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.