Scottish Referendum: Economic Arguments

With just under 100 days to go until the Scottish referendum, both sides are ramping up their campaigns to convince the ever dwindling pool of undecided voters to join their cause. The latest efforts saw both sides publish a financial report showing, unsurprisingly, that Scots would be better off if they would only vote the right way.

The UK Treasury argued that Scots would be £1,400 a year better off as part of the Union whilst the Scottish Government claimed Scots would be £1,000 better off if they voted to leave.

This kind of financial hijinks is unsurprising given how vital personal economic situations are to how Scots will vote in September.

Economic Argument and Voting

In February, YouGov asked Scots whether they felt, economically, Scotland would be better or worse off with independence. The table below highlights the referendum voting intention among those who say better or worse off:

Ref. Vote | Economic Better off Worse off
Yes 96% 1%
No 1% 95%
WNV/ Don’t know 3% 4%

YouGov for the Sun, 1,047 Scottish Adults, 3rd – 5th February 2014

Given the near perfect link between the perceived performance of the Scottish economy and referendum voting, it is no surprise to see both sides trying to convince the electorate of their case.

Perhaps just as important is how those who are unsure of the economic impact the Scottish referendum will have will vote in September. Of the 28% who did not select better or worse off economically, over a third (37%) indicate they are unsure how they will vote in September. This leave c.10% of all Scots who are undecided on both measures and, with just 14% separating the two sides (yes 37%, no 51%), convincing this group will be crucial.


So, what impact will these two new financial reports have on referendum voting intention?

Well, if past experience is any indication, not much. We’ve had white papers, threats over keeping the pound, remaining in the EU and a whole host of other announcements over the past six months and each one has had very little impact on overall voting intention.

In September, our YouGov figures were NO 52% and YES 32% and in April NO 51% with YES on 37%. Whilst there has been a small shift towards yes over this time, the speed of this change has been too small to overturn the deficit Yes finds itself with.

At this stage of the debate, most people have made up their minds and tend to believe what they want to and reject the rest. In April, a YouGov survey for Channel 4 asked whether people believe four contentious outcomes of independence would really happen.

The table below breaks down whether people believe the four would happen based on their referendum voting intention with all four messages approved or rejected based on attitudes to the referendum:

Outcome                                      |                                 Ref. Voting YES NO
Scotland would be able to use the pound as part of a currency union 81% 21%
Scotland would be able to remain a member of the European Union 80% 24%
Scotland would be able to afford to keep state pensions at the current level 84% 13%
Major businesses and employers would leave Scotland 9% 68%

YouGov for Channel 4, 1,208 Scottish Adults, 25th – 28th April 2014

With such a short amount of time to go, any announcements are met with a barrage of scrutiny and debate that seems to simply reaffirm positions. For Alex Salmond, time is running out to convince a sceptical public and he’ll be praying for a game changer in the 100 days remaining.

UKIPs Challenge: Rennardism Reborn?

Despite what party spinners will tell you, Cameron, Clegg and Miliband will all have woken up on the 26th May in the aftermath of the European Elections with a UKIP sized headache. Cameron had led his party to the first 3rd place finish in its history, Miliband took Labour to the first opposition since 1984 to fail to win a European election and Clegg led the Lib Dems to near wipe-out at the ballot box. Farage, meanwhile, was poring over the data from a stunning UKIP victory and plotting the seats that could carry his party from an agenda setting protest vote into a genuine force in British politics. Much of how well UKIP do next year will depend on the way they use this data and target favourable seats for a Westminster breakthrough.

Rennard or Bust

One of the criticisms Farage has had to contend with is UKIP’s lack of targeting, which spreads their vote too thinly and see them finish 2nd in too many seats without making the breakthroughs their vote share suggests they should. In Wolverhampton, for example, UKIP finished 2nd in 15 out of 20 council seats but won just one councillor and this story is true across much of the country. Farage spoke of learning the lessons from Paddy Ashdown and the relentless targeting of the Liberal Democrats that saw them win 20 seats in 1992 with 17.5% of the vote. There is a more recent precedent as the Greens used the data from local council elections prior to the 2010 General Election and threw all their campaigning might at Brighton Pavilion and won their first MP in Westminster. This is the blueprint UKIP must follow if they are to make any breakthrough next year. Part of the reason that UKIP achieved so much success this May was the broadening of their appeal and winning votes among groups they have previously struggled with. The myth about UKIP only mopping up the disenchanted Conservative vote has been debunked and YouGov data from earlier this year sheds light on the groups most favourable to lending UKIP their X on Election Day.

Immigration, Immigration, Immigration

UKIP were swept to victory in the European Elections on the back of winning support from older, working class men with lower educational qualifications and it will be these voters they need to convert to win in 2015. Whilst it is certainly true that disapproval of the EU is a key feature of UKIP voters, concern over immigration is by far the greatest driver of UKIP support and saw them pick up huge votes in Labour heartlands where voters feel left behind and distrust the three main parties to fix the problems they see in their lives. The challenge facing UKIP next year is a huge one; at the 2009 European Parliament Elections, they won 17% of the vote and dropped back to 3% at the General Election the following year. To avoid a similar collapse, UKIP will need to learn the lessons of targeting voters and ensure they offer not just disaffected Tories but traditional Labour voters a choice at the next election. Only by doing this can UKIP make the breakthrough necessary to be considered a real, and permanent, force in British politics.