1979 | 1997 | 2014: why the received wisdom on Scotland’s three referendums is wrong

Posted: October 3, 2014 in indyref, politics and ideas
Tags: , , ,

It has been two weeks since Scotland’s independence referendum and we’re not short of analysis of what happened and why. However I think there is an angle that has not been explored in sufficient detail, namely the links between the indyref and the two previous referendums held in Scotland in 1979 and 1997.

For this post I have ploughed through the raw voting data from each of the three referendums. I think my findings turn the received wisdom about each referendum on its head to some extent.

I will begin by recapping the context of each of the three referendums, before sketching out the received wisdom on them. I will then explain briefly how I went about comparing the data from each vote. After that I will argue the following:

• Scotland voted yes with far greater enthusiasm in 2014 than in 1979 across the entire country;

• Support for independence in 2014 was basically as high as support for tax-varying powers in 1997; and

• A staggering 25% of the entire electorate expressed an opinion on Scottish statehood for the first time in 2014 – but they actually voted no.

The three referendums

I’ll begin by noting that I’m using the word “referendums” rather than “referenda”. You’ll have to indulge me this stylistic decision.

Scotland has conducted three referendums on its constitutional status.

The first, in 1979, asked Scottish people to indicate whether or not the provisions of the 1978
Scotland Act (specifically, the creation of a Scottish Assembly) should be put into effect.

The popular memory of this vote was that Scotland voted yes (which it did, by 51.6% to 48.4% of votes cast). However (the story goes) devolution was stolen from a willing electorate by an act of skulduggery by the Thatcher government, whereby an additional voting threshold of 40% of the entire electorate had to be met. It wasn’t, and so the result was annulled and the Scotland Act was repealed. (Incidentally, this is one allegation against the Tories which cannot be borne out, since the 40% rule was inserted to a Labour Act of Parliament by a Labour politician called George Cunningham.)

The second referendum was held in 1997. The Blair government invited Scots to vote on two questions: firstly, should there be a Scottish Parliament, and secondly, should that parliament have tax-varying powers. The popular memory of this vote is of an overwhelming Yes vote.

Finally, as everyone knows all too well, the Scottish electorate was out in force on 18th September of this year to indicate whether they agreed that Scotland should be an independent country. The consensus as I write appears to be that the Yes side whetted an unprecedented appetite for independence, but people lost their nerve at the last minute or were duped by The Vow of home rule. Or, depending on your viewpoint, people made a rational and reasonable assessment that the case for independence had not been made sufficiently to motivate them to vote for it.

So, to summarise:

• Scotland’s sovereign will was ignored in 1979;

• Scotland overwhelmingly asserted its desire for greater powers in 1997; and

• The Yes campaign broke new ground in 2014 but was let down at the eleventh hour by cowards and fools.

Or so the popular wisdom would have you believe in many quarters.

I hope now to convince you that these analyses are all inaccurate and disguise much more interesting trends in Scotland’s attitude to statehood.

How I generated and used the data

Methodology time, guys. I’ll be brief.

I faced two key questions when working with the data. Firstly, the question of how to authentically measure commitment to new powers; and secondly how to compare this commitment across three separate referendums.

Measuring Yes strength

The problem here is that referendum results are presented in terms of votes for and against. However if you ask twenty people a question, to which three say yes, one says no and sixteen don’t answer, you’d have a result of 75% in favour. This doesn’t really give an authentic flavour of that group’s commitment to the contention.

To get over this, I returned to the raw voting figures for each election and recalculated the results in terms of three categories:
• Voted yes
• Voted no
• Did not vote

The figures for each category now reflect the commitment of the entire electorate, rather than only considering those who voted. This, I would argue, gives a more authentic picture of popular support (or lack thereof) for new powers.

To illustrate, the example above had three yeses, one no and sixteen abstentions resulting in 75% yes from a 20% turnout. In my revised system the result would be presented as 15% yes, 5% no and 80% did not vote. This reflects more authentically the extent of popular support for the motion.

Comparing the referendums

This bit was trickier.

In 1979, the result was broken down into the twelve Regions through which Scotland was then administered. In 1997 and 2014, by contrast, the result was broken down into our 32 Local Authorities.

There was no way to recalculate the 1979 result in terms of our present Local Authorities, but it was possible to recalculate the 1997 and 2014 results in terms of the old Regions. So I recreated Strathclyde for the purposes of comparison. And my goodness that was a massive place!

To be clear, seven of the 1979 Regions remain as Local Authorities, so there is direct continuity between their results in the three referendums. They are:
• Shetland
• Orkney
• Highland
• Western Isles (now called Eilean Siar)
• Fife
• Borders (now called Scottish Borders)
• Dumfries and Galloway

The remaining five Regions were split into the following Local Authorities:
• Central: Clackmannanshire, Falkirk, Stirling
• Grampian: Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Moray
• Lothians: Edinburgh, Midlothian, West Lothian, East Lothian
• Tayside: Dundee, Perth & Kinross, Angus
• Strathclyde: Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire, South Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, Argyll & Bute

The weakness, clearly, is Strathclyde. I didn’t particularly want to aggregate together twelve different Local Authorities but there was no other way round it. However I have included a section at the end of my analysis where I compare the Local Authority results for 1997 and 2014, leaving out 1979. This hopefully does some justice to the nuanced differences within the old Strathclyde Region.

To summarise, then, I have compared the results across the three referendums in terms of the old Regions boundaries, and I have focused on Yes, No and Did Not Vote as proportions of the entire electorate when making comparisons.

As a final point, I should note that for the purposes of argument I am viewing Yes votes between referendums as comparable. Clearly, each referendum asked different questions, and I try to reflect that in my analysis, but as a foundational point I am asserting that a Yes vote in one referendum over additional Scottish powers is worthy of comparison with another. This may not convince every reader.


The main source for my figures from the 1979 and 1997 plebiscites is the following UK Government report:
http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/RP97-113.pdf – and for the 2014 vote I used figures available widely, such as here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/events/scotland-decides/results

Due to my methodology I have extended and developed the figures in this report extensively, so any arithmetic errors are my own. The main effort required was to aggregate together the Local Authority votes to calculate figures for the old Regions. These figures were naturally not available in the public domain so I spent a very long time generating them. You can see my notebook if you like, but I hope you’ll take them on trust.

My other half counselled me wisely that the number crunching was an insane exercise. She was right, on this and so many other points. But I finished it nevertheless, so here are the fruits of my strange labours.


Overall Scottish results

The proportion of the overall population voting Yes at each of the referendums was as follows:

1979: 32.5%
1997: 44.7% (Parliament)
1997: 38.1% (tax-varying powers)
2014: 37.8%

The first thing you’ll notice is that support for Yes was considerably stronger in 2014, in a losing cause, than in victory in 1979. Between these two votes, support for new powers increased by a full five percentage points – or one-twentieth of the overall population. That’s a significant rise.

Secondly, support for Yes in a winning cause in 1979 came from less than one-third of the overall population. This was hardly a ringing endorsement. Perhaps the 40% clause, which prevented the Scottish Assembly being set up, wasn’t such a bad idea after all. I’ll say more about this later.

The third point of interest is that the strongest Yes vote, by some distance, was the vote for a Parliament in 1997. However it is perhaps worth noting that considerably less than half of the electorate (44.7%) voted for it.

The final (and for me, most important) point to emphasise is support for Yes in 2014 was basically the same as support for tax-varying powers in 1997. The difference between the votes was just 0.3% of the electorate.

The popular memory of 1997 is of a decisive expression of sovereign will for a parliament with teeth. However there was scarcely any more popular support for tax-varying powers then, than there was for independence last month. Or, put another way: support for independence was comparable to the support for tax-varying powers in the decisive 1997 victory.

But let’s look at the proportion of the electorate who did not vote in each referendum.

1979: 37.0%
1997: 39.8% (Parliament)
1997: 40.0% (tax-varying powers)
2014: 15.5%

As you can see, about two out of every five people on the electoral register (40%) did not bother to vote in 1979 or 1997. However the proportion of non-voters dropped to 15.5% this year. To be clear, a full 25% of the electorate, or one in four people on the electoral register, voted in 2014 when they did not vote in previous referendums.

