[This article was originally published in the Scottish Socialist Voice.]
Those who look at the opinion polls and conclude little has changed in the Independence debate over the past year overlook a great deal. They forget ‘Yes Scotland’ set itself two initial objectives; to get everyone talking about Independence and to build ‘the biggest grassroots campaign Scotland has ever seen’. It would be foolish to deny substantial progress has been made on both fronts. The entire country is now talking about Independence in a way it wasn’t this time last year and the grassroots campaign made up of thousands of SNP, SSP, Green Party and activists of no particular affiliation deserve a great deal of the credit for that.
Whilst it is true the ‘No’ side has maintained its lead detailed research evidence shows a sizeable number of voters have still not made up their minds, and we will return to them in a moment. But it is significant that 46% of voters feel they are well enough informed about the issues and 47% of these intend to vote ‘Yes’ with 48% for ‘No’. Moreover momentum counts for a great deal in these type of campaigns and as Blair Jenkins of ‘Yes Scotland’ succinctly puts it this research also shows that ‘The direction of travel is unquestionably towards Yes’.
Notwithstanding the complacency of the ‘No’ side who apparently think the result is already in the bag, ‘Yes Scotland’ retains every chance of winning. Indeed there are several sub-strata of the population already showing a majority for Independence, parents with young families, the social media community and under 25’s to name but three.
As well as the statistics from the headline poll, which are scrutinised intensely by both sides, there is also the regularly asked question ‘How will you vote if the Tories look like winning the 2015 Westminster general election?’ In January this debut poll revealed a 60:40 ‘Yes’ lead over ‘No’. In other words it revealed a complete turnaround from the headline figures. So we know the prospect of another Tory Government not only disgusts a large majority of Scots the prospect could have a significant bearing on the Referendum. Most researchers agree that if the Tories look like staying in office at Westminster that will help the ‘Yes’ campaign. Equally if Ed Miliband’s dismal streak ended voters might be more inclined to vote ‘No’. It is ironic that the future of this particular ‘Union movement’ now rests not with the Tories or Lib Dems but with Miliband’s ‘anti-union’ New Labour. The latest Westminster polls predict a dead heat with Labour and the Tories both on 36% of the vote. Another poll gave Labour a narrow lead but one insufficient to win an outright majority.
Clearly the Scottish Independence Referendum does not take place in a vacuum and will be heavily influenced by such ‘outside events’. And the standard of living of the Scottish working class is another important factor likely to have a large bearing on the result. Many people in Scotland are experiencing a drastic decline in their standard of living as incomes are held back just as their bills continue to increase. We in the Yes campaign clearly must convince people that Independence can provide relief from the worst recession in 80 years. Persuading ‘undecided’ voters clearly remains crucial to a successful ‘Yes’ vote next year.
Having emphasised the democratic right to determine our own future the ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign moved on this last year to highlight how Scotland’s prevalent social democratic values of fairness and justice are repeatedly thwarted by Westminster Governments we did not elect who introduced the poll tax and the ‘bedroom taxes’ against our wishes. More recently the campaign emphasised the economic prosperity Scotland could enjoy and ‘Yes Scotland’ intends next to stress the ‘passion’ we have for our cause and our determination to win what is expected to be a very tight contest indeed.
This then is the backdrop to the Independence debate that supporters across Scotland will sense as we all converge on Edinburgh on 21st September for the ‘one year to go’ march and rally. I am delighted to again speak on behalf of the Scottish Socialist Party. Calton Hill has proud memories for us because it was there where SSP members and many others gathered in 2005 – as the Queen officially opened the new Holyrood Parliament building down the road - to declare for a modern democratic republic for Scotland. We will all do so again on September 21st as part of our vision of an Independent socialist Scotland.