Independence is definitely a generational thing

Some of you may know that I have written a book.  Most of you don’t, because I’ve not done very much about promoting it or talking about it.  And yet, how relevant it all seems – even after the big vote.

The book examines Generation ScotY, Scotland’s 20somethings, who they are, what influences them, how they responded to the referendum and what their voting intentions were.  At the time I finished writing it, it wasn’t clear how they would vote but the book does burst a few myths about what matters to this crucial generation.

So having failed miserably to get out on the circuit and talk it up, and having not bothered anyone at any time for funding for this blog or to feed me and my weans while I took three months off work to campaign for independence, I’m hoping a few of you might be inclined to buy the book.  Even if you never bother to read it, put a smile on Luath Press’s face and buy it please.  It’s not even a tenner.

It’s available here, mostly I think as an e-edition.  But also from here.

generation_scot_y

I’d given up political predictions (I was rubbish at them) but it seems I had a prescient moment or two with the book.

First, that Scotland’s 20somethings would largely vote for independence – and that even within that generation, there was a divide in voting intentions, with the older 25 to 29 year olds being more likely to vote Yes.  Richard Ashcroft’s polling after voting appears to bear that out:  a narrow margin of 4% for No among 18 to 24 year olds but a much wider 18% in the 25 to 34 year old group.

Second, this:

“…there could be trouble ahead if Generation ScotY feels resentful of older generations if they bequeath them a future they neither wanted nor voted for.  Indeed, if as some polls suggest, the older cohort in Generation ScotY (those aged 25 – 34) votes Yes to independence and the outcome is a No vote, then that result will most likely have been achieved throught the votes of those over 45 and particularly, those aged over 60. In other words, Generation ScotY could be denied the future they want by the votes of their parents and grandparents.  Such a situation might foment societal discord, particularly given the outlook for Generation ScotY in terms of their incomes and economic wellbeing…

The book concludes that far from being the generation that wants it all, Generation ScotY wants but a little of all that we – Generation X and Baby Boomers – have had.  “The only thing we have left behind for Generation ScotY is a morass that its members are going to have to spend their lifetimes sorting.”

And this is exactly what Ashcroft’s poll suggests has happened. Only 43% of people in Scotland aged 55 to 64 voted Yes and a staggering 73% of those over 65 voted No.

Pensioners and those about to become so voted to keep all that they have gained in their lifetimes.  They opted for keeping things just as they are, not wanting the bother of upheaval at their time of life. Shame on them.

They are the generation which by their hard work and effort, built the great British institutions – the welfare state, the NHS, comprehensive education.  Throughout my lifetime, the dismantling of those institutions has grown apace, coupled with severe economic dislocation, not once but twice.  Yet, Baby Boomers have been largely protected from the impact of this, by dint of their age distancing their experience of some, such as the education system and because governments and politicans have worked hard to protect them from that impact.

The ones most affected by all the change, economic, political and societal, since 2008 are those in their 20s and 30s.  And they will continue to be so throughout their lifetimes.  There are £5 billion of cuts coming in the next two years to the Scottish block grant;  the Tories have promised to limit public spending as a percentage of GDP through legislation; Labour is pledging to remove under 25s from benefit entitlement completely; inequality is growing exponentially and poverty among young single adults in work is rising rapidly.

Generation ScotY got that in this referendum.  They could look forward and see the misery before them, if Scotland opted to stay within the UK.  When I looked at what issues matter to our 20somethings for the book, I was surprised at what they listed.  They are caricatured as frivolous and flippant and they are anything but.  Generation ScotY took this referendum seriously – far more seriously in terms of the country’s and its people’s future than their parents and grandparents, who largely voted for themselves. Thatcher’s children, indeed.

If Scotland voted Yes, they would still have been all right.  Little would have changed in their lifetimes.  The changes needed to create a wealthier economy and a fairer society would have barely begun by the time they shuffled off to their resting places – something they failed to get.  And they refused to listen to their children and grandchildren, who in opting for independence, were prepared to put up with short-term, even medium term, dislocation, in order to have a chance of their lives – and their children’s – being different.

Baby Boomers opted for a present which only exists in their rose-tinted view of the past, rather than a future which was not theirs to design.  If I was in my twenties, I’d be pretty pissed off with my grandparents right now. And I’d be tempted to call them up and tell them why I won’t be visiting this Christmas.  In fact, the next time a pensioner coming on to the bus gives me a hard stare to get up from my seat, they’ll be given a hard stare right back.  After all, who’s paying the fares here?  Petty, yes. But no protest is ever futile.

But there is also hope. This generation of 20somethings is a sunshine one: despite the hand dealt them by the current state of things, they are optimistic and positive in the outlook for the future. They will make the best of things.

And I don’t think they will give up.  They get that power and control needs to belong in their hands and not given away to sit with a tiny political elite.  They get that equality, justice and fairness matter as key building blocks in society and indeed, the economy.  They are prepared to work hard, to use their talents and skills to believe in and indeed, create a better future for themselves and their communities.  If you buy the book, you’ll find out why I am making such assertions.

So while fear triumphed on Thursday, because of the sheer numbers of Baby Boomers who refused to lift their eyes and vote for the future, hope still remains.  Not least because Generation ScotY voted for it.

The Unionists have written off the possibility of another independence referendum for a lifetime or even a generation.  They’re wrong.  I don’t think Generation ScotY will allow Westminster and the political class to put it back in a box.  The referendum allowed them to discover the thrill of political activisim: 20somethings organised themselves in this campaign and learned skills and enjoyed experiences they won’t want to lose.

