Ellen Dalzell says the new demographics of independence data now available to all of us clearly tells a rather uncomfortable, surprising and radically different story: supporters aren’t as clear as we thought they were. Instead it’s diversity that is currently on track to be the saving grace for Scottish independence.
In November 2019 the Electoral Franchise bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament. Scotland now has one of the most inclusive electoral franchises in the world enabling not only Scottish, English and Irish voters to participate in local and national democracy but also re-enfranchising the 300,000 EU Citizens whose right to vote was, contrary to Human Rights law, wiped out with the UK’s exit from the EU and had to be actively reinstated by the devolved UK nations. And for the first time in Scottish history the bill also brought New Scots from third countries including refugees into the democratic fold.
The recent revival of the nativist vote argument directly stems from the recurring, 2014 nightmares in the face of the independence political leadership’s failure to progress toward constitutional separation from the UK. After seven years in this constitutional quagmire hosted by a deaf-by-choice Scottish Government and even without any concrete sign of a democratic vote on independence anywhere on the horizon, independence supporters are reduced to searching for any other improvements to the jam recipe of tomorrow they may be able to campaign for.
Electoral franchise is the last thing we should set our sights on: the removal of previously held democratic rights represents a violation of Human Rights (as was the case with EU citizens above). Any discussion about removing voting rights from any demographic currently entitled to vote in Scotland is an absolute no-go if we value international recognition of our constitutional and democratic integrity. Because this has in no way been communicated by the Scottish Government nor SNP representatives, it is not unfathomable why some want to see franchise changes given that the 2014 indyref would have been won had it not been for non-Scots-born voters.
This is indeed a fact and the fear of a recurrence is understandable, but it’s an outdated 2014 fact and we have data for every single year since until now. The data now available to all of us clearly tells a rather uncomfortable, surprising and radically different story: Scotland’s broad electoral franchise is not a politically correct, virtue-signalling exercise in tolerance to the detriment of the people of Scotland and our democracy. Instead this very diversity is currently on track to be the saving grace for Scottish independence.
The following data are taken from independence polls between 2014 and 2021 conducted by Panelbase and is in the public domain. These opinion polls usually break down respondents into Scottish, English and ‘Other’ voters, meaning there is a huge and detrimental data gap on non-English New Scots (read more on this in my article New Scots voters and the ‘other’ blindspot) but due to the fact that the 430,000 English-born voters living in Scotland make up roughly half of New Scots there is plenty of data available on this more homogeneous and clearly delineated group’s voting intentions and behaviour.
It turns out that Yes support from English voters in Scotland, who represent about 7.9% of Scotland’s overall population, has been consistently, constantly and steadily rising since 2014 without any notable volatile fluctuations. Since indyref an additional 11% of English voters support independence. In fact, it is the Scottish-born population whose support for independence has dropped by almost 2% since 2014. If voters born in Scotland had made as much of a pro-indy improvement as English-born voters, support for independence would be at 62% right now. It is not.
This is not to say that we should stop campaigning to and with English New Scots but it does mean that they are the least of our worries when it comes to increasing YES support. So-called native Scots are currently on course to lose this country the next independence vote unless we, the movement, start to actively steer our campaign for independence against that volatile tide. A necessary first step is to acknowledge that we have not been paying enough attention and need to bring about a change of course.
For some obvious and some less obvious reasons, no one seems to be proposing to remove voting rights from this section of the population, especially not one of the most problematic demographic groups of the Scottish electorate: middle-aged male voters aged between 35 and 54 years of age among whom support for independence has fallen by 12% since June 2020 (down 4% since 2014). Given they are awful swing-votery, make up roughly 15% of Scotland’s electorate and currently are the biggest threat to a vote in favour of independence they would be a much more factual target for nonsensical disenfranchisement arguments.
Contrary to the popular, populist narrative that the current ‘navigation team’ on HMS Sturgeon has delivered massive pro-indy polls, their opaque commands have managed to diminish support for independence among Scots-born voters, who make up roughly 85% of the Scottish electorate. Another group worth mentioning here are women aged between 15 and 34, whose support for independence once was hailed like joyous mermaids leaping high along the bow of the independence flagship and its golden galley figurine. Their support for independence has rapidly waned in 2021 – by a devastating 14%.
There can be no doubt the Scottish government is aware of the shocking figures showing native Scots have become the biggest hurdle to independence (aside, of course, from the current government’s administration) – not only is the data in the public domain, it is the key to the constitutional question. The fact it has taken a non-partisan New Scot grassroots activist to ask uncomfortable questions and dig through seven years of independence polls to publish them through a small-but-mighty, people-funded think tank speaks volumes about how very badly the captain and crew do not want you to know, think nor ask about this kettle of rotten fish.
This movement’s fear- and trauma-fueled confusion when it comes to the electoral franchise question perfectly suits a government that refuses to do what is necessary to reach its self-declared number one goal of independence. The independence movement has a binary choice: we can either remain cast adrift with slashed sails, broken oars humming along with the nationalist siren song of hollow but convenient untruths or we raise our gaze to the bright stars on the sky of this nation’s destiny and chart our progress to the welcoming shores of a diverse, courageous, independent nation ourselves.
Ellen Joelle Dalzell