It should be noted that these are not necessarily the same people – I certainly don’t have access to the sort of the data sets through which this could be tested. But we are talking here about swathes of the electorate, rather than identifiable human beings. And one quarter of the electorate did not vote in 1979 or 1997 but did so in 2014.

If we accept that broadly the same proportion of the electorate backed tax-varying powers in 1997 and independence in 2014, there’s only one place these new voters can have gone.

Here is the proportion of the electorate voting No at each referendum:

1979: 30.5%
1997: 15.5% (Parliament)
1997: 21.9% (tax-varying powers)
2014: 46.7%

As you can see, the proportion of the electorate registering its opposition to new powers for Scotland was dramatically higher in 2014 than in any previous referendum. Indeed, the 46.7% of the electorate who voted No last month was larger than the Yes or Did Not Vote figure from any of the three referendums.

This was a decisive rejection of independence by close to half of the population, when devolution had never been rejected by even one-third of the electorate in previous plebiscites.

If I may hazard some analysis, perhaps the excitement generated by the Yes movement’s success in increasing the size of the electorate, by registering new voters, led many of us to assume that votes entering the electoral bloodstream would usually be Yes votes.

What this obscured was a much greater injection of new votes – the votes of people already on the electoral register but who hadn’t previously voted in referendums. And a decisive number, equivalent to a quarter of the electorate, broke cover to vote No. There is no question that this development won the referendum.

To conclude, a sizeable minority of the population, of almost two in five Scots, has always voted for new powers.

And essentially the same proportion of the electorate who supported a Parliament with teeth in 1997 were mobilised by the Yes campaign in 2014.

But a staggering 25% of the adult population, who had previously abstained in referendums on Scotland’s constitutional status, chose to record a vote in 2014.

And they voted No.

(As a point of clarification, the addition of thousands of people onto the electoral register increased the overall size of the electorate, so more votes were needed to secure the same overall proportion of the vote at roughly 38%. Bearing this out, 1.5m voted for tax-varying powers in 1997, while 1.6m voted Yes in a larger electorate in 2014.

Perhaps this explains where all of the new votes went. The votes of many newly registered voters were sufficient to ensure that the same proportion of a larger electorate voted Yes in 2014 as had supported tax powers in 1997. However they were massively outnumbered by the No votes of people who had previously abstained.)

Regional figures

Casual readers are invited at this stage to skip straight to the conclusion, since the next couple of sections serve to underline the points made above. But you’re welcome to read this bit if you can be bothered with some numerical detail.

I turn now to my analysis of the voting patterns by Region. I should remind you that I aggregated together the Local Authority figures from 1997 and 2014 to make them comparable with the 1979 referendum that was conducted using different administrative units.

The chart below traces the proportion of each Region’s population voting Yes in each of the referendums. I apologise that you have to click on a link to see it – my present level of technological access precludes me from embedding the image in this blog.
Fig 1 – Regional vote by overall electorate

The first point to notice is that in all twelve regions, the Parliament in 1997 commanded the strongest Yes vote out of the various referendum questions.

Secondly, in all twelve regions, the lowest Yes vote was recorded in the 1979 referendum.

Thirdly, and for me the most important point, is that support for independence in 2014 was broadly comparable with support for tax-varying powers in 1997 across all twelve regions.

In fact, support for independence was higher than support for tax-varying powers in six out of twelve regions, often by significant margins (a 5.7% point rise in Tayside for example).

Indeed, of the six regions that recorded a lower level of support for independence than for tax-varying powers, three were within 2% points. The only really notable drop in support was in Lothian (down 4.4% points) and the Borders (down 3.4% points).

It seems reasonable to conclude that:

• support for new powers has grown significantly since 1979;

• support for new powers was maintained between the second question of the 1997 ballot and the 2014 independence referendum; and

• these phenomena are true across Scotland

We can now look at the trends for No votes across the twelve regions:
Fig 2 – Regional No vote by overall electorate

A clear stratification emerges. The No vote was overwhelmingly stronger in 2014 in every region than in any other referendum. The 1979 referendum inspired the second-strongest No vote in each region, while tax-raising powers generated the third-highest No vote and the Parliament the lowest No vote. In each region there is clear daylight between each referendum in terms of strength of opposition.

The pattern of No voting is distinct and suggests that opposition to new powers is nuanced in terms of what is being asked. The Parliament occasioned the least opposition, while independence inspired the most. It may be argued that the 1979 referendum inspired greater opposition than the 1997 ballot since it was the first vote of its kind and was perhaps seen as more of a ‘slippery slope’ to independence than the circumscribed 1997 plebiscite.

Finally, I turn to those who did not vote:
Fig 3 – Regional Did Not Vote by overall electorate

As the chart demonstrates, the proportion of the electorate who did not vote was dramatically lower in 2014 than in any previous referendum, sitting at about 15% in every region.

In the other three referendums, each region (minus Orkney and Shetland) recorded broadly comparable abstention rates of between 35% and 45%. This links to the above point: 2014 mobilised opposition across Scotland where previously there had been much more considerable levels of abstention.

To summarise this section, I would emphasise the following:

• the Yes vote has grown across Scotland’s regions since 1979;

• the Yes vote was largely maintained across the regions between the tax-varying powers question in 1997 and the indyref in 2014;

• there was a significant shift from abstention to opposition (or from did not vote, to no) in 2014 in every region.

Yes areas and No areas

At the risk of getting into a cycle of blame, I will now outline where support for new powers has been strongest and weakest across the three referendums.

I will persevere with the Regions as an analytical category at first, before focusing on the more forensic Local Authority figures from the 1997 and 2014 plebiscites.

It’s easier to start with the Scottish regions that have shown least appetite for new powers.

In 1979, 1997 (tax-varying powers) and 2014, the lowest levels of support for new powers have been recorded in Shetland, Orkney, Dumfries & Galloway and Borders. In the 1997 Parliament referendum they accounted for four of the five lowest levels of support.

In 1979, support for Yes was half the national average in Orkney and Shetland, and three-quarters of the national average in Borders and Dumfries & Galloway.

In 1997, Orkney and Shetland only offered two-thirds of the support for a Parliament delivered in the country as a whole, while Borders and Dumfries were more than four percentage points down on the average figure. Support across the four regions for tax-varying powers was even lower.

Finally, in 2014, the four regions recorded about 30% support for independence against a national figure of 37.8%.

It will hardly escape the notice of budding geographers that Borders and Dumfries & Galloway are the regions nearest the English border, while Orkney and Shetland are Scotland’s most northerly islands. That is to say, they’re the regions furthest from the central belt in either direction.

So, are they the guilty men and women?

Well, I wouldn’t say that. For a start, Orkney and Shetland are recording massively increased levels of support for new Scottish powers these days. In 1979 the proportion of the islanders supporting Yes was remarkably low – fewer than one in six Orkadians and Shetlanders supported the Scottish assembly. In 2014 almost one in three voted Yes. Support for Scottish powers has doubled on Orkney and Shetland over 35 years (albeit from a notably low base) which hopefully insulates them from allegations of backsliding.

Meanwhile, in Dumfries & Galloway and the Borders, the support for Yes in 2014 was largely the same in the 1979 referendum, in the tax question in 1997 and in 2014, at around 30%. This looks more like a stratification than the Orkney and Shetland figures. The vote has, therefore, held up in the south without showing much prospect for growth.

When the No and Did Not Vote figures are examined, an intriguing point emerges for these four regions. The proportion who did not vote in 1979 and 1997 is essentially the same for the two border authorities (at about 35%) and for the two northerly islands (at almost 50%). However in 2014 all four authorities saw their abstention rates fall to around 15%. This added 20% to the No vote in the borders and 30% to the No vote in the northern isles.

