gaining ground in campaigning for a sovereign independent one .
        That’s the nature of the game.

      • You are quite wrong. There most certainly was, and still is, a gradualist persuasion within the SNP. Just as there is a much smaller and totally discredited fundamentalist faction. The difference being that the latter totally reject any settlement short of their own “purist” definition of independence, while the former recognise that even devolved power is useful in carrying forward the campaign for independence. The so-called gradualists have been proved right. Power devolved may be power retained, but it is retained with an ever weaker grasp.

  5. It needs to be a straight forward Yes/No vote, a third option will just muddy the waters, surely we would need to know exactly what these extra powers would be, how they would work, before voting on them.
    The First Minister is playing politics, hiding behind the consultation, none of the main parties want a third option, we knew that when we voted for them,There are a number of issues were the majority of the public want something but the politicians disagree, seems that’s how our democracy works.To be honest whenever I’ve heard the question of the referendum come up in conversation, folk talk about Yes/No never Devo plus/max.
    This will be one of the most important votes ever, the electorate who take part are being entrusted with making a decision that will affect future generations in a huge way, this referendum needs to be as simple and straightforward as possible.

  6. What is devo max? Is it different from devo plus, or other variations on a theme – should one be on the ballot paper or all of them? And others will argue that if all options are being considered then why not less devolution? To avoid doubt I don’t support that – but if the argument is that everyone is entitled to see their preference on the ballot paper …

    I love the way that you add the devo max and independence options to get a clear majority for change. That’s a bit naughty isn’t it? Devo max by definition involves staying in the union – so it should really be added to the No option to show that the support for independence falls even further. The fundamental issue here is independence or not.

    • It’s a bit disingenuous to suggest that this is about putting everyone’s preference on the ballot. It’s about recognising that the single biggest group of opinion is being ignored. It would be like holding a by-election in Banff & Buchan without an SNP candidate on the paper.

      The fundamental issue here is giving Holyrood the powers people want it to have. I don’t understand why this is such a difficult concept for unionists to grasp. Labour politicians – the ones that call themselves “devoutionists” – tell us that devolution is a continuous process of devolving power (and as we can see from Chris Bartter below, this idea has traction amongst part of the population). They tell us that we need to get independence out of the way and THEN we can continue with the process of devolution. Patricia Ferguson restated this line last night on Scotland Tonight.

      But if the devolution process is working, then why is there a clear majority in Scotland demanding far more powers for Holyrood than those which have been devolved? Patricia Ferguson said that we have to wait and see how the Scotland Bill powers go and then re-evaluate where we are. This isn’t good enough, because that will take years. People want Scotland to have full tax-raising and spending powers now, not the prospect of a few tweaks here and there in 2020 (at the earliest).

      It’s taken the unionist parties 13 years to devolve more powers, and they’ve failed to live up to people’s expectations. Why won’t the unionist parties allow Scotland to decide for ITSELF what powers Scotland should have? Why are they so determined that devolution must remain in the hands of politicians, rather than the people?

      It’s this refusal to listen to what people are saying that will lead to independence.

      • “But if the devolution process is working, then why is there a clear majority in Scotland demanding far more powers for Holyrood than those which have been devolved?”

        Not sure I understand this comment – it appears to endorse devolution as a process which is ongoing.

      • “Not sure I understand this comment – it appears to endorse devolution as a process which is ongoing.”

        Devolution, done the way Labour et al would like it to be done, is a painfully slow process. People are ready for Holyrood to be given full tax-raising and borrowing powers, as well as power over welfare & pensions, business regulation, energy policy etc. They’ve been ready for years. Yet we’ve just had the first re-evaluation of devolution in the Calman commission (which we all know only came about to try and trump the SNP), and the resulting Scotland Bill aimed insultingly low. The bill hasn’t even been put into action yet and already the debate over Scotland’s powers has overtaken it by miles. Yet folk like Patricia Ferguson would have us wait until after these powers are in place, wait a while to see how it goes, and only THEN go back to look if we need more powers.

        The “no” vote will be a vote for maybelooking at setting up another commission that might come back to tell us we should devolve some of the powers that Scots want NOW. It’s self-indulgence on the part of Labour politicians, who refuse to hand the devolution process over to the “real Scots” they showcased at the Better Together launch, because they want to remain in control.

        The huge percentage of people who favour “Devo Max” are not endorsing the mind-numbingly tedious process of “devolution by a thousand cuts”. Yes, they are endorsing the idea of devolution itself, but they endorse it as a properly empowering process, one which gives us what we want, when we want it. The kind of devolution Labour and the others endorse is what we will get if we vote “no” in the referendum, and it’s why “no” will lose if it’s a single question.

    • “Devo max by definition involves staying in the union – so it should really be added to the No option…”

      A vote for devo-whatever is a vote for change. A NO vote is a vote for the status quo. How can a vote for change be counted as a vote for the status quo? The contradiction is so obvious it really shouldn’t need to be pointed out.

