The question of Scotland’s ‘missing million’ has been a recurring one during the referendum campaign. According to the Electoral Commission Scotland, turnout at the 2011 Holyrood elections was 989,540 lower than the 1992 general election. So, where have all these erstwhile voters gone?
The answer? They’ve been hiding in plain sight. The vast majority of the ‘missing million’ – those who are not registered to vote or, far more numerous, those who do not vote – live in Scotland’s deprived communities, in the sprawling schemes that spiral out from our largest urban areas.
Mobilising these disenfranchised Scots and convincing them of the benefits of independence has been a central plank of the Yes strategy. This morning, at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, the Radical Independence Campaign unveiled the results of a mass canvas that suggests these efforts might be bearing fruit.
Just over 18,000 people in 90 working-class areas across Scotland were asked how they intend to vote on September 18. The results make sanguine reading for independence supporters: 25.3 per cent No; 31.1 per cent Don’t Know; 43.6 per cent Yes. Strip out the undecided and the results are even starker: 63.4 per cent Yes; 36.6 per cent No.
“This is almost the official polls in reverse,” Jonathon Shafi co-founder of Radical Independence Campaign told the dozen or so journalists and activists in the CCA’s cinema. “All of these individuals are in areas that the official polling companies don’t reach.”
“For so long people were told that their views don’t matter, but we went around to the doors and heard what they think,” continued Shafi. “We do believe that the vast majority of the undecideds are not just moving towards yes but will vote yes.”
Robin McAlpine said that the canvas results showed that traditional Labour heartlands were backing Yes. “The message is not that the no campaign is losing working-class Scotland but that the no campaign has already lost working-class Scotland. There is already a solid majority for independence in working-class Scotland,” he said.
The breakdown for specific areas made interesting reading. In Easterhouse, for example, 76 per cent said they were voting yes, when undecideds were removed. Easterhouse has voted Labour solidly since the 1930s.
Similar results were reported by across Scotland. In Charleston, Dundee – one of the country’s most deprived areas – 72.8 per cent of committed voters said they were in favour of independence. In Greenock and Kirkcaldy, the figures were only slightly lower.
In Clydebank, 677 people were canvassed. Excluding don’t knows, just over 60 per cent were voting yes.
“What we have got here is empirical evidence. The numbers are big enough to guarantee that there is something going on in these communities,” said Shafi. Questions of currency and European Union membership – which have dominated much of the public debate – have little traction in working class communities, he added.
“We are absolutely confident that if we can mobilise these communities then we will win the referendum,” said Shafi.
But while such results are very encouraging for Yes supporters and activists they should come with caveats. For one thing, they are not actually all that surprising.
Yes are ahead 56 to 44, in the deprived communities in Scotland, according to an Ipsos Mori poll conducted this month. The problem is that Better Together are an astonishing 44 points ahead in the country’s most affluent neighbourhoods.
Even if the RIC canvas results are completely accurate, support for independence in deprived communities is still not as great as support for the union amongst the richest Scots.
There are health warnings about the data itself: respondents were certainly ‘primed’ by being asked their intentions by pro-independence canvassers, who often made the case for a Yes before asking the question; there is a ‘social desirability’ effect in wanting to give responses that will please canvassers.
But the key issue is turnout. In general, those living in more affluent areas are far more likely to vote. In the 2011 Scottish Parliament Elections more than 54 per cent of those registered in Edinburgh Central voted; in Glasgow Provan the figure was less than 35 per cent.
As far as your correspondent could tell, the RIC canvas included no data on people’s propensity to vote. So while voters might tell enthusiastic canvassers appearing on their doorstep on a cold weekday night that they will vote ‘yes’, there is little way of figuring out how likely they are to actually make the journey to the polling station.
Even if 70 per cent of the votes in deprived communities are yes, if turn out is lower than the general population the impact on the overall vote will be greatly reduced. Mobilising the working class vote then will be key, whether that is physically driving voters to polling stations or making sure they are registered. (No easy task, as I discovered recently myself when I changed my registration address.)
The missing million is still key to Yes success. The results of the RIC canvas support previous findings: there is an appetite in working class communities, and these areas are by the some distance the strongest supporters of independence. But they need to be mobilised – and the yes campaign still needs to make inroads among middle- and upper–class voters, too.