Scottish independence: What convinces Yes voters

Ian Wilson, front, is the only pupil in his class at Springburn Academy who admits to backing the Yes campaign. Picture: Robert Perry
Ian Wilson, front, is the only pupil in his class at Springburn Academy who admits to backing the Yes campaign. Picture: Robert Perry
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In the first of three reports, Eddie Barnes speaks to Yes voters and examines what convinces them of the case for independence

IAN Wilson, a 16-year-old student in the Modern Studies class at Springburn Academy, Glasgow, does not have it easy. His class is discussing next year’s independence referendum. And Ian, shy but resolute, is the only one in the classroom who (publicly at least) is prepared to say that he’s a Yes.

At home, both his Mum and Grannie are a No. But his father and brother are on his side, he says – along with some other friends at school. “There’s a wee bit of pressure on us, yes,” he smiles, looking at his classmates. So why has made his choice? “I just think we’d have a lot more power in our country and control of our own laws. And we’ve got sources of money, like from oil. We also pay more tax than the rest of the UK. I think we’d be stronger if we were on our own,” he declares.

The other students in the class are not so convinced. The No group provide a variety of reasons – from questions over the currency, to the strength of the UK Armed Forces, to their fear that free university tuition (guaranteed, ironically, by the SNP Government) might be at risk if Scotland went independent. The “don’t knows”, meanwhile, insist they simply haven’t got a clue and therefore can’t make up their minds. They want more information – though they hold out little hope that the two warring camps will provide it. It is left to Ian to fly the Yes flag.

In little more than a year’s time, he and four million other Scottish residents will get their chance to make that choice at the ballot box. This weekend, a poll shows that the Yes side has it all to do – with backing for independence down at 29 per cent. But with the pro-independence side still to declare their hand fully, and with most voters not yet engaged in the debate, anything could happen. Between now and the one-year-to-go date coming up on 18 September, Scotland on Sunday will be examining the people who will make that choice – from the 16-year-olds in school like Ian Wilson, who will, for the first time, get the chance to vote in a referendum, to their 80-year-old grandparents. In the following weeks, both the No and Don’t Know/Won’t Vote camps will be analysed. This week, it is the turn of the Yes voters. Who are they? Why have they reached their view? And what are the Yes campaign, hungry for votes, going to do to keep their supporters onside and persuade others to switch?

Election campaigns always bring forward their predictable demographic stereotypes, from the famed Mondeo Man to Worcester Woman – and this campaign is no different. Pollsters are already pinpointing such types. For the Yes side, teenager Ian Wilson – as a young male – would be viewed as a good case study. First of all, men are far more likely to back independence (39 per cent of men compared with 23 per cent of women, according to a recent survey). And secondly, youngsters are also more open to the idea. “In the lowest age group 51 per cent are saying No,” says Mark Diffley of Ipsos Mori Scotland. “Go up to the highest age group and the figure goes up to 62 per cent.” A similar difference is also found by class – middle-class people and professionals are found to be somewhat less likely to back independence than working-class people.

The theory is that this can be explained by attitudes to risk. Young people and poorer people, it is claimed, have less to lose and are more inclined to back change. “The young are more open to change and to think more radically,” says Diffley. “And if you live in a deprived area, you are more likely to want something to change.” As for men, they are deemed more likely and willing to take a gamble than more cautious women.

This weighing up of risk points to the biggest factor playing on people’s minds – how independence might affect people in the pocket. Analysis by the Scottish Centre for Social Research finds that, whatever the gender, class or age, the most significant attribute of a Yes supporter is that they are persuaded by the argument that Scotland either gets a raw deal from the Union, or that independence will make the country stronger economically. The link between peoples’ view on the economics of independence and their view on independence is clear; the Centre found that, of those who thought independence would make the economy “a lot better”, 74 per cent will vote Yes. Indeed, Stephen Noon, the chief strategist at Yes Scotland argues that “the only major barrier [to winning next year] is the question ‘can I afford it?’” Yes supporters have concluded the answer is yes. Persuade others of that, he believes, and the campaign wins – hence the pro-independence focus on building up confidence in the country’s prospects.