When we turn to the regions that have backed new powers at each election, four regions feature in the top six for all four referendum questions over the three votes; namely Central, Strathclyde, Fife and Highland. The remaining places in the respective top sixes are taken by Lothians and Western Isles (three appearances out of four) and Tayside (two appearances). Strathclyde, it should be said, was never out of the top three and Central led the country in 1979 and both ballots in 1997.

The pattern among the Highland, Central, Fife and Strathclyde regions has been a gradual rise in support for yes from around 33% to about 40% across the referendums, while Tayside and the Western Isles reached the same end-point from a lower base.

These six regions recorded a remarkable increase in the No vote between the 1997 Parliament vote and 2014, of 25% points in the case of Tayside, 30% points in the cases of Highland, Fife and Strathclyde, and 35% points in the cases of Western Isles and Central. This means that, in the regions with the greatest appetite for new powers, the proportion of voters who shifted from abstentions to No votes was higher than in the most No-voting regions. This left the Did Not Vote rates in the No-region and Yes-regions looking much the same.

Each region contained a large swathe of Did Not Votes in each referendum prior to the indyref. 15% of the electorate would remain in the Did Not Vote category in each region, while the remainder would break cover to vote No in 2014.

In light of this, it seems churlish to highlight Yes areas and No areas. What the 2014 figures suggest is:

• 15% of the electorate (three in twenty voters) will not vote in referendums in any region;

• about 30% of the electorate in the borders or northern isles (six in twenty) will vote for new powers;

• and 40% of the electorate everywhere else (eight in twenty) will do the same;

• about 20%-30% (four-to-six in twenty) in all regions will oppose new powers in all circumstances;

• this leaves between 25% and 35% of the electorate in each region who abstained in 1979 and 1997…

• and then voted No in the indyref…


There is one final data source to consider – the 1997 and 2014 Local Authority comparisons.

Now, this is less significant in analytical terms since it excludes the 1979 referendum, but may be of local interest.

In the two ballots in 1997, the strongest Yes votes were recorded in the following seven Local Authorities:

• West Dunbartonshire
• Clackmannanshire
• East Ayrshire
• Midlothian
• Falkirk
• East Dunbartonshire
• North Lanarkshire

In passing we may note that Glasgow was placed twentieth on the list for supporting the Parliament and sixteenth for supporting tax-varying powers, while Dundee was nowhere to be seen.

In 2014, the top seven looked like this:

• Dundee
• West Dunbartonshire
• Glasgow
• North Lanarkshire
• Inverclyde
• North Ayrshire
• South Ayrshire

This represents a significant shift in the concentration of Yes support to to the central belt.

In 1997 the lowest levels of support were recorded in:

• Orkney
• Shetland
• Aberdeenshire
• Dumfries & Galloway
• Moray

In 2014, the lowest levels of support were recorded in:

• Orkney
• Aberdeen
• Borders
• Dumfries & Galloway
• Shetland

While two of the lowest five Local Authorities have changed, they are still heavily concentrated in the same regions (namely the northern isles, the borders and the North East).

There are only two referendums of data at Local Authority level, however, so it would be ambitious to draw too many conclusions from the above points. The reader is invited to use her imagination if she wishes to.


I think the data make a few things clear, and suggest a few other points in more tantalising form.

Here are the strong conclusions:

• There is a solid block of the overall Scottish electorate that has voted for new powers whenever offered the chance;

• This group of enthusiasts amounts to just under 40% of the electorate, or two in five of the adult population.

• Even in regions of Scotland that have not shown a huge appetite for new powers, such as Shetland and Orkney at one end of the country and the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway at the other, the vote holds up whenever Scotland’s constitutional status is in question.

So the Yes cohort is strong, sizeable and enduring.

What else?

• In the 1979 referendum, and in response to both questions in the 1997 referendum, about the same proportion of the electorate (40%) opted not to vote.

• But then, in the 2014 indyref, a staggering 25% of the entire electorate, which had previously been in the Did Not Vote category, voted No. And they did this across Scotland, irrespective of the region.

They are the clear findings from the data which I don’t think can be disagreed with. But that’s not much fun, so here are some more contentious speculations:

One quarter of the Scottish electorate had not been roused to vote in any previous referendum, but they broke cover to vote No in 2014.

The proportion of the electorate that supported the Parliament in 1997 and (especially) the parliament’s tax-varying powers was considerably lower than the proportion that voted No in 2014;

As such it may be contended that the creation of a Parliament with teeth in 1997 was not really a decisive expression of the sovereign will of the Scottish electorate as a whole. Instead, it was the will of the reform-enthusiasts among the population unimpeded by the lurking opponents of constitutional change in the country. The prevailing media narrative of a Yes landslide, and the active support of all major parties except the (at that time despised) Conservatives, occluded this ambiguity.

• In 2014 a comparable share of the population backed independence as had backed tax-varying powers in 1997 – but this time one quarter of the population stepped in to prevent a Yes victory.

As such the story of the 2014 indyref was not one of people losing their nerve – they didn’t. The Yes vote held up. The story was one of a previously silent section of the electorate concluding that independence was a line they were unprepared to cross, and a prospect that they were prepared to break with the habit of a lifetime and vote in a referendum to prevent.

The Yes campaign can therefore be seen as having failed to enlarge its social base beyond the reform-enthusiasts who always vote for new powers. Those of us who were there know very well that the Yes campaign made us all commit much more deeply to the cause than ever before – but we didn’t actually attract new converts. All we did was maintain the roughly 40% of the electorate that support new powers for Scotland.

This might be summed up as a deepening of commitment to new powers, but not a broadening of the support base.

Remarkably, the more electorally-effective campaign was the No campaign, since it coaxed one quarter of the electorate out of their habit of abstention to vote against independence. Now, anyone who saw the Better Together campaign knows this did not happen through its hapless efforts. So how did they pull that off?

Well, it is clear that a fairly unchanging block of the population votes for new powers in every election, and a similar proportion do not usually vote at all. This time, the non-voters overwhelmingly supported the No side.

Is it plausible that they were Yes voters who were taken in by The Vow? That is, reform-enthusiasts who chose to vote No after gaining assurances from the major unionist parties?

I don’t think this seems likely. The same proportion of the electorate who voted Yes in 2014 also supported the much tamer propositions of a Scottish Assembly, a Scottish Parliament and tax-varying powers. It’s more likely that the Yes voters in previous elections backed independence, while the previously dormant abstainers saw something in independence they did not like.

To explain – if about 40% of the electorate voted Yes in 1997 and again in 2014 it makes sense to attribute them to the same category of reform-enthusiasts. The citizens who previously didn’t care but who this time voted No do not seem plausible waverers.

There are two extensions to this supposition.

• Firstly, the Yes campaign did not lose votes at the last minute. They were Did Not Votes at best (although if they hadn’t voted then Yes would have won).

• Secondly, the most convincing explanation for Did Not Votes turning into No votes is that they were motivated sufficiently to oppose independence. They’d never backed extra powers before – they’d just abstained. So it seems unlikely that The Vow of home rule made them vote No.

What this suggests to me is that The Vow, made under conditions of widespread panic on the basis of a single opinion poll, was probably a hasty and unnecessary concession by the unionist powers. It cannot have mobilised people who never vote for more powers to vote for home rule. They don’t care about new powers.

So the home rule powers extracted from Downing Street by Gordon Brown, if they ever materialise, are a massive bonus and we should all have a chuckle about this. The No campaign were going to win by miles anyway, probably thanks to Project Fear more than anything, but we got some promises of additional powers all the same. Nice one guys!

I suppose that would go down as the Better Together campaign’s just desserts. A campaign that ticked every opportunistic, negative and scare-mongering box might yet enable the prevailing English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) mania to rip apart the fabric of the union, on the back of an injudiciously cobbled-together home rule bribe.

And wouldn’t that be funny?

Edit: a follow-up piece summarising the various areas of critique prompted by this essay is now available here

  1. What a lot of work you put into this. Your argument seems to be spot on but saddening as I don’t see how we will ever get enough people to support independence sooner rather than later.


