Posted by Euan Bennet on 04/08/2014
Here is the first in the series of “It is likely that…”. This one is pretty straightforward. Most commentators agree that turnout in the referendum will be the highest of any vote in recent decades. The evidence for this is that voter registration in Scotland is at its highest ever and that the referendum campaign has reawoken grass-roots political activism across all of Scotland. The evidence is in the existence and growth of the likes of National Collective with their touring ‘Yestival’ and near-takeover of the Edinburgh Festival, along with the Radical Independence Campaign which is taking street-level activism to a new level of co-ordination with their Mass Canvass events. The evidence is also in the existence of groups as diverse as Women for Independence, Business for Scotland, Generation Yes (16-18 year olds for Independence), English Scots for Yes, and many others. There is literally a group for everyone. Each group has a distinct presence and a different message but they are unified by one goal – to achieve independence so that all the people of Scotland become empowered to choose our own future.
So why do I propose that differential turnout will favour the Yes vote? Let’s first restate the caveat of the “It is likely…” series: this is personal speculation based on the available evidence. I don’t have a crystal ball that can see into the future, and neither does anyone else. There is a huge difference between me saying something is “likely” and showing my working as to how I arrived at the conclusion, and claiming something is “certain” which I am absolutely not doing here.
The turnout in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election was 50%. Let’s assume that the referendum turnout will be 75% of those registered to vote, then that’s an increase of 50% of the previous turnout.
Just under 2 million people voted in 2011. 4.1 million people are registered to vote now. If the turnout is 75% of those registered, then more than 3 million people will vote in the referendum. That means more than 1 million people will be voting either for the first time ever or for the first time in a long time.
There are many reasons that people do not vote. The most common, I would think, is because of disillusionment that “nothing ever changes”. That, sadly, is a consequence of the relative powerlessness of our people under the present United Kingdom system. With only 4% influence over our own future and a distant, out of touch, elitist political class in permanent power at Westminster, it’s no wonder that alienation sets in. In fact this is supported by academic study which links powerlessness to the poor health and social problems that are prevalent in Scotland, and in particular in Glasgow.
So let’s imagine that of the ‘missing million’, half of those normally do not vote because of disillusionment. That’s 500,000 people who are sufficiently re-engaged with political process to bother to register to vote and turn up on the day to cast their ballot. Are those 500,000 people going to vote for more of the same powerlessness that caused them to be disengaged for so long? Having re-engaged and presumably seen at least something of each campaign, will the No campaign energise them into voting for the same again? I propose that this is unlikely, based on the tone and content of the entire No campaign of fear and lies. If they had ever discovered a positive case for the Union then the No campaign might have had a chance of winning these voters over, but since either no positive case exists or for unknown reasons it hasn’t been articulated, I suspect that that is unlikely.
On the other hand, are the 500,000 going to respond more positively to a message of empowerment and hope? When they encounter the message being promoted by the many Yes-supporting groups who are actively seeking to engage with people who are normally not into politics, are they more likely to respond positively and imagine a better future? Based on the evidence that the more information people feel they have, the more likely they are to vote Yes, I would propose that it is more likely that most of these voters will vote Yes.
Those who habitually do not vote out of total apathy will not turn out in support of the Union – they just won’t turn out at all. As is their democratic right. Those who become engaged will make their decision, hopefully, based on the information available. And one of the deciding factors could very well be those disengaged and disillusioned voters finally having something positive to vote for.