      • Perhaps my point was clumsily made. The different options really shouldn’t be added together at all as they involve two separate questions and to mix the replies only leads to confusion.

        The basic issue is whether Scotland should be in the UK or independent. That’s a binary issue. If Scotland remains as a devolved part of the UK there is a further issue on the terms of that relationship – and that’s where devo max/ plus/ etc come in

      • The basic issue is constitutional reform. Both independence and devo-whatever represent constitutional reform. The NO campaign represents opposition to any constitutional reform. it is perfectly valid to set these against one another.

    • It really isn’t. We could actually produce a ballot paper with all the reserved powers on it and ask people to tick the ones they want to see transferred to the Scottish Parliament. If opinion polls are an indication we would end up with a majority for seeing all powers transferred except monetary policy, foreign policy and defence. Everything else – the economy, taxation, welfare, energy etc – opinion polls show that most people want them to be within the Scottish Parliament’s remit,

      I think you could have an interesting debate about what that outcome would represent – would it represent a kind of independence? Or would it cement Scotland’s place in the Union? There could be different views of that and of course opinion is fluid, it can move one way or another over the next few years. But the point is that we can only have that political debate if politicians are willing to engage in it. And they are not. The attitude of the unionist parties in particular is you have two choices, that’s it. Everything stays the same or you go for full independence. There is no middle ground, nothing else is up for debate, there will be no discussion about this.

      As a nationalist I want independence. But as Old Nat says the machinations of government should not be used to prevent people making what could be seen as the “wrong” choice. We need a much bigger and more open approach here. If politicians don’t want independence, what do they want? What further powers would the UK Government be prepared to devolve? How would that be organised, what kinds of political structures would be required? There is no debate about this, there is instead a refusal to engage and playground level insults about the SNP being fearties and scared of losing the referendum. It’s really quite grim.

      • I suspect for many – perhaps a majority – of SNP supporters getting control of defence and foreign affairs are the biggest reasons for seeking independence and these two issues will become crucial.
        I sense an attack of the jitters. Calm down, dears. The Jubilee bounce is still with us and an unprecendented scaremongering campaign is in full flow. As the Herald pointed out yesterday time is on our side. All scaremongering runs eventually into the sand and when its dishonesty is exposed it damages the scaremongers.
        Isn’t it amazing what the prospect of a constitutional referendum does to the “British” media’s
        opinion and treatment of Andy Murray.

      • I’ve wondered in the past about having a multi-choice referendum like the one you speak of, where people are essentially customising Holyrood’s powers to suit their needs. Assuming we’re saying that any power gaining 50% approval gets devolved, I actually think the end result would effectively be independence. In fact, depending on how much went on the paper, you could possibly end up with an even more radical type of independence than what the SNP propose. For instance, freed from having the monarchy directly tied in with defence and foreign policy, republican unionists (and royalist nationalists) would have no reason to fear voting true to themselves.

        It would be really interesting to see how such a campaign would proceed. After all, how could Better Together truly defend their current stance in such a scenario without ramping up the scaremongering to previously-unthinkable, ridiculous proportions? Every power would have to be debated on its own merit, and those who claim to favour more devolution would be forced to put their money where their mouth is.

        It would never happen in practice, but it’d certainly be an interesting exercise for a newspaper or polling company…

  7. ‘Devo max’ is pie that will never fall from the sky as, setting aside even an agreed definition of what constitutes devo max, it can only be delivered by the sovereign Westminster parliament.
    The reality is that 2 years out from the referendum there is no sign of a concrete devolution proposal, apart from the old ‘vote ‘No’ and we’ll give you more powers’ line from the London parties.
    Even IF there was a devolution proposal that made it on to the ballot paper, and ‘enhanced’ dependency/devolution won the day, the outcome would be further wrangling with Westminster whose prime interest would be to spin discussions out until the Scottish elections in 2016 and the probable election of a compliant unionist Lab/Lib coalition.
    Devo Max is a sideshow designed to take the wind out of the sails of the independence movement, an all things to all men billet that can only lead to national frustration and recrimination.
    The challenge for the YES side is to build such a compelling case that watered down ‘devo’ alternatives never get off the ground in the first place.

    • Given your vehemence against a second question, what is your position on the increasing acceptance by the ScotGov that they should put it on the referendum?

      • The Scottish Government can’t put it on the ballot paper. They are inviting the unionists, some of whom initially thought it a good way to confuse the issue (by suggesting a solution the SNP wouldn’t agree with,,they thought), to put it on the ballot paper – or pulling their plonkers as it is more accurately described.

  8. I agree with you. There was a blogpost about this recently on Better Nation and it was clear from many comments that it is all envisaged as a tactical battle between the Yes and No camps where everything is a ploy and there’s no real commitment to involving voters. In fairness to the SNP I think there is a genuine commitment to an open process – even if some of our own supporters don’t agree with that! And the Yes campaign is set up to be as open as it is possible to be. The organisational structure is almost completely decentralised and allows participation from everyone who has an interest basically. Even if they are not committed one way or another.