    • It depressed the hell out of me! Thanks for the kind words 🙂


    • Pete says:

      People are trying to talk up the idea that independence supporters have had their day. They say this was our best chance and that being Scottish these days makes you a nationalist. Independence was supported by a small group of people at the start of the 1970s. Every decade we hear that they will “kill independence stone dead”. This time is no different.

      Just keep campaigning for more powers and to break the stranglehold of Westminster on intellectual, economic and political life. Better Together won on promises that we will be looked after in the Union. We’ll see how that turns out.


  2. There’s some fascinating info here, much of which seems to stand to reason. I just don’t understand where general mortality factors in and am hoping you could perhaps clarify any thoughts you have on this, not to through your assumptions into question.

    What I also felt was interesting were the standout regions but not for immediately obvious reasons. I wasn’t at all surprised with the results, since I think all of us knew the border regions and the northern isles were instinctively no-leaning, but I didn’t expect the overall pattern to be so consistent across the generations. If I can go back to the issue of mortality, is it fair to say that, even if we factor in a sizeable number of voters who have passed away and a sizeable number who have come of age in time to vote in one or more referendums but not all (as will patently and obviously be the case), younger voters generally voted as there – now deceased – forebears did anyway? Of course I know this isn’t true in all cases, since we all know families who diverged in their votes, but could we say that it’s true in most cases?

    I suppose that net migration would also play a small role in any more detailed analysis, as would migration between the regions. But if we assumed both those factors were negligible (perhaps you can confirm?) and that families, in general, have remained living in the same regions consistently throughout the generations, then there may be other factors we could consider that might be influencing generational consistency in voting patterns, such as; educational establishments; generators of the local economy (farms, financial districts, major industrial units and therein branches of trade unions, and so on). What I am trying to say is that these consistent regional voting habits might not necessarily be predicated upon family loyalties but rather upon vested interests acting upon subconscious – or conscious – minds. I’ll come to why I mention this in short order.

    In those cases where regional voting habits have had more variance, the clues may lie in some of the text I’ve just written above. What has changed in those areas? Have major industries declined? Have new industries moved in? Have the populations generally become more educated, or less? How do they interact with the other regions within Scotland and with the rUK, both culturally and economically?

    How do you address the regions that are consistently voting against your proposition, as a campaigning organisation or, indeed, as a political institution? How do you win friends and influence people? Don’t you simply address it in the same way that you’ve addressed these things throughout the years in terms of campaigning for elections? I assume so, at least. What your analysis indicates to me is that one can argue that, in order to win independence, minds should be most focussed on changing the habitat dramatically in those areas that have been staunchly voting “no” across the generations, and less on those that show consistently solid support for “yes” (although the latter obviously can’t be ignored given that a majority still cannot be commanded within those regions). On the other hand, if we stick to the robotic language of boardroom strategy, you might argue that you should focus on your strengths and seek to build up even greater support in your strongholds and focus less on your weaknesses – having lived in that environment, I’d argue that you can only adopt that strategy up to a certain point, after which which your strategy collapses off the back of catastrophic failure in those areas where you’re weak. There’s merit to it though so long as you don’t go too far.

    That’s about as deeply as I can look into it right now, without hurting my head. I’m sure your data will be being scrutinised carefully during the next few weeks and will be commandeered by both sides in order to bolster the strength of their own arguments. I, on the other hand, am not so much interested in backing up past arguments as I am in how this data can be used to plan for the future. What it seems to tells me is that, if we’re ever to become independent, pro-independence campaigners need to start really focussing on those areas that are almost institutionally against the proposition and prepare to have to work very hard over a long period of time. That is, of course, if I accept your conclusions without caveat. I’m really not sure if things are as simple now, if they really were before. Things have undoubtedly changed. The grassroots movement campaigning for independence is now a behemoth, whereas not but 2 years ago it was a fringe. The gradual influence upon society at large should lead to some kind of phase-shift in time given that there isn’t a competing grassroots movement of any note. Also, the electorate on the whole are more politically aware – I’d argue they’re exponentially so – and no side can argue that this won’t have an effect, even if they can dispute who it will favour.

    Before I go – assuming you’ve had the time to navigate through my own wall of text – can I ask you: would it be a wild proposition to argue that the 25% of new voters you identify who voted no could all be somewhat elderly and were of voting age in all of the referendums? If not wild, would it give any strength whatsoever to the claim that it was older voters who came out and won the day for Better Together? It’s just it seems to me that this could be implied by by your conclusions but I didn’t notice it mentioned.


    • Hello!

      Thank-you so much for this fascinating and detailed reply. Very interesting indeed.

      A few points spring to mind:

      1) your questions are more interesting than my answers!

      2) in my blog I merely establish the circumstances we find ourselves in. I didn’t try to prescribe a way forward – but that is of course what matters. Perhaps my two previous posts, “After Yes” (a presumptuous piece from the week before the vote) and “After No” (a more chastened piece after the defeat) might be worth a look on that topic?

      3) the demographic breakdowns you ask about are not available at this stage, sadly. There are at least two major weaknesses in my piece and one of them is the unavailability of detailed voter breakdowns. Even the age profiles that have been doing the rounds, suggesting old people lost the referendum, are based on very small sample exit polls (see my most recent post, “Votes for Babies”, for more on this). Usually, ballot box analysis is carried out in the months after an election so I hope this will be made available in due course. But at the moment I really can’t respond to your questions because the data simply isn’t available. However, your questions should be first on the page when the analysis is done!

      4) finally, I agree entirely that the grassroots Yes movement had changed the terms of trade for independence. Personally, I think this was a vote we needed to lose to get the issues into circulation. I don’t really think we won enough of the economic arguments, and we can get this right for the next round. Crucially, please don’t take my blog to mean we can’t win in future (as some seem to have interpreted me). I don’t think that at all. But there did seen to be something about independence this time around that spooked the normally compliant abstainers.

      I know this hasn’t really answered your questions, but I hope answers will become available in due course!

      For now, thank you sincerely for reading and responding so brilliantly. It was a pleasure to read your comment.

      Have a great weekend!



  3. mark says:

    NO DICKHEAD. Westminster rigged the vote. We were cheated again !!


  4. lexyphant says:

    Interesting article. One thought struck me: what about all the non-Scots who voted in 2014 who probably wouldn’t have voted in 1979 and/or 1997…would they not have impacted on results?


    • Hi! Thanks for the reply. I must say I hadn’t thought about this – will need to look into what the differences would be in the electorate. I had assumed the “non-Scots” (by which I assume you mean residents) were also entitled to vote in 1997 anyway, but I haven’t actually tried to check this out. Thanks for flagging up!



  5. Really enjoyed reading your article- you’ve put so much work and thought into it. This is the first piece I have read that faces up to painful truths about our population. It is a good basis for our movement to use as a strategy document to plan for the future because it shines light on the effect of being in the “YES Bubble” of ‘reform-enthusiasts’ as you said, and not paying attention to this large group of people who do not want change, but hadn’t voted in previous refs. What is so intriguing is that this core Did Not Vote group has remained stable and resilient for decades,only to emerge again in 2014.Your evidence and conclusions resonate with my experiences on Polling Day. Can I offer some qualitative evidence here in the following description.?

    I was a Yes Polling Agent standing at the door of a school in a less well-off part of the outer suburbs. This close-knit wee area had a long time ago been a mining village, and many extended families who live there still relate to that part of their history and identity. In the early 70s I had campaigned as a teenager for the late John SmithMP in that area and it was then a redout of the Tory-voting working class. Yes really! We knew then that about 30% working class Scots always voted for the old Unionist Party. That cohort seemed to disappear during the time of Thatcher and many of us assumed they had passed into history. But no- I saw them get up, get out and walk into that polling station on18th September to vote a resounding NO. (I had to endure some pretty nasty comments and hostility as they went in, so I am in no doubt which way they were voting!)

