Keeping the dream alive

An opinion poll carried out by Find Out Now was published this week showing that a majority in Scotland would vote Yes for independence if Westminster were to permit a vote, a vote which neither the Labour nor the Conservative parties will concede to because they fear that the No campaign would lose. According to this poll, once don’t knows are removed and likelihood to vote is factored in, 52% of respondents would vote Yes. The significance of this poll lies in the fact that it still produced a majority for Yes even though the polling company weighted its sample according to the result of the 2014 referendum.

As I have previously blogged, this practice made good sense in the the couple of years following the 2014 referendum as it helped to ensure that the polling company’s sample was truly representative of the wider population, however nine years out from the independence referendum there are good reasons to question whether this practice really does help produce greater accuracy as there are strong arguments for believing that it may instead artificially inflate the No responses and underrepresent those in favour of Yes.

This is because approximately 12% of the total electorate in 2014 has passed away in the nine years since, around 56000 or 57000 people die every year in Scotland. The leading causes of death are heart disease, strokes, and cancer, all of which are illnesses which tend to affect older people. It is a consistent pattern in polling on the independence issue that older people are less likely to support independence than younger people. This means that the 500,000 or so people who have passed away in Scotland since 2014 are disproportionately more likely to be older people who voted no than younger people who voted yes. In fact the youngest people to vote in the 2014 referendum, those who were 16 at the time, will now be 25. Many thousands of people in Scotland who were too young to vote in 2014 will now be of voting age, this age group is disproportionately in favour of independence.

What polling companies who weight their sample according to the result of the 2014 referendum are doing is to standardise their sample with reference to a Scotland which no longer exists, a Scotland containing a higher proportion of No voters.

The continuing use of this methodology by polling companies is most likely due to institutional inertia which is compounded by the fact that unlike polling for political party preference, there is no corrective in the form of an election which would lead a polling company to adjust its methodology. The reality is that most polls are commissioned by anti- independence media outlets which have no reason to pressurise polling companies to change their methodologies in ways which might potentially favour a larger Yes vote.

It’s a sign of how far independence has been normalised in Scotland that a poll showing a narrow majority for Yes is greeted with a shrug of the shoulders for the most part. Many independence supporters bewail these figures, wanting to know why support for independence is not much higher. The answer to that lies in the woeful state of the Scottish media, an overwhelmingly anti-independence media which is in no way reflective of the Scottish population it purports to represent. Scots are subjected to a constant and unending barrage of negativity and woe. Positive developments or news which is good for the independence case is brushed over and ignored, bad news is dwelt upon at inordinate length.

The really surprising thing is not that support for independence is not higher but rather that it remains unaffected by the incessant British nationalist propaganda which fills what passes for the Scottish media.

There are also complaints from sections of the independence movement that the SNP does not do enough to advance the case for independence and they blame the SNP for the failure of support for independence to break through in opinion polling and produce consistently large pro-independence majorities.

Not only does this ignore the role of the Scottish media in actively suppressing support for independence, it also ignores another vital role played by the SNP. Although all recent polling agrees in showing that support for independence is distinct from and unaffected by party political support in polls for the SNP, the reality is that it is only because the SNP is a dominant force in party politics in Scotland that independence remains a live political issue and moreover the issue that is central and definitive in the Scottish political landscape.

If Labour were to succeed in replacing the SNP as the largest political party in terms of votes or seats won at the next Westminster general election, the British nationalist parties will triumphantly declare that the general election was after all a de facto referendum on independence – despite denying it was such a thing beforehand – and will insist that Scottish independence is no longer an active political issue. Independence, greater powers for Holyrood, and meaningful constitutional reform of the sclerotic and undemocratic Westminster parliament will all be brushed under the carpet.

An opinion poll from YouGov published this week suggests that Labour hopes of overtaking the SNP in Scotland may be overstated. Should the SNP succeed in remaining the largest party in terms of seats won, this will be taken as a mandate for independence. Naturally the Westminster government will stall, prevaricate and gaslight us, but the issue of independence will remain very much alive and kicking at the top of the Scottish political agenda. If Labour does displace the SNP, hopes of independence will be snuffed out for the foreseeable future.

So when some people complain that the SNP has done nothing for Scottish independence they are mistaken. The SNP has fulfilled the vital task of ensuring that the issue of Scottish independence remains central to Scottish political discourse. It has done so despite almost the entire Scottish media being ranged against it and in the teeth of suspiciously well funded tactical voting campaigns organised by shadowy British nationalist organisations.

The truth is that the SNP is the only pro-independence party which has a realistic chance of winning Westminster seats at the next general election. The challenge for the party is two fold, first it must convince voters in Scotland that a vote for the SNP is equally effective in unseating a hated Tory government as a vote for Labour, and indeed that only an SNP vote represents a rejection of Conservative policies given Keir Starmer’s full throated adoption of right wing Tory Anglo-British nationalism.

Secondly the SNP needs to motivate pro-independence supporters, a far larger constituency than SNP supporters, to come out on the day and vote SNP as the sole means of keeping the issue of Scottish independence on the table. It’s the only way to keep the dream of independence alive.



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