Analysis: Reliance on demographic trends around independence is lazy politics

Unionists and nationalists have been guilty of faulty reasoning when it comes to relying on demographic support for independence and the union note-0.

Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson could both be guilty of faulty reasoning around demographic support for independence.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Nicola Sturgeon said she believed time is on the side of Yes when it comes to the demographic trends of those who are pro-independence.

This was a regurgitation of polling figures which show, on average, young people are much more likely to support the SNP and vote Yes, with support for both dropping off a cliff when you reach 50.

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Instead of class, Leave/Remain and Yes/No have become the dividing lines on which people engage with politics.

The power of accepting this is most clearly demonstrated by the success of Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon, two experts of populist nationalism matched with constitutional bluster.

However, for the First Minister to claim – presumably off-hand – that young people will always back independence en-masse, suggests complacency.

The Scottish Conservatives, who immediately took the opportunity to take to social media and suggest to their followers that the SNP leader was claiming she merely had to wait for pro-union voters to die, fell into the same trap.

Their argument – that attitudes change as you grow older and gain more assets, turning voters towards more conservative economics – is well-trodden.

But it is based on decades of prosperity and growth, generation on generation.

Young people today are among the first who face being poorer than their parents.

This could lead to radical attitudes to be retained as they age, and this is what Sturgeon will hope.

The problem is that relying on this and years of high pro-independence sentiment assumes a guarantee where there isn’t one.

It's a fallacy of defective induction.

Soon, Scotland will have voters who have never lived without an SNP government which could lead to demands for change.

Assuming growth in Yes support will continue, or voters will shift to No as they get older, because that is what has happened previously falls foul of a basic fallacy of reasoning.

It is also lazy politics.

For either side of the constitutional coin to win, it must instead present a coherent prospectus for Scotland’s future. The SNP have promised a referendum but have thrown the economic argument for independence which underpinned the 2014 Yes campaign out of the window.

We are no closer to knowing the answer to key questions about an independent Scotland than we were in 2011, and that is an indictment of the leadership of the SNP.

However, Scots have also not been offered a cogent explanation of what the future of the union means.

Instead of providing an option, unionists expect continued status quo which – in such a heated debate and following Brexit – feels unlikely to be accepted by the electorate.

Claiming the union works perfectly for Scotland as it exists is as complacent as assuming people will swallow the idea of independence solving all of Scotland’s problems.

But with elections to be won and knowing answers to these questions could spook the voters that have propelled the SNP to power and the Conservatives to second place, that is a debate the parties are all too keen to avoid.

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