    I realised as I stood there that these previous Tory voters had not disappeared at all- they had just stopped voting for about 30 years – just as your analysis has described. In addition they turned up enmass with all generations of the family. There were very old grannies in wheelchairs and with walking frames, dragged from care homes, staring resentfully at me as the cause of such unpleasantness, right through to teenage mums glaring at me as they heaved buggies into the unfamiliar polling place. As the day went on I suspected we would not win the vote. Areas like this usually had low turnout, but the evidently huge turnout I was witnessing was not going into vote Yes. If this was replicated in other areas we could not win Independence

    I know this only explains the No vote in one type of community and demographic group. I am interested in how your analysis relates to the charts tweeted by Harry Burns and others showing the relationship between life expectancy, deprivation indices, and Yes votes,which demonstrated that the more deprived areas were more likely to vote Yes. Does this mean there is also a large DidNotVote cohort in more prosperous areas which turned out in record numbers on 18th?

    It is likely in the end that a number of different effects on voting behaviour were operating in parallel in different communities across Scotland.Our movement needs more thoughtful and reflective evidence like your article to be able to plan effective future strategy.


    • Thank-you so much for this! A fascinating insight – and a much better read than my essay 🙂

      I hope to do a bit more digging on the very point you raise about deprivation – I had almost lost the will to live by the time I had ploughed through the data for this piece so left it at a higher level of analysis. There is so much more to find out about what happened on 18th Sept though, and your questions are perfectly put.

      Thanks so much for getting in touch – and for all of your efforts in the referendum! It was a pleasure to hear from you.



  6. Steven Hope says:

    Yes, non-Scots were Scottish enough to have voted in 1997 too and I’m not sure that the proportion of them in the population and their distribution across the country would be different enough between then and now to account for what you describe. When I was watching the results come in, I described it as a middle class revolt – a massive turnout by the affluent and complacent to stop something they didn’t want. Why, I don’t know. An extra couple of points on their crippling mortgage might have been enough to swing it. But in general, I think your analysis is excellent and I’m truly pissed off not to have thought of it.


    • Thanks Steven! Really appreciate that 🙂 I think your “middle class revolt” is a better phrase than anything in my essay 🙂

      Have a great weekend and thanks again for reading,



  7. Joe says:

    The referendum used the franchise for the Scottish Parliament elections which allowed EU citizens to vote. From what I have read elsewhere I would say that the majority voted No, perhaps because of the threats that were allegedly being made against them by BT supporters.

    So I wonder what the result would have been if it had used the UK parliament franchise?

    As for the middle classes coming out to vote, one polling agent in a middle class area of Edinburgh said that 96% of the electorate voted at his station, most of them voting no. I would guesss that they came out as they saw a YES vote as a direct threat against their lifestyle and viewed the Scottish parliament as having little more than a nuisance value to their lives and so were not moved to vote yes or no at its creation.


  8. Haivers Blog says:


    Good work here, thanks.

    Just one comment regarding the 1979 40% rule. The issue was never the simple fact of having a hurdle, albeit that tacking it on as an afterthought did seem sneaky at the time.

    The issue was that the electoral roll of the time was not designed to be used in such a way. Following the introduction of the Poll Tax, the roll was effectively rebuilt from scratch and with the subsequent passage of time it has become a decent register of those eligible to vote, particularly now that we have 97% registration. In 1979 it was a different animal, however.

    It wasn’t that the register wasn’t updated regularly; it was more that the approach taken was to err in favour of allowing a vote rather than the reverse. Being on the register twice wasn’t viewed as a big issue.

    At that time people were added to it as they became 18 or as they moved to a new address. What didn’t happen anything like as diligently, however, was removal of those who had died or of people from their old addresses. Newspaper reports of the time highlighted whole streets of tenements in Glasgow that no longer existed yet still appeared on the roll compete with electors. I knew of Yes supporters who complained that, because they were on it in two places, they could at best register only a neutral effect.

    So, you need to see the 1979 result in that context. There was an adjustment made of about 100k (I think) to the overall population figure, but the talk at the time was that many times that would have been more like it. We may never know what the correct figure should of been (though – in theory at least – it may be possible to compare the 1979 register with that from, say, the late 1980s).

    That had the effect of inflating the number of Did Not Votes, so depressing the perceived percentages of those who did vote, i.e. both the Yes and No counts. From memory, the motion would likely still have been lost but not by much at all.


  9. Haivers Blog says:

    Ok, I’m embarrassed. Not “should of” but “should have”.

    Btw, do keep using “referendums”. There is no plural in Latin for “referendum” because it’s a gerund not a noun. What should be the plural for referendum used as a noun in English is a matter of stylistic choice; there is no rule as such. Do what you like, therefore.


  10. gordon mackenzie says:

    Very interesting and well done on the impressive rigorous analysis. I think you’ve got it spot on. This was just a leap of faith too big for the electorate to stomach. Although I have to disagree – I thoroughly believe most Did Not Vote Befores did vote Yes. Rather, No votes came from a massive group that had previously voted Yes to more power but could not cut emotional ties with the Union. The 25% voted Yes but this was nowhere near enough. Although many traditional Labour voters switched it was this group who couldn’t defy their lifelong party (that previously supported the Yes side) were largely responsible. This assertion is a theory not based on such as your high level analysis and also apologies if you addressed this in your article! #BhaCoir


    • Thanks Gordon!

      Very fair point well made. The question of how Labour voters acted between 1997 and 2014 is the main weakness of my piece. I suppose the counter-argument is that a huge number of the supposed Labour/ Lib Dem yeses in 1997 were no longer Labour or Lib Dem supporters by 2014, and could vote yes without breaking a party affinity. But I can’t actually claim this from the data, so I’m happy to acknowledge this as a legitimate objection to my piece 🙂

      Thanks for reading and commenting – appreciated.

      All the best,


  11. You have done a lot of work on this but I cannot accept the basis of your piece. The first two referendums were for devolution while the third was a vote for independence. It is not possible to compare like with like in this..


    • Hi Jack!

      Thanks for reading and commenting – appreciated.

      You’re certainly not alone in raising this objection and I can understand the point. I think the patterns in the data suggest a pattern in voting behaviour, to an extent sufficient to have been worth the effort. But I do appreciate the point.

      Thanks again for your reply and have a great weekend 🙂



  12. Colin says:

    A crucial point in my view is that there was two years saturated mediancoverage and everyone felt obliged to vote. In many cases if you were a don’t know you voted no in the end, including the 25pc you identify so actually the higher turnout proved disadvantageous to Yes, ironically. It wasn’t that No did anything to motivate those voters, the No campaign didn’t have to and didn’t really have the capability, it’s more that Yes didn’t convince them to vote against the “status quo”. If they’d stayed at home as before, Yes would have won but they all felt they should vote and no was the default option. In many cases the more powers offer made it even more if a default option too, Shame because it has significant consequences, none of which will involve more substantial powers. In summary, I don’t think it was being strongly anti independence or even pro status quo which motivated the 25pc, merely te compulsion to vote in something of significance and unfortunately even if you voted “don’t know” or “not proven”.


  13. John says:

    Fantastic analysis. Thanks for putting all the effort in.

    Just a comment on the charts. Would probably be better displayed as bar charts rather than line charts – and would allow for a stacked bar, to more easily see the ‘yes’, ‘no’, and ‘did not vote’ proportions across time. (if you want to email me the excel data, happy to bash the revised charts together)

    The really interesting point is why did the no voters turn out in 2014, when they didn’t in 1979. At both times the threat to the Union was (presumably) equally as strong…? If they were really such fervent supporters of the Union, then surely they would have come out in 1979 as well. The 40% support rule may have meant they perhaps felt more confident, but would they really have left this to chance…?

    If I was a conspiracy theorist (which on some dark nights of the soul I come close to!) then this would seem to be some more evidence for the theory that there was some manipulation of the poll going on. Particularly the very stark differences in the 1979 v 2014 results…just something about the rise in the no vote that strikes me as quite ‘uniform’ across the regions…Mmmm!

