The general belief is that older voters are likely to want Scotland to remain a part of the U.K. The question is, how will the young respond?
Will those who live in Scotland vote to end the union with the rest of Great Britain, or to keep it? The vote is not due to take place until the autumn and a great deal may change before then. The issue, however, has been much in people’s thoughts in recent weeks. One reason for this is the decision taken by David Cameron, the U.K. Prime Minister, to hold a meeting of the U.K. cabinet in Aberdeen — something almost unheard of. The presumption is that one of the reasons for his decision was to draw attention to the North Sea oil fields, and make the point, tacitly, that they are U.K. oil fields. The implication being that they would not all be handed to Scotland if the vote went in favour of ending the union.
In the event, recent polling showed that the decision to hold the cabinet meeting in Aberdeen actually boosted support for Scottish independence. That may seem counter-intuitive, but it has to be remembered that the Conservative Party — of which Mr. Cameron is the leader — is not popular north of the border. Indeed, there is only one Conservative MP representing Scotland in the U.K. parliament.
Another issue which seems to have been the cause of a boost in the level of support for Scottish independence has been the argument over the future of the pound sterling. The poll that produced this result took place just after the U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, warned that Scotland would not be allowed to keep the pound if it left the union. At about the same time, the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, raised equally awkward questions about whether an independent Scotland would be able to stay in the European Union.
The fact remains, however, that the polls are still showing a majority against Scotland leaving the U.K. The latest study for The Scotsman by polling firm YouGov found 53 per cent of those surveyed wanted Scotland to continue as part of the U.K.; only 35 per cent of people said that Scotland should be an independent country.
It would be most unwise at this stage to make firm predictions about the way the vote will go. What is clear, however, is that the situation is more fluid than would have been thought likely six months ago.
It seems to me that this reflects the fact that the Scottish independence issue has a large emotional element. There are, of course, economic, financial and legal matters which are crucial, but it would be a great mistake to forget or ignore the emotional. It is certainly thought by many people living south of the border — in England — that independence for Scotland would be unrealistic. I have found that my Scottish friends living in England do take that view, and are against the idea of independence. Those living outside of Scotland, however, will not be able to vote in the independence referendum. The right to vote will go only to people living in Scotland (including people who are not actually Scottish).
Scottish friends of mine believe that older voters are likely to vote to remain in the U.K. They point out, however, that the vote, when it comes, will go to those aged 16 or over. One big question, therefore, will be how the younger voters will respond.
There are many months to go before the referendum takes place, and there will undoubtedly be many more factors brought to the notice of voters. Some may encourage the potential “yes” voters; many will certainly encourage those thinking of voting against leaving the union. Some factors may be unexpected. For example, BBC News Scotland has just reported a statement by the head of the company that owns British Airways, Willie Walsh, that Scottish independence could be a “positive development” for the airline. That statement certainly surprised me, and I guess it will have surprised, and irritated, the U.K. government.
The Scottish independence question is clearly very much a live issue, and I believe it is likely to remain that way until the vote takes place — with an increase in the level of argument as that date approaches. Some people may well take bets on the outcome. I most certainly shall not — and not simply because I am not a betting man!