YESAt the 2014 independence referendum, turnout in East Renfrewshire, one of Scotland’s leafiest constituencies, was 90 per cent. By contrast, in Glasgow and Dundee, the two poorest cities in the country, it was 75 per cent and 79 per cent respectively. East Renfrewshire voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Union. Glasgow and Dundee backed independence.

Nine months later, at the UK general election, 54 per cent of voters turned-out in Glasgow North East, the bulk of them to elect SNP candidate Anne McLaughlin as their MP. Meanwhile, in Edinburgh South, where Labour’s Ian Murray fought-off the SNP’s advance, there was a 74 per cent turnout.

This pattern was repeated at last week’s Holyrood election. Average turnout in the 14 constituencies that elected pro-Union MSPs was 61 per cent, six per cent higher than the overall national turnout. Conversely, some of the lowest turnouts occurred in the SNP’s Glasgow heartlands: 44 per cent in Maryhill and Springburn, 45 per cent in Pollok, and 46 per cent in Shettleston.

You don’t need a degree in psephology to see what’s going on here. The trend couldn’t be clearer. Wealthier Scots vote in higher numbers. They are also statistically more likely to support the Union and, in turn, a unionist party. Poorer Scots are less likely to vote but more likely to support both independence and the SNP.

The Yes campaign, then, faces a problem. The SNP will be able to maintain its dominant status at the next two elections, in 2020 and 2021, because the unionist vote is split, unevenly, between three parties, the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. But in a referendum, there are only two options: Yes and No. Supporters of the UK won’t have to divvy-up their ballots between Ruth and Kez. They will come out en masse, East Renfrewshire-style, to defend the Union.

Unionist Scotland, in other words, is a relatively solid, coherent bloc built around a motivated and prosperous electorate, not a scattering of diverse political interests. It’s easy to forget that in the scrum of an election campaign, when everyone’s howling at one another from a dozen different angles.

Unionist Scotland, in other words, is a relatively solid, coherent bloc built around a motivated and prosperous electorate, not a scattering of diverse political interests. It’s easy to forget that in the scrum of an election campaign, when everyone’s howling at one another from a dozen different angles.

So, how should the SNP respond? Can the unionist firewall be vaulted? The most obvious strategy would be to boost turnout in poorer areas. The SNP has 116,000 members, active and well-attended local branches, and significant resources. It is a formidable electoral machine. This summer, Nicola Sturgeon will launch a new initiative to broaden support for independence. It would make sense to include a mass voter registration drive as part of that, with efforts focused on those communities where levels of political disengagement are rising.

At the same time, Sturgeon will have to target the softer sections of unionist opinion. A sustained majority for independence won’t be possible unless a chunk of the No voting public changes its mind. The good news is that Ruth Davidson could end-up doing a lot of work for the Yes campaign in this respect. Just as the surge in nationalism has hardened support for the Tories, so too might the Tory surge harden support for nationalism, particularly among beleaguered left-leaning Labour voters who have seen their party’s prospects in Scotland collapse and don’t expect Jeremy Corbyn to win the next UK general election. Under Davidson, the centre of unionist gravity will shift (further) to the right, leaving unionism’s dwindling band of leftwing stragglers in an even more isolated position.

How carefully, if at all, is the SNP considering any of this? Back in 2014, neither the SNP nor Yes Scotland seemed remotely interested in addressing the specific social and class barriers that stood in the way of independence. Their plan was to develop as wide a coalition for Yes as possible, in the hope that it would inch them over the line on polling day. The result was a bungled pitch that lacked ideological consistency.

Since 2014, there has been an assumption among Yes campaigners that another referendum is inevitable, which is probably correct, and that a Yes vote is guaranteed, which definitely is not. True, backing for independence has gradually ticked up over the past 20 months. But the East Renfrewshire problem is very real, and it isn’t going away. The Yes campaign should start mapping a path around it, sooner rather than later.

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)