But researchers say this isn’t the only factor distinguishing Yes backers. The Centre’s research, conducted by Professor John Curtice, the country’s leading psephologist, also suggests that there is an identity factor at play too. Counter-intuitively, Yes voters aren’t characterised by feeling more “Scottish” than other people – in fact, how Scottish someone feels makes remarkably little difference to the likelihood they back independence. However, there is a link between how British people feel and whether they’ll vote yes. Curtice’s research followed people who said they had hardly any sense of British identity. A total of 53 per cent of them said they backed independence. Of those who said they had a strong sense of Britishness, however, just 9 per cent were so inclined. Curtice concluded: “It is the degree to which people in Scotland still share some sense of fellow feeling with those living elsewhere in the UK that seems to be central to the choice they are inclined to make.”

A lack of a British identity will be reason enough for some to vote Yes, remark pro-UK campaigners, who reckon around one in three pro-independence supporters are what they describe as “faith-based”, or people who will support independence even if it means seeing the country plunge into certain poverty. For the rest, ScotCen’s research suggests it is a varying combination of head and heart – a weak sense of Britishness, combined with a hard-headed lack of belief in the ability of Britain’s economy to deliver, and a view that Scotland would do better on its own.

The beauty of the Yes campaign is that it can target all the often contradictory viewpoints of independence supporters with the one key message – that the people who live in Scotland are the ones who care most about it, and should therefore be running it. They may want to run it in an entirely different direction to that preferred by their fellow pro-independence supporters. But for now, Yes supporters appear content to sit alongside one another – and wait to fight that one out another day.

Under this umbrella are gathered the mixed bunch of benefit claimants, left-wing socialists, West End liberals, ordinary SNP activists and free-market entrepreneurs. Vivienne Hart, an out of work 60-year-old grandmother in Easterhouse, says she backs independence because the British welfare state is no longer delivering for her poor community. Tarlika Schmitz, a German software engineer who lives in Spean Bridge, says she believes that Scotland has a “unique culture and a different feel to the rest of the UK” which isn’t reflected in the political set-up. “You look at the different geography and the density of the population and it feels there are policies being made for the benefit of the UK that don’t benefit Scotland,” she says.

The entrepreneur Tony Banks, who runs the successful Balhousie Care Group, adds: “Too many of the economic policies run by the UK are for the south-east of England. It’s a bit like a family. If you have an elder sibling you can’t get a word in edgeways and you can’t speak up for yourself. We need to be thinking – what sort of country do we want?” On the question of economic risk, he says: “Sure, we know there is a risk involved. If there is a Yes vote, there will be some painful periods, but it is about the endgame and what we can create at the end of it.”

Stuart Crawford, a former lieutenant colonel in the British Army, and a long-time “independista” adds: “My view on independence is that it is the only way that Scots and Scotland will sort itself out and face up to problems. Why do we have the worst health record in Europe? This line [about independence] that everything will be fine – everything won’t be fine. My personal view is that the country will be poorer initially. But that is a price worth paying for self-determination.”

So will the Yes campaign add to its numbers? A question to be resolved is whether people who want to see more powers for the Scottish Parliament, and a more federal relationship with the UK, will swing over to a Yes over the coming year. Entrepreneur Jim McColl, who declared he would be voting Yes last year due to the lack of a “more powers” option, is an example. How many will follow? YesScotland meanwhile believes that time is on its side. Noon disputes the theory that “risk aversion” is a factor in voting. He says it is more about being “risk aware”. The more people learn about independence, he believes, the more likely they will lose their fear of the unknown and sign up. He points to polling undertaken by the campaign which, he says, shows that among people who say they know “everything” about independence, the gap between No and Yes is a mere 1 per cent.

For now, the other big thing that distinguishes Yes voters – as Ian Wilson at Springburn Academy knows well – is that they are in a clear minority. Campaigners around Alex Salmond acknowledge it is an uphill task, but they believe that can still change over the coming year. Their hunt for Indy Man and – more pressingly – Indy Woman goes on. «

Twitter: @EddieBarnes23