    Anyway, the message is probably that the case for independence is not yet clear enough, and the ‘fear’ of the unknown was still strong enough to pull in this 25% of the population to vote against independence. Sadly the lessons is that for the next campaign, the Yes campaign has to focus on instilling fear of the known (i.e. the downside of the Union) rather than trying to win with hope. Which saddens me to say, as I am a strong believer in hope over fear.

    Thanks again for putting the time into the analysis. Great work, and much appreciated.


    • Many thanks John – really appreciate your comments.

      Yes, my charts are completely amateurish! If I’d realised the piece was going to attract attention I’d have spent a bit more time on presentation 🙂 Thanks so much for the kind offer to help but it was really just poor execution on my part 🙂

      Again, thanks for reading and commenting so generously.

      Have a great weekend,



  14. Robert Close says:

    Fascinating article, however we must tread carefully with the assumption: “I am asserting that a Yes vote in one referendum over additional Scottish powers is worthy of comparison with another”. The level of severance involved in the 2014 decision allowed for the No side to put the fear of god into people over such issues as currency, pensions, defence etc.

    Also, the 1979 and 1997 decisions were reversible, and indeed could arguably have been seen to encompass the ‘Best of Both Worlds’ (equally the Worst of Both Worlds!).argued for by Better Together in 2014.


    • Hi Robert,

      Thanks very much for reading and commenting – appreciated.

      This is nicely put and distinguishes the differences between the votes more elegantly than I managed! Thanks for sharing it.

      Certainly food for thought 🙂

      Have a great weekend,


  15. Haivers Blog says:

    Take a listen on iPlayer to Shereen Nanjiani’s show on BBC Radio Scotland this morning (Sat, 4th Oct).

    Listen from 46:27 to get the context. At 46:48 a male voice then refers to a piece of analysis which sounds very like this one.

    Fame (of a kind).


  16. katy hodgson says:

    ok. if we assume your analysis is correct, then does it mean we need to keep out a watchful eye for ANY future elections? SNP now riding high in the polls, but will this bring out the nay-sayers to vote and bolster their conservative principals and values at next years GE? what do the general voting patterns say?


    • Hello!

      This is a brilliant question and beautifully put. I was wondering about this myself but you’ve made the point much more effectively than I would have!

      It’s impossible to know until more detailed ballot box analysis is done, but I suppose the fear for (say) the SNP is that a beast has been awakened that hates them. If the recent politicisation of Scottish society endures until the 2016 election it would be intriguing to see the impact on turnout and voting preferences, especially if there are major parties proposing another referendum (which personally I doubt, but what do I know).

      A slightly different question, but on a related theme – I wonder what the impact of the massively increased Yes party memberships will be on party policy? For example, the SNP could find its new membership demanding another referendum far earlier than the leadership would prefer. The increases in party memberships are entirely without precedent and the consequences might be slightly more challenging than anticipated. That said, maybe most of the new memberships were more like expressions of solidarity than indications of intended activism. But time will tell.

      I haven’t answered your question at all but I agree entirely that it’s a crucial point.

      Thanks for reading and replying so generously!

      Have a great weekend,



  17. Malky says:

    Interesting article, but I feel that your main argument is flawed for the simple reason that you can’t conflate “more powers” with independence. Polls have suggested that 25% of those who voted No did so because of the promise of more powers, which would explain the apparent last-minute desperation of the Unionist politicians in making the famous “vow”,


    • Thanks Malky!

      I’d be very happy to see a poll that backs that up. Haven’t seen any so grateful for a point in the right direction.

      Have a great weekend in the meantime – and thanks for reading and commenting.



  18. Paul Barker says:

    You can also do an interesting back of the envelope job by looking at the 2011 Scottish Parliament votes. It is more recent than the previous referendums. If you look at the regional list votes (which I am doing because there are no clearly Green votes in the constituencies) you can add the SNP + Green + Scottish Socialist + Margo MacDonald etc. votes and come to a figure just short of 50%.

    If you want to buy in to reports of a massive **% of Labour voters switching to Yes (add to fast depending on the reports you believe), then you are home and dry and then some.

    With (as pointed out above) a no way back vote, the We Don’t Normally Vote crew do seem to provide the bulk of the explanation for the size of the No vote. I suspect they were always going to vote that way. It is possible that they are also the sort of person who does not respond to pollsters.


    • Thanks Paul!

      Interesting stuff indeed. The gap between the polls and the bookies almost spot-on predictions was a striking feature of the result. I was praying that the people being missed by YouGov were previously disenfranchised Yes voters. Alas there were thousands and thousands of Don’t Normally Votes lining up to prevent victory.

      But maybe it was a necessary exercise to get the issues into circulation?

      Thanks so much for reading and responding in such an interesting manner.

      Have a great Saturday night!



  19. Paul Barker says:

    … add to LIST…


  20. Malky says:

    Here’s the poll:

    Click to access Lord-Ashcroft-Polls-Referendum-day-poll-summary-1409191.pdf

    It turns out that the question regarding reasons for voting No wasn’t quite the same as what I’d seen in a number of articles. The 25% figure is the percentage of No voters giving more powers as the main reason for voting no, so not necessarily *purely* because of the promise of more powers. I’ve not read the other results, as I don’t have time, but I’m sure you’ll be interested!


    • Thanks for this! I had forgotten Ashcroft asked about that. Interesting stuff, certainly.

      Appreciate you digging that out.

      My piece has thrown up some fascinating rejoinders and this is clearly among them 🙂 more food for thought.

      Cheers – and have a good Saturday night!



  21. Ian, for folks like me who canne coont two coos in a field, this is fascinating stuff. Throughout the referendum a wee voice in the back of my head kept saying “but what if the folks we persuade to come out and vote, actually vote NO?” It also said to me “What if Project Fear isn’t what’s scaring them, but the very loud and passionate pro-indy mob?”. I could see the fear in some of my friends – especially the better off, more comfortable ones – when I started talking about “independence” as opposed to further devolution and more powers. It concerns me still that talk of conspiracy theories, fixed ballots, UDI etc is going to scare that spooked herd even more. I really believe those of us who are keeping the torch burning need to be a bit more circumspect in how we express our wishes for the future. Analysis like yours is something we need to be taking seriously and building our future tactics on, rather than doing the political version of a Mel Gibson impression.


  22. IanB says:


    Thanks for taking the time to do the analysis, you’ve put a lot of work into this.

    I think that there’s a lot in your argument and I can relate several points, two personal the third and fourth by observation, that are consistent with your theory.

    1) A week before the referendum a colleague (32yo) who had already said he was a no mentioned that he hadn’t voted in any election since 2007, and that he had been an intermittent voter before that. the reason he articulated for no was that he thought things were fine for him at the moment (living with his girlfriend, no kids, parents in their 50s).

    2) On the morning of the 18th another colleague (45yo) who hadn’t voted yet said that he’d only voted once in his lifetime and that was in the ’97 referendum. I was quite surprised at his revelation as he was quite a politically astute person. he espoused the view that voting in elections wouldn’t change anything for him. he went on to say that his 93yo granny was also voting for the first time since Teddy Taylor had ceased to be her MP, and that she was specifically voting no because alex Salmond had made voting Tory a dirty thing to do. So I put him down as a no after that, and realised that there were 3 voters whom had t normally voted who were now near-certain no. At that point I was worried that Yes was going to lose.

    3) there was a lot of “if you don’t no vote no” about in the last week, and this I believe would have motivated people who previously were t that committed either way to come out for no.

    4) I was astonished that the turnout of the heavily no areas was 90%, and this gave me some of the same thoughts as you have demonstrated by your analysis.


    • Thanks Ian!

      This is illuminating stuff.

      Teddy Taylor was my MP once too. I was only three at the time but I like to think I learned from the experience 🙂

      Thanks so much for the kind words and generous response.

      Have a great night!



  23. […] There’s a very interesting piece of analysis by “Ian and Charlie” comparing aspects of the three referendums held in Scotland, in 1979, 1997 and 2014. It can be found at this link. […]


  24. Sugar bean says:

    Interesting piece, and we’ll thought out.
    Many people don’t like change for the sake of change and they were scared out of the woodwork to vote no. We need to try and make them see that it’s ok most things in their day to day life will be the same and the changes that will come make them gradual, start talking/planning about them now get them used to the idea, then hopefully they’ll stay at home with their feet up next time!


