Is it old-fashioned loyalty, or issues like currency and pensions, that drives a majority of Scots to back the Union, asks Eddie Barnes
A WORKING mother with a four-year-old and a six-year- old does not need to think up things to do in her spare time. But in what remains of hers, Ruth McKay has decided to get involved in her first political campaign. The 32-year-old Aberdonian lives in Edinburgh, running a business helping small firms with their marketing. As of earlier this year, she is also on the front line of the city’s Better Together campaign. Scotland is a nation, and it “could” be an independent country, she acknowledges. And, she adds, her heart could be swayed to an independence vote. So why vote No? For her, the practical case falls short. “When you look at it from a marketing perspective, it makes more sense to stay together as one country. We have a Scottish brand and a British brand. It is just a much stronger offering.” Furthermore, she adds, there’s no clarity about what a Yes vote might bring and, in its effort to reassure people, the SNP is offering “a Disney version of independence”. She goes on: “This isn’t about us being negative about Scotland. When you can have the whole cake, why run off with just a bit of it?”
McKay will be among dozens of activists out on the streets this weekend and next as – alongside the Yes Scotland movement – campaigners mark the One Year to Go milestone in the marathon referendum campaign with an extra push. With the Scottish Parliament having returned from its summer break last week, a spate of polls emerged, with the pro-UK camp’s lead confirmed in two polls (another, commissioned by the SNP, had Yes slightly ahead but had its methodology criticised by psephologists).
For pro-independence campaigners, the “Better Together” motif is more like a “suicide pact”, in the words of one, which will condemn Scotland to be chained for ever to the giant dead weight of the United Kingdom. Yes voters told this paper last weekend how independence would secure political sovereignty for the people who live here, giving the country the chance to do as it pleased. SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell tweeted on Tuesday last week that he had been speaking to a woman from Estonia. “She was flabbergasted that anybody would consider voting No to independence for their country.”
But the facts are that the majority of voters in Scotland presently look prepared to do just that. This week, in our series marking the One Year To Go milestone, we turn to the people who have already decided to walk into the polling booths next autumn and vote for Scotland to remain part of the Union and reject independence. Are they missing the vision thing? What is it that motivates them to do so?
It isn’t easy to pinpoint who makes up the pro-UK camp, says one key figure in the campaign. That’s because they’re everywhere. Recent analysis of voters by gender, age and political leanings by Ipsos Mori found only one category where pro-independence supporters make up the majority – SNP voters. And even then, say pollsters, there are some SNP backers who will be voting for the Union. “The electorate is able to unpick these things and say ‘I am prepared to support the SNP, they have done a good job. but I am not supporting independence, sorry’,” says Mark Diffley, Ipsos Mori’s director. “There is a significant number of people who feel that way.” So apparently convinced of the case for the Union are Scottish voters that bookmakers rate a No vote at 7-1 on.
They may make up the majority, but there are some chunks of the electorate who appear even more ready to swing to No than others, Women, for example. Among those certain to vote, Ipsos Mori found that 61 per cent of women were planning to vote No, compared to 49 per cent of men. Why? It is not because women are turned off by Alex Salmond, says Rachel Ormiston of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, nor because they differ from men over their priorities. The reason, say the pollsters, may lie in the fact that women admit to being far more unsure than men about what independence may bring.
OAPs are also disproportionally more likely to be a No. Rhona Young, 84, is a retired sub-postmaster who lives in Old Kilpatrick, near Clydebank. Even if gold were found underneath Dumbarton Rock, she says she’d always back the UK. “I am a Monarchist. I’m a Unionist. I’m dyed-in-the-wool. The motto here [in Clydebank] is ‘strength in unity’. And I firmly believe in that statement. I’ve always been very conscious that I’m a Unionist, not a Nationalist. I think it is in-born. I think it is part of my way of life. It was the way my generation was brought up. The war had a lot to do with it.”
