THE pro-independence campaign is to seek out Labour voters who back secession, seeing them as the potential key to victory in the 2014 referendum, senior campaign figures have said.
As SNP activists said last night they were preparing to contact 1,000 people per constituency every month for the coming two years, party figures said “soft Nat” Labour voters would play a key role in pushing them towards the majority required.
Today, a former key adviser to Labour First Minister Jack McConnell reveals she has signed up to back independence.
Jeanne Freeman, who was a central figure in McConnell’s administration, insists there is “far greater support among Labour voters for independence” than the party’s leadership acknowledge.
However, the scale of the SNP’s challenge in winning over Labour voters was revealed in a YouGov poll on independence that shows 14 per cent of the party’s supporters favoured a break up of the UK. That compares with just 6 per cent of Conservative voters and 4 per cent of Lib Dem voters. A further 10 per cent each of Labour and Lib Dem voters said they did not yet know.
Overall support for independence is running nationally at 33 per cent, significantly lower than the figure needed for the SNP to secure victory in the 2014 poll.
Although the large majority of Labour voters support staying in the UK, the poll found that they are more likely to back independence than both Lib Dem and Tory voters.
The launch of the “YesScotland” campaign last week gave prominence to several former Labour supporters, including ex-MP Dennis Canavan, actor Brian Cox and former trade unionist Tommy Brennan. They said they were now supporting an independent Scotland.
The “YesScotland” campaign is now hoping that such “ambassadors” can persuade more Scots to support secession.
A source in the YesScotland campaign said: “We know a lot of Labour voters support independence. That will be key to the vote.”
As it seeks to create momentum after its launch last Friday, the “YesScotland” camp said that it has signed up 2,000 volunteers to work on the marathon campaign.
A further 7,500 people have signed the declaration supporting independence since it was published on Friday, the campaign said.
Organisers also believe that turn-out at the referendum is likely to be around 80 per cent, well above the figures for national elections. One source said: “That means around 24,000 votes per constituency. We intend to reach people and have a real conversation with them. We are up for this.”
Freeman, who was a Labour party member until the late 1990s, said last night: “The majority of people in Scotland are now saying, ‘I am interested in this, now persuade me.’ That is a huge change on 1997. I think a lot of it is down to devolution and what the parliament has established. The ceiling didn’t fall in and I think that you now seen an increased confidence in people.”
She went on: “I think there is a greater support for independence among Labour voters than the Labour party is acknowledging and the absence of any real argument against independence is striking so far. I think the fear has been taken out of it.”
In an article yesterday, SNP MSP Humza Yousuf made a further pitch to Scottish Labour voters, claiming that in an independent Scotland the party would be “allowed to flourish”.
He added: “The Labour party was born and founded on the Scottish egalitarian principles of Keir Hardie and Robert Cunninghame Graham and the only way to rediscover their Scottish soul is with independence from London.”
He went on: “While they may not jump through hoops for it, that is why so many Labour party MSPs, activists and supporters do not fear independence for Scotland. I have knocked the door of many a dyed-in-the-wool Labour supporter who will vote “Yes” in the independence referendum for this precise reason.”
However, the pro-Union cause last night said they had been “unimpressed” by the launch of the referendum campaign, saying it had been unable to provide any clear steer on how independence would look, leaving voters with “a pig in a poke”.
A Scottish Labour spokesperson said last night: “The SNP would be better trying to convince their own voters, since this week’s poll showed only just over half of them back independence. Most people in Scotland know we are stronger and better being part of the UK. Social justice and fairness are best achieved by working in partnership, not competition, with our neighbours, which is why most people on the Left in Scotland are quite unconvinced.”