  25. yesindyref2 says:

    Curtice and his analysis of polls with information about Devo intentions has this very different, and I agree with him, I’m afraid. From that page:

    However, the three-fifths in favour of more devolution consisted of two very different groups. At least half were people who proposed to vote Yes in the referendum. Only around a third were avowed No supporters. Moreover, amongst No supporters themselves less than half wanted more devolution.

    But this picture changed during the later stages of the referendum campaign. In August support for more devolution increased to 67%, and then by the eve of polling reached no less than 74%. Crucially this increase reflected an apparent change of heart amongst many a No supporter. Whereas in May still no more than 47% of No voters wanted more devolution, by August the figure had increased to 53% and then by the eve of poll no less than 65% supported the idea. In contrast, by this stage just 28% of No voters backed the status quo.


    • Hello!

      Thanks for this – an interesting response. I’m not entirely sure these opinion polls are reliable but the point you raise is certainly a reasonable critique.

      Many thanks for sharing it.

      Best wishes,


  26. Donald Jacobs says:

    Um just because the percentage numbers look similar across different referendums does not mean that the same people, or even the same types of people, voted the same in those different elections. You seem to assume that because the No vote increased by a similar amount to the increase in participation between 1997 and 2014 this therefore means that the new participants voted No. That is a complete non sequitur. It’s perfectly possible that most new voters voted Yes but were outnumbered by switchers from Yes to No. In fact I think it’s far more likely. I know many people who voted Yes in 1997 who voted No in 2014 (my gran, my aunt, my school friends’ parents) they are called loyal Labour voters. That’s what accounts for the increase in the No vote between 1997 and 2014, I would suggest, not new voters. But a proper survey would be required to determine one way or the other. Simply comparing percentages as you have done in no way tells us which way new voters voted.


    • Hello Donald,

      Thanks for reading and commenting – and apologies for the delayed acknowledgement (thought I had replied but it doesn’t seem to have been recorded).

      I appreciate your comments and I’m grateful to you for reading and sharing your perspective.



  27. LindsayO says:

    I believe it was the visibility of the Yes campaign that brought the additional No voters out. If we accept that they were always against independence then I think that: They abstained in 1979 because of the 40% rule. They assumed that there would not be sufficient support for independence. They abstained in 1997 because it wasn’t a vote for full independence, because it is full independence that they are against. They came out to vote because they the Yes campaign was so vocal and active that they saw that Yes might have won and they wanted to be sure they didn’t. This was the first time that full independence was on the table and that the abstaining No-voters thought Yes might win.


  28. Dr JM Mackintosh says:

    An interesting piece but I do not follow the basic logic of it at all.

    Fundamentally, you are comparing different things at different times.
    What percentage of the Scottish electorate would have supported Independence in 1979 and in 1997? A pretty small number – around 20% perhaps ?

    Things have changed fundamentally from these days when now 45% of the electorate have voted to end the British state and a further 8 or 9% were on the cusp of voting the same way.

    There are a lot of people who have an emotional attachment to the UK and others who were just frightened into voting No. However, the British state is no longer what is was and another Tory Government or two will destroy the last vestiges of the post war consensus which people still hang on to as the Best of British.

    So there is a lot of scope to move a significant number of people over to the Independence side in the not too distant future.

    I think Scottish Independence is inevitable and this campaign has moved the country a lot closer. It is only a matter of time.


    • Hello Dr Mackintosh!

      Thanks for getting in touch. I agree entirely with your last couple of paragraphs and my other blog posts make similar points. I’m not sure if you thought I was suggesting anything to the contrary with this post?

      Thanks for reading and commenting.



  29. A massive amount of work in this Ian, thanks, if a tad depressing. Definitely a tool to use when looking at a way forward for the future. To date the focus has been on demographics of age and income, and I fall into demographics that mean should have voted No if those factors were correct; your analysis gives me something I can reflect on more coherently and think about alongside these other analyses.


  30. Very interesting analysis of data leading to slightly depressing conclusions. If I understand it correctly, your central point is that little has moved on – 38% voted in 1997 for tax-varying powers and 38% voted in 2014 for independence.

    My instinct is that these populations don’t simply map onto each other.

    There will be a sizeable chunk of 1997 yes/yes voters who voted no in 2014. They were joined by those who voted yes/no or no/no in 1997, and by those who would have voted these ways but didn’t bother because they thought it was a done deal so not worth bothering, or they reckoned devolution with little fiscal autonomy was OK.

    So, the 38% in 2014 will include some (but NOT all) of those who voted yes/yes in 1997. They were joined mainly by those who didn’t vote in 1997 because they don’t usually vote, were not on electoral register etc.

    It would be nice to indulge in some Whatifery.

    What if there had been an independence option in 1997? I would bet my bottom dollar (pound, euro, groat …) that the vote for independence would have been way lower than 38%.

    And what if there had been a devo max option in 2014? (Yes, I know, devo max is far more than tax-varying powers, and still not good enough, but bear with me ….) A chunk of the 38% yes might have opted for that instead, along with a good proportion of those who voted no. So a lower % for independence (but still greater than would have been in 1997) but devo max and independence between them would have secured a clear majority.


    • Thanks so much for sharing this, Catriona – it’s brilliantly put.

      I’ve tried to engage with a version of the critique in my follow-up post this morning, but I think you’ve argued your case more effectively than I have!

      Really interesting stuff – and it’s always fun to engage in whatifery 🙂

      Thanks again for reading and responding so thoughtfully.



  31. John says:

    Hi, this is really interesting. However, I’d like to contrast it with my own experience.
    I was leaning distinctly towards Yes, in fact up to perhaps a week before that’s what I was going to vote. And I voted Yes/Yes in 1997. Too young in 1979 🙂

    But the end result is, as always, complicated. For me there were several issues, which led me to vote No:

    1. The Yes campaign proposals were quite poorly thought out. There was a definite assumption that on every major issue, the dice were going to roll up 6. But life doesn’t work like that. There are risks, but it not about saying “it’s too risky”, it’s about measuring and managing the risks.
    2. Following on from that there were going to be a lot of people very disappointed. I can remember after the fall of the Soviet Union, even a few years after there were people in Russia saying how difficult life was and it was much better under the communists. I so much want to avoid that for Scotland when the time comes.
    3. It’s a nasty world out there. I also remember the run on Sterling when it came out of the ERM in 1990/91 (£1 = $1.09, I think!). I want to avoid that sort of thing too, and I think by taking steps that are too big we run the risk of people trying. Walk in from the shallow end, rather than jump at the deep end, especially when there are sharks like George Soros in the pool!
    4. I still have some lingering sense of Britishness that I wasn’t quite ready to give up. Although I’m beginning to recognise that that’s not necessarily reciprocated.

    SO when the apparently sincere offer of “Devo Max” (or not, OK, it’s shorthand for now) I thought, well that could lead us to a stable federation. Almost everyone could be reasonably happy in the long term if it’s set up properly. And if it isn’t (which it looks like it won’t be), then it will lead to independence in small steps rather than one giant leap, which I’m more comfortable with in relation to my concerns above.

    So that’s at least one vote for No influenced by that Vow – had it not been there (and I fully recognised it was a politician’s promise) then I would almost certainly have voted Yes. And from talking to various people, I don’t think I’m unique.


    • Hi John,

      Thanks so much for this – beautifully explained. I wrote an earlier piece called After No on the blog that made some similar points, but nowhere near as eloquently as you have here.

      Brilliant reply!

      Have a great day – and thanks again for reading,



  32. Kevin Mallon says:

    Hi Ian. Great! And what a response. Was it featured on a shareen? Yes very interesting yet again and the quality of the dialogue unbelievable – well done to everybody.