The relevance of those wartime memories and the national effort following it to haul Britain back off its knees are backed up by analysis conducted by John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University. “The war generation and those people for whom the Empire meant something are likely to back the UK. They also came of age before the SNP was a serious player,” he says. In other words, the old ties remain strong. Ipsos Mori estimates that 61 per cent of pre-war people are set to vote No, compared to 51 per cent of Generation Y, who were born from the 1980s onwards.
That sense of Britishness is also relevant for many others, and appears to include many of the estimated half-a-million people living in Scotland who were born in other parts of the UK. Diffley adds: “If you look at all those born in Scotland it is 56 per cent No. For someone else born in the UK, the figure is 75 per cent No. If you are born elsewhere in the UK only 16 per cent will support independence.”
Among them is father of four Adam Tomkins, a professor of law at Glasgow University. “I regard my country as Britain. I feel neither English nor Scottish. I was born in England and I lived there for 33 years. I know I am in a minority but I don’t regard myself as English or Scottish,” he says.
If Scotland were no longer to be part of the rest of the UK, he adds, “I don’t know if I would feel comfortable staying.” He “totally buys” the core message of the pro-UK campaign that Scotland currently “gets the best of both worlds”. He adds: “I have four young children and when I look at them growing up and then I look at friends in London and see the way of life down there, I thank God I don’t live in London. That’s because things have been devolved.” The way Scotland has evolved since devolution is a success story, not a stepping stone, he argues.
For every rule there is an exception; both the SNP and Yes Scotland have English-born people working in senior roles. And SNP figures have been keen to embrace the idea of Britishness themselves, promising a “social union” after independence. But for some Scots at least, those British ties are enough to tip them towards saying No. Oliver Milne 22, from Glasgow, currently a law student at Edinburgh University, remarks: “My family are from Glasgow and worked in the shipyards. In my experience I have far more in common with someone from Liverpool or Sheffield than I do with someone from Arran for example. With devolution, I have an ability to influence what happens in Sheffield for the better through working in the UK political system.”
And yet – as Tomkins acknowledges himself – this emotional attachment to the mother nation is not the core reason many people are saying No. The loyalty that many Scots have towards the UK is a “residual loyalty”, not an active one, says Curtice. To test that theory, he polled people on their reaction to the Union flag. In Northern Ireland, the flag is a heated symbol no matter who you are. But he found that Scots don’t see much in at all. “It’s a symbol of indifference.” Curtice adds. So, for many No voters, it isn’t so much a pride in Britishness which is driving their viewpoint so much as a practical and pragmatic assessment of the risks and benefits of the choices on offer. The currency, the viability of pensions, the future of the single UK market – these are the issues that campaigners say are being raised on the doorstep.
Typical of such a voter is Andrew Skea, who runs an organic vegetable business in Alyth, and is – no pun intended – pretty down-to-earth on the issue. He remarks: “About 65 per cent of my trade is to the rest of the UK. About 5 per cent goes to Scotland. For me, it is absolutely essential that we have the same currency.”
He notes how the issue of Trident on the Clyde is raised as something that independence could sort out. “That does not affect me at all. It is of no consequence to me,” he says. What is of consequence are the bread and butter concerns of making a living for his family: “The Union helps to make these things slightly easier to do.” Graham McCarey, from Paisley, a planning technician at Inverclyde Council, adds: “I am open-minded and I would love to believe in it, but you have to be realistic. When things are so unstable internationally, never mind at home, it is making people feel very cagey.”
The SNP will be holding out the hope that the Scottish Government’s white paper this autumn might deal with some of these practical concerns. But anecdotally, at least, many No voters have set the bar very high. And it may be that many of them are beyond reconsidering. Following a bruising year for the pro-independence campaign and its assertions over EU membership and on the currency, pro-UK campaigners say there is already widespread scepticism towards the SNP over their promises on independence. The benefit of the doubt may already have slipped.
Rhona Young remarks: “I think they are trying to reassure everybody about independence. But we haven’t got proof on any of it.” Scotland Mr and Mrs No’s are a pragmatic, canny bunch, and their sceptical mood appears to have settled. Even the persuasive charms of the SNP’s finest may now find they are out of their reach. «