Support for independence
Throughout the chapter our analysis will focus on why people intend to vote one way or the other in the referendum. To ascertain their intentions, respondents to the 2013 Scottish Social Attitudes survey were asked:
In the referendum, you will be asked, ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ If you do vote, will you vote ‘Yes’ or vote ‘No’ – or haven’t you decided yet?
In response, 20 per cent said that they intended to vote Yes, while 42 per cent indicated that they would vote No. However, as many as 34 per cent said that they had not decided as yet. This last set of respondents were then asked a follow-up question:
At the moment, which way do you think you are most likely to vote, Yes or No?
Of those who were asked this question, 28 per cent said that they were most likely to vote Yes, while 34 per cent stated they were most likely to vote No. A further 36 per cent indicated that they really did not know what they would do. If we combine the responses to the two questions, and classify as a Yes voter anyone who said that they would vote Yes in answer to either the first or the second question (and identify No voters similarly), this produces a final tally of 30 per cent who said they would or were most likely to vote Yes, while 56 per cent said they were inclined to vote No. The remaining 16 per cent were truly undecided. Throughout our analysis a Yes voter is someone who responded Yes to either of our two questions, while No voters are defined similarly.
As one might anticipate, those belonging to certain social groups were more likely than others to say they would vote Yes rather than No. Perhaps the most striking difference is between men and women; no less than 34 per cent of the former said that they intended to vote Yes compared with only 26 per cent of women (Ormston, 2013). At the same time, older people are less keen on independence too; as many as 62 per cent of those aged 65 or over indicated that they intended to vote No while just 21 per cent said they were inclined to vote Yes. Those in routine and semi-routine occupations (32 per cent of whom said they would vote Yes) are rather keener on independence than those in professional or managerial jobs (26 per cent) (Curtice, 2013). These differences may, of course, arise simply because of variations between these social groups in the incidence of Scottish identity or in their perceptions of the consequences of independence.
Our first task is to establish how far support for and opposition to a Yes vote is a reflection of people’s sense of national identity. Are Yes voters primarily people who feel strongly Scottish and perhaps reject any sense of British identity at all? Conversely, is support for No primarily a reflection of a strong commitment to Britishness, accompanied perhaps by little or no sense of being Scottish?
To ascertain people’s feelings of identity, Scottish Social Attitudes asked them the so-called Moreno question (Moreno, 1988). This invites respondents to choose between five possible descriptions of themselves:
Which, if any, of the following best describes how you see yourself?
Scottish, not British
More Scottish than British
Equally Scottish and British
More British than Scottish
British, not Scottish
There is no doubt that a sense of being Scottish is more widespread and deeply held north of the border than are any feelings of Britishness (Table 3.1). In 2013, only one in ten people say that they are either “British, not Scottish” or else “More British than Scottish”. In contrast as many as a quarter (25 per cent) claim to be Scottish while denying that they are British. However, the majority of people, 62 per cent, acknowledge some combination of the two identities. In fact, the proportion of the Scottish public who deny that they are British has been rather lower in recent years: whereas between 1999 and 2006 the figure was never less than 30 per cent, since 2007 it has only been in the mid to high 20 per cents. So, in short, for many people their sense of being Scottish sits alongside a complementary sense of being British rather than in opposition to it, and if anything rather more people now acknowledge some sense of dual identity. That makes it far from immediately obvious how people’s sense of identity will be reflected in their willingness to vote for independence.
People’s sense of national identity does make some difference to the likelihood that they are inclined to vote Yes rather than No. As Table 3.2 shows, the more Scottish as opposed to being British someone feels, the more likely it is that they intend to vote Yes in September. Conversely, the more British and the less Scottish someone feels, the more they are inclined to vote No. However, the pull of the two identities seems to be asymmetric. Having some sense of a British identity seems to do much more to persuade people to vote No than having even a strong Scottish identity does to incline them to back Yes. So, even amongst those who say they are Scottish and deny that they are British, only just over half (53 per cent) say that they anticipate voting Yes. In contrast no less than 82 per cent of those who feel more British than Scottish (if they feel Scottish at all) say they will vote No. Meanwhile, nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of those who say that they are “equally Scottish and British” are inclined to vote in favour of staying in the UK.
So having a sense of being Scottish is an almost ubiquitous attribute in Scotland. But on its own at least, feeling that way seems to be far from sufficient to ensure that people are willing to support independence. Many also feel a sense of British identity, and this seems to make them draw away from supporting independence. This suggests that if we are going to pin down what draws people towards backing independence, we need to look at more than identity. Perhaps the secret lies in people’s expectations of what the practical consequences of independence might be?
- Download chapter
- Much the same pattern of response was obtained when three of the four questions (on the economy, the standard of living and taxes) were previously asked on the 2011 and 2012 surveys.
- Bases for Table 3.4 are as follows:
The picture was much the same when the question was also asked in 2012: then 47 per cent said it would not make any difference, 25 per cent that the gap would be bigger and just 19 per cent that it would be smaller.
Bases for Table 3.10 are as follows:
Note that neither sex, age or social class proved to be significant independently of the considerations that were included in the model. So the gender, age and class differences identified earlier in the chapter simply reflect differences between these groups in the incidence of identity and/or perceptions of the consequences of independence.
- Related links