The Radical Independence Campaign (RIC), on Tuesday released the findings of their recent mass canvas of 18,000 Scottish voters, showing a lead for Yes over No in the forthcoming independence referendum. Ray M discusses how the results contrast to official polls.
Canvassing over 18,000 voters in 90 working-class communities across the country, RIC have showed support for Yes at 44 per cent, with No on 25 per cent and Don’t Knows on 31 per cent. These findings are in stark contrast to official polls, which almost all show a No lead. How do we explain this?
Clearly the polls cannot be ignored but the contrast in approach between the mass canvass and polling suggests that polling understates the Yes vote for the following reasons:
1. Polling typically canvasses the opinion of those in stable jobs and households with telephone landlines who have been on the electoral roll for some time. Many of the people signing up to the electoral roll to vote in the independence referendum are those who don’t normally vote and their opinions will be less predictable. A substantial number of these new voters will be from less stable backgrounds.
2. Many of those registering for the electoral roll are doing so from working class estates after coming into contact with the pro independence registration drive.
3. Polling tends to be accurate with small targeted samples in elections with a typically small turnout of say 35%. However, it’s estimated that the turnout for the referendum will be between 70 and 80%.
4. Typical polling is more accurate in elections because it normally measures the support of individuals for established political parties with recognised voting patterns, The referendum is completely different. Its Yes or No for independence and loyalties are shifting across the political spectrum of established norms.
Standard polling will fail to pick up these significant developments. In short traditional polls and the mass canvass are measuring the opinions of different constituencies. The independence referendum is taking us into uncharted territory.
I’m not suggesting that the Yes campaign is going to win based upon this initiative from RIC. However, RIC demonstrate that where clear class arguments are presented to working class families and the potential for a change in political priorities are explained through engagement on the doorstep or community meeting then a huge shift is possible.
According to a recent study produced by the Economic and Social Research Council, poverty in Scotland has more than doubled in 30 years – despite the economy doubling in size. Its findings say that close to one million people – almost a fifth of the population – are in inadequate housing, while more than 250,000 adults and children are not properly fed.
There is no suggestion that this is a particularly Scottish problem. In fact the report says that while 18 per cent of adults and children in Scotland are said to be “poor”, this compares favourably with the rest of the UK where the figure is 22 per cent. One in every eight adults in paid work is poor in Scotland (13%). However, in the UK, the figure is even higher at one in every six (17%).
The independence referendum gives working class people in Scotland an opportunity to break the consensus of the British elite and challenge the neoliberal orthodoxy that’s accepted by all the major parties in both Westminster and the devolved Scottish parliament. A Yes vote will undermine the status quo and strengthen everyone campaigning against austerity across Britain.
The levels of engagement in Scotland at the moment are unprecedented. Most of its beneath the radar and its rarely picked up in the polls.
Jonathan Shafi, co-founder of RIC, said: “This vote is not coming through in any official poll because they are not talking to people in these areas. These people have been told for years their views don’t matter. No-one has come to their door for ten years or more.”
The Economic and Social Research Council, has also found support for independence split on class lines with 46 per cent of those on lowest incomes in favour, compared with just 27 per cent of the highest earners. It said: “The higher the position on the social scale, the lower the support for independence.”
Mobilising is key
Jonathan from RIC says “What we wanted to do was look at the lowest turnout areas and ask ‘Where are the missing million?’ and actually go and speak to them. Our belief is the vast majority of these Don’t Knows are not just moving towards Yes, they will vote Yes on polling day. These are Labour strongholds. We are absolutely confident that if we can mobilise these votes we can win.”
Turning the referendum into an argument about class over nation and mobilising the huge potential support in working class communities will be key to a successful Yes vote next month.