Notes on the Scottish Outcome

I’d be interested in comments on these thoughts about the electoral situation in Scotland now after the referendum results. They are in no particular order and I am but an outsider, so corrections welcome!

1. Polling surveys can be better than exit polls. Postal votes accounted for the majority of the gap between “Yes” and “No”. Roughly 3.6 million votes were cast, nearly a fifth of these were by post (as postal “turnout” exceeded regular turnout, as it always does); it is possible as many as 70% of those 700,000 were for “No”, but even if that is an exaggeration the chances are that the gap within those 700,000 was at least 200,000 – more than half the final 400,000 gap. This was the fundamental peril of an exit poll, and it actually why YouGov’s final “survey” (which included postal voters) was more accurate than an exit poll would have been.

2. Scotland is now split four ways in terms of political identity. Around a quarter of the population are vehemently Scottish Nationalist, telling pollsters that this was about “freedom” and getting away from the “yoke” or even “slavery” of England; around a quarter favour Scottish independence but with no particular nationalist fervour, they merely believe it is time for Scotland to “stand on its own feet” or for Scottish decisions to be “made in Scotland”; another quarter feel Scottish predominantly or solely but are relatively content to be in a Union with other countries if it is deemed to be in their economic or social interests; a final quarter are British (though they see no clash between this and Scottish of course) and would have sense a profound loss of identity in the event of independence. The battle of course was fought in these middle two quarters; the skill of the “Yes” campaign was utterly to detach the notion of “Scottish Nationalism” on one hand from the notion of “Scottish independence” on the other, but they didn’t quite do enough in the end to ease uncertainty among those who feel Scottish and are open to independence but also have no real objection to being in a Union.

3. The SNP will be unharmed by the defeat. On the contrary, 45% is something of a victory in context. The challenge for the SNP is to keep united under new leadership (something which did not happen post-1995 in Quebec, to use that risky parallel). This will be challenging, not least because there are obvious personality clashes (as there were the last time Mr Salmond stood down) and the SNP has to meet the aspirations now both of Scottish Nationalists and of what we may now call Scottish sovereigntists (see above, i.e. those who want an independent Scotland for the sake of standing in the world as it is now or simply breaking away from a British elite, but who have no interest in Wallace or such). However, the prize for unity is a good result in 2015 for a start. Despite not doing so well in the “heartlands” at this referendum, there is no reason the SNP should expect to lose UK Parliament seats; on the other hand, the good performance in Glasgow and other urban areas means they may reasonably expect to gain seats there (especially if they can appeal to “sovereigntists”).

4. The Scottish Conservatives now have most to gain. “No” did markedly well in areas which are (or were recently) SNP/Conservative marginals and, even more relevantly, the Scottish Conservatives are now offering more powers to Scotland than anyone else except the SNP itself among the four traditionally main parties. It is a big ‘if’, but if the Conservatives can get the balance right between meeting the interests of “English votes on English issues” with “fiscal autonomy for Scotland” and lead the delivery of both, they will reinvent themselves as a distinctly Scottish party with a track record of delivery there. It is a big opportunity.

5. Gordon Brown had nothing to do with it. The fairly boring story of the polls in this referendum is that the polls were right, except that as ever they missed the 3-5 point swing to the status quo at the very end (hence my own prediction on Facebook on the morning of voting that the result would be “around 55% no”). There was no late swing in the final 24 hours beyond that which was predictable weeks beforehand. Gordon Brown’s speech was an absolute barnstormer, but it was too late and made no difference. (“The Vow” had very little to do with it either – it was a foolish, cack-handed and mischievous response to what was, frankly, one dodgy poll by a company which proved overall to be among the least accurate.)

6. The “Yes” campaign was predominantly civic and not political, and thus so must the response be. A Constitutional Convention is a good idea, both within Scotland and across the UK.


12 thoughts on “Notes on the Scottish Outcome

  1. Martin J Frankson says:

    The Yes vote was 45% but 45% of the 85% who voted shows us that only 37% of the eligible electorate voted for independence. 63% either voted against independence or did not actively support independence.

    This is now settled and having witnessed the tumult and division this exercise in democracy or as I put it, childish self indulgence, I think the UK should be governed in one of two ways

    1: full confederation including English regions but with a written constitution that does not allow secession.

    2 abolishment of all devolved powers and returning to a single unitary state. Life was simpler then and it worked. Labour and Tory stand in all parts of the UK therefore how do regions feel left out?

    • boondock says:

      Sorry but this is nonsense. If people dont vote then they dont have a say end of story. Using your logic you could equally say that only 47% backed the union therefore 53% wanted it to end one way or the other. The reality is 85% is a massive turnout. The 15% didnt vote because they couldnt be bothered, didnt have an interest or were too ill to make it to the polling station, to try and suggest that they are all Unionists (or against independence) is mischievious at best. There is a regular contributor to the Bel Tel that has a similar argument that approx only 23% of the electorate here in NI is Nationalist but for the life of him refuses to believe using his own logic that approx only 26% of the electorate are Unionist like yourself he conveniently speaks for all the non voters and claims that by not voting they are happy with the status quo and are therefore Unionist obviously.
      Likewise if we start considering all the non voters then has there actually been a legitimate government in the UK in the modern era?
      It is not childish self indulgence as the vote itself suggests a fairly even split on what the people of Scotland believe the better way forward to be. The huge turnout only confirms how impotant it is.
      All those other countries in the world past and present seeking independence are they also just acting like spoilt children?
      Interesting weeks and months ahead of us and already the main parties seem to be disagreeing greatly on their so called vow.
      As for the English regions only 10 years ago only 22% in the North East voted YES for Northern devolution so there doesnt seem to be much appetite for it.
      As for your final point regarding Northern Ireland Direct Rule is probably for the better as our own politicians are incapable of making any decision but I would remind you that Labour do not stand in NI and whilst the Conservative party do from time time they get no votes

