Hi there. So recently Scotland had a referendum on the little issue of whether or not to remain in the United Kingdom. We collectively voted 55.3% No, 44.7% Yes, according to the official results, which are accepted by both sides of the campaign.
That’s been reported as a “decisive” victory for staying in the UK by all the mainstream media, but if you employ your brain a bit you can see that it’s actually quite a close run thing, especially considering not long ago the idea of independence was considered to be the hope of only a small minority in Scotland.
The BBC, the Daily Mail, and the Daily Express amongst many others all ran graphics such as the one on the left following the official result. As you can see it appears to show that something like 95% of Scotland voted No. That’s very reassuring for readers of these unionist organs, however it doesn’t actually reflect the real result. Anyone reading the table of results or looking at the pie chart can see that. In fact the map on the right hand side shows an accurate proportion of each council area coloured for Yes and No. It shows a much more accurate representation of how much of the country voted Yes and No.
Even then, it’s still hugely misleading, since Scotland has such an uneven population distribution. Most of Scotland’s population lives in the Central Belt, denoted by that box overlaid on the right hand map. Very few people live in Caithness and the Highlands, comparatively, and yet the “Highland” region dominates the map, and there’s very little can be done about it. If we adjust each region in size to reflect the population we would end up with something so unlike a map of Scotland that it would be all but meaningless to anybody looking at it!
I can only speculate that maps were used in this way simply to make it look as though the No victory was far more “decisive” than it actually was. Was this to put the 45% who voted Yes back in their place i wonder? To give them the idea that since the whole map, virtually, was red, there would be no point in pursuing independence any further? The media know that for generations we have been used to first-past-the-post results. In the UK electoral system usually any votes in a particular constituency which are not cast for the majority candidate get discounted, and that whole constituency is coloured in with that party’s colour. In this referendum, however, we had a one-person-one-vote system. Every vote really did count (and because of this record high numbers turned out to vote, since those affected by poverty finally believed their vote might count for something). So this is why, perhaps, the maps were presented as they were, by council area, coloured as if this were just another first-past-the-post election.
And what about those in poverty that i just mentioned? Well if you look at either map there you can see that the four council areas with a Yes majority (three in Glasgow, one in Dundee) are also the areas of Scotland with most people living in poverty, and the areas with the highest No result are also the areas where people tend to be more affluent, certainly all of the areas which returned a comparatively high No vote are those with a large number of middle class residents. This correlates, as well, with the percentage of people in paid employment in areas which voted predominantly Yes or No.
What can we deduce from this? At a guess, those who didn’t want to rock the boat because they have it okay now, and didn’t want to risk things getting worse, voted No, and those who were already in poverty voted Yes, but will ultimately lose out the most since they didn’t get what they want, and we can already see an array of cuts and austerity measures being doled out from Westminster, specifically to punish the “working poor” as well as those on other state benefits such as the disabled and unemployed school leavers (and do note that voters in this age bracket were far more likely to vote Yes). I don’t think the mainstream media have said much, if anything, about the correlation between poverty and unemployment and the likelihood of voting Yes.
One further thing which has been covered only from a particular angle by the mainstream media is the issue of which age groups voted predominantly Yes and No. The over-55 age group voted predominantly No, and if this group were removed from the result, it would have been a comfortable victory for Yes. If wishes were fishes, however, perhaps we’d all cast nets in the sea.
This graph is itself a little misleading since there are a lot more people in the 65+ age group than in, for instance, the 16-17 age group. If the graph above had reflected the size of each group by varying the widths of the bars on the graph, that would have been much more representative. Everyone has their own angle, though, and perhaps this was not done because it would have put a little bit more red, for No, onto the graph. Despite that you can still see that a clear majority of working age Scottish residents did vote for independence.
There have been theories that since virtually the entire mainstream media (papers and TV) were rampantly pro-UK, and resorted to virtually any tactics in many cases to vilify the Yes campaign, and Alex Salmond in particular, that the elderly believed what they read and saw in the news, whereas younger voters had access to the internet and were able to fact check for themselves, and get both sides of the story. There will be some truth to this, of course, though i think it is far too oversimplistic to judge an entire age group (or an entire geographical area) based on these generalisations, and quite dangerous, socially, to do so too. Maybe this is another tactic of the unionist media? To pit those from Glasgow, for example, (which voted Yes) against those from Edinburgh (which voted No, predominantly), or Stirling, or Dumfries. The professionals in the media, and in government, know that divide and rule is the only way to have a hope of defeating a movement like Scottish independence.
It is also undeniably true that pensions were a major battle ground in this campaign, and while pensions do affect everyone, there is the strong suspicion that those who were already reliant on pensions for their continued existence were minded to vote No for fear of losing their only means of financial support. The reality is, of course, that most pension concerns had been answered by the Yes campaign, to the satisfaction of many, but this information tended to be disseminated only over the internet and by leafleters. The mainstream media, meanwhile, blasted out daily scare stories about lost pensions and shop prices going up, or shops running out of supplies altogether, and unfortunately, those who were vulnerable, and less able to fact check for themselves may well have simply voted No to preserve what they already had.
It certainly must have affected some voters to turn up on polling day and see sandwich boards, which were much bigger than the corresponding “Yes” sandwich boards, outside all the polling booths with the words “Vote No, it’s not worth the risk” in bold Labour Party colours. The Labour Party has held a virtual political monopoly in Scotland for generations and this psychological tactic, of both abandoning the “better together” branding altogether in favour of Labour Party branding, as well as the use of this totally new slogan (which had not been used in the campaign until polling day itself) was designed to intimidate voters as well as reassure them that the Labour Party knew best, and was telling them to vote No. “If you normally vote Labour”, the signs were saying “then you have to vote No today… or else” and i genuinely believe many of the elderly, some of whom may have been too preoccupied to become fully involved with the referendum debate, may have found themselves defenceless against these (legal, but morally questionable) tactics. Again, i will say that with that in mind, it is still very dangerous to stereotype an entire age group (or gender group, or location) in this way, though there are strong trends, and those trends do have reasons.
The truth is that 45% is an amazing result, actually. At the start of this campaign two years ago, the establishment never believed that the Yes campaign had a hope, not even in the slightest, of winning the referendum, but as it happens that’s what nearly happened. The actual strengths of the Scottish independence case, which i will not go into in this post, but of which there are many, have convinced so many people that a minority campaign for independence has turned into a mainstream movement. Out there in the real world, it still feels like a majority support independence, and if you normally associate with mainly people of working age, that’s not surprising!
So what does this mean for the future of the independence campaign? We don’t know. There has been a huge surge in membership for parties who supported the Yes campaign, particularly the SNP who have always had independence high in their priority list, and perhaps we will see higher turnouts for future elections in Scotland, both UK and Scottish, and depending on whether Scotland gets a rough or smooth deal from the UK over the coming months and years, then this could determine whether the independence movement hardens or softens, though by no means is it easy to tell which causes will have which effects!
I personally believe though that Mr Cameron, UK prime minister is 100% wrong when he says the dream of Scottish independence will remain a dream. Personally i think this referendum result has shown that the compelling arguments for independence have become clear to a huge number of people and, because it is economically and socially the best path for Scotland, ultimately Scotland will get its independence, one day.
Time will tell.