The question of independence for Scotland will be back on the table within ten years at most, possibly even five, if the Unionist parties renege – as they already seem to be doing – on the more, new powers vow.  When that happens and all those cuts still to come bite further into the forbearance of Generation ScotY, they will demand the chance – again – to opt for different.  And this time, they’ll win.

For as Alex Salmond said, the dream shall never die.  Not when Generation ScotY – over 53% of it – already voted for it.  Not when they already demonstrated hope, aspiration, belief and crucially, Yes votes that their future lies in an independent Scotland.  Next time, thanks to them and the generation still to reach voting age, the dream will become a reality.

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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
 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoQYw49saqc

 

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

Women are wending their way to Yes

You’ll forgive me for having more than a passing interest in how women are going to vote in the referendum.  In the last two years, there has been a concerted effort – largely by women and largely by women from both Yes and No sides – to ensure women’s voices are heard in the debate.  You might wonder that we really are in the 21st Century but women have had to fight, call out and argue for their right to be represented in media discussions and speaker panels in the referendum debate.  But we are winning, even if falling somewhat short of equal representation.  Apparently, one women’s voice will always do, while often two or more of men’s is considered requisite.

Carolyn Leckie’s inspired idea to create a space for women who support independence in which they could engage with other like-minded women has borne remarkable fruit. The aim was not to create an echo chamber but a safe space which operated differently from traditional party and campaign structures, in which women could gather and importantly, invite other women to participate in. The focus throughout has been on listening to other women and giving them a space of their own in which to explore their thoughts and concerns on the referendum debate.  But let’s be honest, the point of what Carolyn and the other founding members of Women for Independence (of which I was one) created was also to enable and encourage more women in Scotland to vote Yes. 

That it has worked suggests that it was sorely needed. Because of Women for Independence, there are women involved in this debate, campaigning, speaking out, engaging and still listening to other women’s voice who have “never done this kind of thing before”. Women for Independence now has 1,200 individual members from all over Scotland, with over 40 local groups ranged all over the country.

And while our focus is on the campaign to win independence for Scotland for the next nine weeks, we won’t be going away on 19 September. The work will continue – hopefully with women from all parties and none, and from both sides of the constitutional debate – to ensure women’s rights and equality feature high up the agenda in post-referendum Scotland. Yup, that’s a threat and a promise.

Increasingly, Women for Independence is attracting women who did not start out voting yes. They have travelled to the conclusion that women in Scotland will be better off with independence either through a long and dissatisfying journey with the Labour party or over the arid landscape of two years of constitutional debate. Some of them started as No voters, most as undecideds. 

But don’t just take my word for it, look at the polls. 

Frankly, during this campaign, the polls have been all over the place. The differential in voting intentions being recorded by different pollsters and across polling periods is often so volatile that the only safe conclusion is “eh?”

There have been a lot of polls and very little can be said about them that tells us definitively what on earth is going on in the minds and intentions of the Scottish people. Though John Curtice does his best.

James Kelly at Scot Goes Pop! has done a sterling job, not only in keeping up with polling activity, but also in providing essential analysis. In particular, he’s tried to get to the crux of why the polls are still showing big leads for no when any of us out on the doorsteps know it’s a lot less clearcut than they suggest.

Looking only at ICM’s polling results in 2014 (from the surveys run for the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday), two tentative conclusions can be reached.

ICM poll table 2014

First, the longer the debate continues and the more information they have, the less men seem to know.  Wasn’t it always thus?

ICM’s polling suggests that the closer we get to Referendum day, men are being pulled away from a previous yes voting intention and increasingly, don’t know how they will vote. The fact that they do appear to be moving to undecided means there is still hope: one in five of men’s votes is still up for grabs. Why anyone thinks excluding the don’t knows at this stage is a good idea is beyond me.  Every second voter I canvass is a genuine undecided either because they cannot make up their mind or simply haven’t thought about it.  Read that last bit again, Yes and No stalwarts, and weep.

Second, women are largely where they started the year, having been on a bit of a journey in the last few months. Having reached a low point of support for independence in May, women do now seem to be moving towards a yes vote.  And there are still plenty who have yet to make up their minds. ICM suggests that when they do, they are largely deciding to vote yes. Again, these undecideds are still genuinely undecided for the reasons outlined above. Few can be categorised as not voting because most I meet absolutely intend to do so. Once they’ve had a chance to think about it and get hold of information because they’ve not had anything much, is a frequent refrain. (Note to Yes and No folk – try harder!)

There are many factors at play, of course. But the visibility of a campaign working so enthusiastically at the grassroots to encourage more women to vote yes, will have made a contribution. When women who support independence get the chance to expound the benefits of independence to other, undecided women – benefits for themselves, their families, their communities and the country’s future – those messages resonate.

Moreover, the issues matter. Women have been most affected by Westminster’s cuts. They are concerned about the future of the welfare state and NHS in Scotland as they see the privatisation of the NHS South of the border. More and more women are realizing that only independence guarantees a fairer and more prosperous future for them and their families.

Last week, I met a woman in her thirties, who despite the draw of a warm, balmy summer evening, sat on a hard seat in a village hall for two hours and listened. I watched her throughout and she was listening hard to everything that was being said: her attention did not waver, not even for a minute. I spoke to her at the end and asked her why she had come.

With tears shining in her eyes, she replied that she wanted to make sure she was making the best choice for her children’s future. That how she voted really mattered and she wanted to make sure she got it right. She did not want her children to be denied a better future because she got her vote wrong. She has been undecided throughout, swinging from undecided to yes, back again and over to no, before landing up firmly back on the fence for the last month or so. Since then, she has immersed herself in the debate, in gathering and reading information, on turning out to meetings like the one I met her at, because she absolutely wants to make sure she is doing the right thing by her children. 

She’s finally made up her mind.  She’s voting yes.