100 voices: Independence or Union?
SCOTLAND'S political parties have everything to play for at next year's historic Holyrood elections, according to an exclusive poll in The Scotsman which found one-third of high-profile Scots have yet to decide how to cast their vote.
As the clock ticks down to next year's elections, which coincides with the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Union with England, our survey of 100 voices shows how devolution has shaken many long-held certainties.Read The Scotsman's exclusive poll here: www.scotsman.com/100voices
Nearly one-third of the key opinion-formers, celebrities and sports stars who spoke to The Scotsman admitted they were "torn" on whether Scotland's tie to the Union or independence would be best for the country.
Only 16 of the 100 said they were staunchly in favour of independence, while 53 said they supported the Union. Current opinion polls put support for independence among the population in general at 27 per cent.
However, with the 31 of our 100 still undecided or neutral, a leading political commentator said the Scottish National Party and other pro-independence parties should act to capitalise on the show of support.
Professor James Mitchell, of the department of government at Strathclyde University, said: "On the face of it, this survey suggests to me the so-called gradualists in the SNP were absolutely right and the people who said devolution would kill off independence were wrong.
"Although we have to accept that a poll of the elite such as this will have an in-built bias, as such people, if they support independence, are less likely to say so publicly, it is nonetheless a very interesting outcome. My sense is there is clearly a mood in Scotland moving towards independence, but there are still problems for the SNP ahead because Labour has not begun its campaign. When it does, we can expect it to be pretty brutal."
Many in the business community unsurprisingly took a straightforward view that the Union was unequivocally the most advantageous for the country.
However, Tom Dalrymple, chairman of Flyglobespan, one of Scotland's major airlines, added that he felt the devolution settlement had been a "disappointment for Scotland".
But in a comment that may also send shudders through SNP strategists, he added: "As a passionate Scot, nationalism makes me go weak at the knees. But in the ever-shrinking world, I just don't see how it can work. It's just too introverted and full of politics."
Professor Gordon McVie, a leading Scottish cancer expert, had a different take. He admitted devolution had shaken his own certainty that he was "a strong Unionist".
He said: "I have more recently been finding myself drawn to the side of independence, especially with regards to issues such as health and education. "
Roddy Martine, the author and society commentator, said: "Scotland has done rather well from the Union over the past 300 years, but times change. When Tony Blair launched devolution instead of stifling the SNP, as I am sure he intended, it simply gave them momentum."
However, Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manger, commented: "I think being part of the United Kingdom is important at the present time because, in terms of independence, it may be a little too soon after the restoration of the Scottish Parliament."
Mike Gilson, the editor of The Scotsman, said: "The results of our poll of 100 voices make fascinating reading and underline just how significant next year's Holyrood elections will be.
"We have spoken to some of Scotland's key opinion-formers and what they had to say has proved surprising, sometimes amusing and will most certainly be thought-provoking for politicians of all persuasions before the battle for votes begins in earnest next year.
"From now until May next year, The Scotsman intends to take this debate into all sections of the community, looking at the issues behind the arguments and extracting facts from spin."
THE Scotsman's poll of 100 voices is a random snapshot highlighting the opinions of personalities and leaders from business, the church, sport, entertainment and the arts.
Although it is a non-scientific exercise, nevertheless it represents a fascinating insight into how prominent Scots, who are confident about airing their political views, feel about their homeland and its place in the world.
The poll was conducted by telephone over this week.
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