As all of us never tire of saying, one of the absolute joys of this independence referendum campaign has been the flourishing of grassroots movements, groups and activities. People, predominantly but not exclusively, on the Yes side have found a way to get involved. And if they couldn’t find it, they started it. There are groups representing all demographics, all political persuasions and none. The best thing of all is that the Yes campaign has enabled people to get involved and engaged in campaigning who have never done so before.
The Radical Independence Campaign has provided a base and a home for all those of a left-leaning persuasion who want a Yes vote. The shared value is that Yes will kickstart change in all aspects of Scottish society. I might have been critical last year at everyone sitting around in a hotel for a day talking to themselves about issues, policies and solutions everyone already believes in but since then RIC has upped its game. It is out there in the schemes and communities of Scotland that other political campaigning has largely left behind. Its canvass days have been an inspiration.
And today, RIC ups the ante with a mass canvass in towns and cities all over Scotland, reaching deep into disaffected Scotland, taking the positive messages of change which independence offers – and specifically offers those who have little who tend to live in such areas. There are at least 45 mass canvassing events taking place today in every part of Scotland. It’s fantastic.
And it is also needed. There has been much talk of Scotland’s Missing Million, the million voters who are not registered to vote, largely people either deliberately hiding from public view for a range of often complex reasons, or who see no point in exercising their right to the franchise. Independence speaks to them – all the polls, for once, agree that those least well off are more likely to vote yes – so it is vital that they are enabled and empowered to vote on 18 September. At least if you are a Yes supporter. If you are a No strategist you will be hoping to keep them off the radar and out of the polling stations, just as they have been marginalised for decades: their voice unsought, unheard and unheeded.
There was lots of self-congratulation when statistics were published earlier this year showing that more people than ever before are registered to vote. There was an assumption that this was good for Yes, that those additional voters included many of the Missing Million. But a close look at the figures suggests that this is a wrong-headed assumption. National Records of Scotland provided the figures and helpfully disaggregated them in a range of ways, including for all those who will be eligible to vote in September by local authority area. The analysis compares 2012 registration with 2014 as at February of this year.
Overall in Scotland, the number of voters on the electoral roll for local government and Scottish Parliament elections rose by 1.39% from 4, 063, 206 to 4, 120, 494.
But that 1.39% increase is not evenly split across the country. In the better off areas, the increase is higher: Aberdeen City 2.94%; Aberdeenshire 3.56%; City of Edinburgh 3.8%; Stirling 2.62%. And it is also higher in rural areas where fewer are likely (if the polls are to be believed) to vote yes: Angus 2.9%; Perth and Kinross 2.35%. Perhaps reflecting patterns of depopulation, there is also a decrease in some rural areas: Dumfries and Galloway (down by 0.5%) and Shetland (down by 0.27%)
Generally, the increases in local authorities with more of Scotland’s deprived communities are much smaller: East Ayrshire 0.23%; Glasgow City 0.35%; North Ayrshire 0.22%; North Lanarkshire 0.81%. There are some such as Dundee with a 3.14% increase and Midlothian 2.88% but they are the exception. Worst of all, there are some local authority areas where fewer voters are registered now than they were two years ago: Clackmannanshire (down by 0.83%); Inverclyde (down by 4.74%) and West Dunbartonshire (down by 0.32%).
Even where there are positive shoots of growth in voter registration, break down the local authority area by parliamentary constituency and the poorest constituencies are often showing marginal growth or actual decreases, while it is the wealthier constituencies in cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh putting on the growth.
What the statistics show is that the Million is still largely missing and if the Yes campaign in all its guises wants to ensure the have-nots have their say, then the focus for the next few weeks should be on registering as many of them to vote as possible.
It’s why events like RIC’s Mass Canvass today are so important. All of us wanting to see a yes vote this September should spend a little of this sunny Sunday out there in the parts of Scotland the No campaign would prefer us not to reach, persuading more of the Million to participate in the best opportunity in their lifetimes to change their fortunes.