  2. Martin J Frankson says:

    Just one more thing, I am concerned at the prospect of the next several years being consumed with constitutional naval gazing. Every minute taken up with this self indulgent nonsense is a minute not spent on economic recovery, NHS improvement and awareness of what’s going on the world beyond our shores. A victory for the obscurants and dusty academics of political science.
    Wake me up when it’s settled. zzzzzzz

  3. Glenn S says:

    My interpretation of the Prime Mininster’s remarks on English Votes for English laws, and all this chat from Tory Backbenchers about an English First Minister, show that the Conservatives are keen to use this to hurt labour. So soon after the votes have been cast, and people have registered their dissatisfaction with the ways of Westminster, its a bit disappointing.

    • Seymour Major says:

      I would have been disappointed if David Cameron had not tried to hurt Labour. Do nothing on the ‘West Lothian’ question and you leave uncontested ground for Nigel Farage to exploit. Politics is a dirty business. On this particular issue, it is in the National interest that Cameron gets very dirty hits Labour very hard.

  4. Martin J Frankson says:

    On the subject of the West Lothian question, I am perhaps one of the few who no paradox in Scottish MPs voting in English matters but not being to legislate on Scottish matters and I will tell you why:
    England comprises 85% of the UK population and 2/3 of the GB landmass. As a result, England exerts a huge social and economic gravitational pull on the other UK countries. Is there really any English-only piece of legislation that does not affect the other countries?

    If England replaced GCSE exams with something else, would the fact that 85% of the UK now sits different exams not lead to the other countries following suit?

    If England spends billions on a high speed rail system, would this not affect the Barnet formula if England wanted to make cost savings if it so chose?

    If England changes incomes tax levels, this would have an immediate effect on the pockets off those in the other 3 counties not to mention affecting the the theoretical levels of taxation that Scotland could choose within its 3% tax varying powers. If Scotland in theory set income tax to 24% as opposed to the UK levy of 22%, that’s ok but what would happen if England suddenly changed tax to say 15%? Scotland’s 22% would be rendered illegal without Scotland having any say on the matter and they’d need to lower it from 24% to within 15-18% at a stroke thus driving a horse and coached through its financial planning.

    It’s for these reasons that I put to you all that there is not a thing England does that does not affect us directly or indirectly therefore all Westminster MPs from all4 countries should have a say in the affairs of England.

    • As I touched on in my piece re a “Federal UK”, that has always been the reason no one has bothered answering the question!

      However, if you devolve significant *fiscal* responsibility, the equation changes completely. I’ll touch on that in my next blog on Tuesday…

  5. Martin J Frankson says:

    I look forward to that Ian

    I fail to understand why the UK just can’t take the Canadian or German model off the shelf and just run with it. Those systems obviously work

  6. Martin J Frankson says:

    Resorting to personal abuse only shows you up as simplistic.

  7. Scots Anorak says:

    1. One point to make here would be that the postal vote may represent a snapshot of sentiment at a somewhat earlier stage of the campaign. There has been anecdotal evidence of people having come to regret the fact that they voted No before polling day. The postal vote may also to some extent reflect the view of Scots living in England, who I’d assume are also more likely to vote No.

    2. Scotland is of course also split generationally. If the UK fails to persuade those under 55 to start supporting the Union again, its days are numbered. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that anything other than full federalism coupled with proportional representation for the Commons and abolition of the Lords will result in independence, probably sooner rather than later.

    3. The SNP has already put on a server-crashing 10,000 new members since the result, including a good friend of yours, and the Greens and even the SSP have also made very significant gains. The SNP membership is now bigger than that of all the other Scottish parties combined. As Labour is now damaged goods, there is the chance for the SNP to make inroads at Westminster as well as maintaining its dominance at Holyrood (although, of course, anything can happen between now and polling day). If Labour blocks substantial further devolution simply in order to protect the voting rights or salaries of its 40 Scottish MPs, it will pay a high price indeed.

    4. I doubt if the Conservatives have much to gain really. If Scotland had become independent, there would have been room for a centre-right party to grow (possibly after re-embracing the word “Tory”). Apart from anything else, a good many Scots voters think of the Conservatives as mad, and even if a mad person does you a good turn, it might not make you want to put him in charge of the country. As matters stand, the fact that the Conservatives have offered more than Labour merely underlines the failures of the latter. It’s also in my view unlikely that the Conservatives would devolve oil and whisky tax, without which many of the other new powers may prove a poison chalice, since they would raise less than the Barnett funding that they replaced. If the SNP is merely forced into making cuts, it could be damaged at some point in the future (although, conversely, if they succeed in explaining the reasons why, it will damage the Union).

    5. I wouldn’t rule out Gordon Brown’s effect entirely, although it is of course a political reality that current moves towards more substantial devolution are a result of the 45% showing for Yes rather than of any pre-referendum vow.

    6. I think you mean “civic and not ethnic”. If creating a new country isn’t a political act, I don’t know what is.

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