    The danger for me is that the SNP is coming under so much pressure to fall back and revert to a much more rigid and classic campaign structure which does not allow complexity or options. I don’t want to see that happen. This is not an election. It’s not a battle between the parties in which the voters sit back and decide at the end who has won the debate and who they are going to vote for. We are asking people here to decide, as individuals, what they want for the future of their country. That does require a different approach from the one that parties take during an election. Some people just haven’t got their heads round that yet.

  9. I would vote No to Independence. And I would potentially be happy with further devolution. However, firstly the is no mandate for a big devo-max shopping list to be written by Salmond then put into the referendum. It was not in SNP manifesto. And the consultation done cannot be regarded as definitive – because the Scottish Govt will add stuff to their list of preferred devolved powers that are not mentioned in the consultation.

    The independence issue should be settled and then dialogue undertaken to identify what powers, how they would operate, what the rest of the UK thinks (after all they have a right to a say in devolution as it affects them) and then if a settlement agreed enacted, if not put to the electoral test – possibly through a referendum.

    If people are genuinely in favour of further devolution they owe it to our country to disentangle it from independence. I know I am going to get the howling banshee types screaming at me, but moderate nationalists need to assert themselves on this. Do the right thing and dont play games because the democratic will of Scots is against independence; besides it would do you no good in the long run.

    • What condescending nonsense. You are either a nationalist or you are not a nationalist. I’ve no idea what a moderate nationalist is. And you haven’t been paying attention. The idea of enhanced devolution was introduced by unionists to divert the argument for Independence. It was not introduced by Alex Salmond or the SNP. The SNP just called their bluff and asked them to define it. They can’t – but it has caused confusion unionist ranks. It is also getting people away from the status quo but it will never appear on the ballot paper. The SNP will be campaigning for independence and has now connned the unionists into demanding the somple Yes/No vote the SNP actually wants.
      When the ephemeral nature of “Devo Max” is exposed as the hollow soundbite that it is many will move to the independence position

  10. The trick for the “No’s” is to put as close to devo-max as they dare on the table in the approach to the referendum. If they sell it as “reflecting the will of the Scottish people” and not “u-turn” I reckon they might get away with it as almost statesman-like (almost).

    The trick for the “Yes’s” is for the “No’s” to continue to be ignorant and patronising.

  11. Of course the problems with the ‘devo-max’ option are manifold. 1) the Scot Gov has always refused to say if it would accept a majority devo option if the Indy option was over 50%. 2) technically you don’t need a referendum for increased devo. It’s ‘A process, not an event’ remember. Further powers have already been devolved, and more are on their way, as accepted by the Scot Gov. 3) it is even more difficult to get acceptance of what the increased devo powers should be than getting the Scot Gov to tell us what ‘independence’ will mean.

    And, of course, the only party to have suggested it are the party who simultaneously said they didn’t want it on the paper. Yep, the SNP.
    Nevertheless I think that some form of increased devo is what will come out of this ‘referendum’ and that is probably what Eck wanted. It’s just a pity that all other work seems to be put on hold while we argy-bargy over something we mostly agree on anyway.

    • “Nevertheless I think that some form of increased devo is what will come out of this ‘referendum’ and that is probably what Eck wanted.”

      ‘Referendum’? Okay… And you do realise Alex Salmond has spent his entire political career campaigning for independence, not merely “more powers”?

  12. I’m for dindependence (love that neologism😀 ).

    Status Quo or Independence will be too traumatic.

    Compromise is the mark of the civilised person.

    • Can’t agree that “compromise is the mark of a civilised person”, devomax would feel too much like the “not proven” verdict, leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

  13. I’m not the slightest bit interested in an extra question (which can only be delivered by Westminster anyway). I’m sure the leadership of the SNP know there will not be an extra question but very cleverly they have our enemies arguing for the form of the referendum that we want ie Yes/No.
    Had we said we only want a two question referendum they would have been shouting for an extra Devo max question.
    What is abundantly clear is that AS and every SNP spokesperson has said we will be campaigning soley for Independence and that a Devo max question can only be on the ballot paper if our enemies come up with it.

    We are leading the unionists a merry dance on this.

    • “I’m not the slightest bit interested in an extra question (which can only be delivered by Westminster anyway).”

      This is not the great difficulty that some would have us believe. The question could take the form of requesting a mandate for the Scottish Government to negotiate the maximum amount of devolved power possible within the UK.

  14. Pingback: Why won’t the parties heed the polls and give the people what they want? | Referendum 2014 | Scoop.it

  15. That’s exactly the point. It’s up to politicians to argue for their preferred positions (and also what they see as a reasonable second preference if they want to), but allow the people to choose what they want.

    As the Scottish Government, the SNP administration has a further responsibility – to take a view on the responses to its consultations, and take those into account before making a final proposal for the people to vote on.

    If Scots vote to allow Westminster to continue to determine our defence and foreign affairs, I’d be disappointed. However, I’d be furious if the machinations of governments didn’t allow the Scots to make that mistake!

    Democracy matters more than anything else.

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