    Yes it was the previous abstainers ‘what won it’. The massive turnout worked against yes in one sense but in another sense it represents the start of something. One bit of feedback indicates the strength of the latent disaffected Tory/unionist vote. The polling agent who was on duty in north Lanarkshire area, I’ve just about worked it out, there would be a strong ‘community’ vote mobilised.

    Anyway brilliant piece of analysis, my head is nipping trying to follow it but it is brilliant all the same. Any chance of a yes alliance for the Westminster election next year?

    Well done!!!


  33. Dale says:

    OK, so the narrative that 25% of voters turned up and voted No struck me as odd. That suggests that all the RIC mass voters registrations in the schemes did not turn up a statistically significant amount of Yes voters. So I hit google.


    No vote % and Turnout % have a correlation factor of 0.42. Which suggests a sinificant amount of your 25% magic No voters was actually ballot stuffing. I don’t have the statistical knowhow to run the statistical fraud detection algorithm.

    Run the numbers yourself, I guarantee it will make your eyes really big.


  34. Andy B says:

    First of all, apologies for coming to this so late. Only found it on Facebook this afternoon but well done on an interesting and intriguing approach to the data. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it, though I am dubious as to its value without mapping the hugely different demographics of 1979 Scotland through to 2014 Scotland.

    In 1979 I was obsessed with girls, science fiction, clothes, punk(ish) music and politics – in that order. There were 2,000+ pupils at my secondary school in Cambuslang, maybe a dozen of whom were English and only three – three! – who were not Caucasian. Pretty much all of them had to put up with tremendous amounts of crap. Homosexual acts were still illegal in Scotland and any guy showing the slightest effeminacy was endlessly, mercilessly bullied. One classmate committed suicide in his early 20s, and I’ve always felt that school bullying played a significant part.

    Too young to vote obviously, but I was interested partly because we had a Modern Studies teacher who talked pretty freely about what was going on – well off curriculum too. He had been a member of the Communist Party but had recently joined Labour – a sure step towards true socialism, he said. I remember an SNP guy on a soapbox at the shopping precinct and people gathering to pitch questions. That was first time I remember the “Tartan Tories” taunt, though I recall thinking the man spoke well and made a lot of sense to me. Also recall my Mum arguing fiercely with my aunt and uncle – she was a possible Yes while they were both staunchly No. In the end, my aunt and uncle, like a big lump of that 40%, didn’t bother venturing out into the damp night to vote so sat back to watch ‘The Sweeney’ safe in the knowledge they were de facto No voters. My Mum voted No too, but with very mixed feelings. She normally voted Labour but got herself scared into believing the nasty Nats would do away with her beloved Queen.

    By 1997 I’d been actively involved in the Labour Party, CND, Anti-Apartheid and Anti-Poll Tax through the 80s but had left political activism behind to build a career and raise my young family of three, one of whom was just starting secondary as the campaign “climaxed”. I watched the rather dull TV coverage and then met Labour activists handing out balloons and stickers on the weekend before the poll. An old comrade – now a New Labour councillor – told me it was “in the bag”. I was genuinely pleased but not ecstatic – Blair’s “parish council” remark was typical of the man and the party confirmed all the reasons I’d left the party in 1994 – control-freakery and shallow triangulation, devoid of principle. Worst of all they’d sold their soul to him, the price being Clause 4. I’d only been paying lip service since they’d reversed on unilateralism and chickened out of the Poll Tax campaign, but now I could tear up my card with a clear conscience: Labour was dead inside – all that remained was a husk and a flashy logo. Now, they were going to kill those pesky Nats stone dead and from then on things – well, things could only get better.

    New Labour swaggered like they would rule for ever more – a socially liberal slightly leftish consensus had emerged and it would deal with all the havoc wrought by the wicked Tories by pursuing essentially the core neo-liberal economics. All was set fair: Israel & Palestine were still clinging to the Oslo Peace accords, the Good Friday Agreement was just around the corner and we were working closely with a Democratic ally in the White House. OK, the People’s Princess was dead and that was sad but, hey, Tony really held things together when the Crown wobbled. People would make films about this one day.

    This year, 2014, two of my three kids were eligible to vote – the middle one lives in England with her boyfriend. If she could, she’d have been a Yes. She found herself in endless arguments with workmates and neighbours, having to stress how she wasn’t anti-English but anti-Westminster. Many were assuaged by this, saying they too hated Westminster – so they were voting UKIP next time round. Having worked all around Europe for the previous five years, my only daughter could only try to explain that wasn’t going to help anything.

    My youngest got active in student politics at St Andrews and we were worried the Referendum had him more than a little distracted during his final year at uni – the first in our family to make it there – but he managed to emerge with a 2:1 Honours in Applied Physics and a half-Indian, half-French girlfriend. Oh, and a best friend who came out as gay when last summer a group of them travelled down to London for a big weekend. It was all cool and they all celebrated while a Scotsman won Wimbledon.

    My eldest lives 110 miles away with his soon-to-be-wife and their two-year old daughter. He too campaigned hard for Yes, in between starting up his own joinery business, while his fiancée swithered, torn between her Irish-Italian parents – who actually paid to go and see George Galloway then fretted ever after about a Protestant purge of Catholics in an Independent Scotland. My almost daughter-in-law began to overcome her lapsed Catholic fears when she saw 15,000 of the Orange Order march past her beating the drum for the Union. Her consternation at the lack of TV coverage and analysis of this stomach-churning episode was what finally decided her. In one day she went from being too scared to vote Yes to being too scared not to.

    My Mum overcame her almost pathological hatred of Alex Salmond and declared herself ready to vote Yes. She died suddenly and unexpectedly on the Monday before the ballot.

    So, we lost. My eldest has joined the SNP though admitted he probably won’t do much now except get involved in Facebook arguments, while my youngest joined the Greens – just as his Mum and I did back in 2003 a few days after marching against the big lie that took us into Iraq. We live in rural Aberdeenshire, a lot of miles and a lifetime away from Cambuslang in 1979. So it goes.

    Don’t know how this impacts on the data sets but I’d be interested to hear.

    Keep up the good work, and fighting the good fight.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know how it impacts on the data, but it’s a great piece of writing and makes fascinating reading…One thing it’s made me think about is how our thinking differs from our parents’, how that’s shaped by what we’ve lived through and how our children will think and act differently from us. We remember a fairly supportive welfare state and what relatively high employment and a productive industrial economic base looked like. They won’t. I guess what I’d want to keep alive in my daughter and grandson’s heads is that it doesn’t have to be like this. Try to keep that very recently lit political flame alive and get them to believe that they CAN change things if they keep aware and active. The next generation absolutely is the key.

      Liked by 1 person

  35. @iamglaswegian says:

    Proportion of the overall Scottish population voting for independence on September the 18th 2014: 37.8%
    Proportion of the overall Catalan population voting for independence on November the 9th 2014: 34.48% – in a turn out of 41.6% of a normal electoral roll or 36% of the possible (over 16) population.
    Can’t really compare a referendum with a voluntary consultation with no register of voters but it


  36. @iamglaswegian says:

    …can’t really compare a referendum with a voluntary consultation with no register of voters but it does show the Did Not Votes turned out in ours (45% Yes) and for other various reason didn’t in Catalunya yesterday (80% on the second Yes).


  37. […] they’re rarely the result of consensus-building: the Bolsheviks wouldn’t have carried 38% of the Russian adult population behind them at the time of the October Revolution, for […]


  38. SqueuedPerspextive says:

    You should submit this as an article to the National. It explains events with logic, evidence and eloquence.


  39. SqueuedPerspextive says:

    And if you could put together perspectives from say four age groups – starting with (Andy B says: October 21, 2014 at 9:37 pm) – One younger and 2 older – now that could be a piece over a week on the National.


  40. SqueuedPerspextive says:

    Alternatively you could include just one younger (new voter) and one older (70yo voter) and write an additional comment piece. Perhaps suggesting some radical policy ideas to bring young (mostly Yes) and old (mostly No) together. Conscription for the 17-18s, but to social duties of care of the elderly, for example. Ideas that would unite old and young (and rebuild trust lost to recent scandals).


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