Something that Professor John Curtice said in an extensive and fair review of our second Panelbase poll today gave us some cause for thought.
It’s hardly a secret that the No campaign has spent just about every waking hour of its existence frantically trying to turn the referendum into one on the SNP and Alex Salmond in particular (despite the seemingly counter-productive nature of the tactic).
For all they’re worth, they try to present independence as being a proxy for a single political party, when in fact it’s the exact opposite – an attempt to restore Scotland to a meaningful democracy, rather than the stagnant one-party (Labour) state it’s been at every UK general election for the last 60 years.
And when we read Prof. Curtice’s article, it dawned on us that we now had the tools and the ammunition to blow that particular smear apart once and for all.
Because the poll data lets us examine the attitudes of Yes and No voters on all sorts of issues, and then compare those to the attitudes of Labour, SNP and Tory voters. (To keep the arithmetic to a minimum we’ll leave the Lib Dems out – and because as we’ve learned since 2010, they’ll believe anything from minute to minute as long as there’s a ministerial car in it.)
To illustrate, let’s look at something that’s nothing to do with independence, because all the political parties have the same policy on it regardless of whether Scotland is in or out of the UK: attitudes to the monarchy.
YES VOTERS: -18 (in favour 34%, against 52%)
NO VOTERS: +51 (in favour 66%, against 17%)
YES/NO GAP: 69 points
SNP VOTERS: -2 (in favour 41%, against 43%)
LABOUR VOTERS: +13 (in favour 47%, against 34%)
TORY VOTERS: +77 (in favour 84%, against 7%)
SNP/LABOUR GAP: 15 points
SNP/TORY GAP: 79 points
Labour activists constantly claim that independence is all about delivering an SNP dictatorship, yet on this subject – which isn’t even related to independence – Yes voters are nine times more republican than those backing the SNP. In fact, they’re further away from the SNP (16 points) than the SNP are from Labour (15 points). People’s views on the issue are clearly NOT being determined by blind party loyalty.
So that’s the methodology. Let’s see how some other topics shape up, picking out only ones that could be deemed to have some sort of relevance to the independence debate. (So for example we won’t bother with the question we asked about assisted suicide, because Holyrood could already legislate over that if it chose to.)
Remember, what we’re looking at is how closely the views of Yes voters tally with those of SNP voters (with Labour and Tory voters used as controls in the experiment). If they’re mostly the same or very close, “Better Together” are right and the referendum is really about the SNP. If the numbers are far apart, they’re talking cobblers.
Yes voters are almost 50% more opposed than SNP ones.
Yes voters are more opposed than Labour or the SNP, who are identical.
Yes voters are almost exactly halfway between SNP and Labour.
On this subject, Yes and SNP voters are in close step.
Yes, Labour and SNP voters all within a six-point spread.
COUNCIL TAX FREEZE
This time it’s Yes, the SNP and the Tories who are all aligned.
PRIVATISING ROYAL MAIL
Now we’re back to Yes, the SNP and Labour all spanning just three points.
NEW NUCLEAR POWER STATIONS
Again, Yes voters are further from the SNP than the SNP are from Labour.
A huge difference here – all three parties pro, Yes voters against.
PREFERRING SCOTLAND INDEPENDENT OR IN UK
It’s obvious which way this one would go, but we included it anyway because the results were absolutely fascinating. 90% of Yes voters would rather Scotland was an independent nation if everything else was equal – but remarkably, 9% of people are voting Yes even though they’d really rather stay in the UK, presumably because they think it’s for the best for the country as a whole.
(The figures for SNP voters are actually less surprising – it’s long been held that many SNP voters don’t back independence, and support the party in the name of good devolved governance. Nonetheless, the size of the gap, at 20 points, is probably higher than most people would expect.)
So that seems pretty conclusive. Depending on the issue, Yes voters are most closely aligned to the SNP, Labour or the Tories, sometimes two of them, sometimes all of them and sometimes none of them (as in the case of forced labour for the unemployed, where the gap is at least 22 points).
In all but one case, though (the council tax freeze, where everyone’s agreed), what we find is that Yes voters are at the opposite end of any issue to the Tories, and often well to the left of the SNP, who on most issues are to the left of Labour.
The evidence suggests strongly that the referendum isn’t an SNP-vs-the-rest issue, but a left-vs-right one. Labour voters opposing independence on socialist grounds may want to give that one some thought.