Moving to Yes

Iain Black, researcher for the Scottish Independence Convention, outlines the findings from exclusive new voter research they have commissioned ahead of their re-launch this week. 

Considering where we are on this road to independence, the most difficult task we currently face is not winning a referendum but getting the chance to win one. Theresa May has infamously told us, and continues to tell us, ‘now is not the time’. So when is?

If we want this dancing queen to start moving to our tune, we need to have enough people playing it. We need to give Nicola Sturgeon a (democratic) hammer from the Scots with which to tell Theresa ‘now is the time’. So how do we do this?

The research sponsored by the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC) presented at last year’s Build conference concluded ‘If the Scottish independence movement wants to get to where it wants to go, it must know where it is now and what the path to success looks like.’ That holds true today and will hold true until just after the polls close on our final, successful, referendum.

The SIC is made up of Scotland’s national independence supporting groups (plus many more local ones represented via regional forums), as well the main independence supporting political parties. The SIC has, as part of its work preparing for the next referendum, continued to sponsor voter research. The focus of this has been on developing an ever-deeper understanding of where the voters are on their path to Yes and critically, how can we help voters along it?

In the last year, we have conducted research to develop profiles of important voter groups- those who intend to vote for independence, those who intend to vote against, and more importantly, those who say they currently don’t know. Another vital group we have been trying to understand are those who have swapped sides since last time. We have also begun testing what types of message (and message structures) best persuade the Don’t Knows, the soft No’s and those who have swapped sides, to change their minds, or at the very least, what encourages them to reconsider independence.

For what comes next in this article, it is vital to understand that whilst we recently conducted a survey of 1500 people weighted to represent the Scottish population, it was not designed to be an opinion poll. Such polls, conducted by companies like YouGov or Survation, aim to accurately measure voting intentions across the population and to highlight differences between groups (typically based on age, gender, occupation or geography).

Instead, our aim was to examine if and why people have changed sides and what types of independence supporting messages create positive emotions, change people’s minds and influence their voting intentions. Whilst our research is able to give a good picture of how Scotland intends to vote, it gives a laser sharp picture of whose voting intentions are changing and how they can be influenced.

It is also research which a national campaign organisation, such as the one proposed by SIC, can use to help set the agenda, change the story and get people to look again at independence. Considering this wider purpose, please forgive us if we don’t tell you all the exact details – our opponents are reading this too!

So in the year since the update given at the ‘Build’ conference, where are the voters now on their journey, and what does the path to success look like?

By asking people how they voted last time and their intentions in the future, we find strong movement toward Yes with the largest movement seen in women under 34. More women now support Yes than No, though overall a majority do not yet support independence. This is because of the high number of women stating they don’t know how they’d vote. Encouraging certainly, but much is still to do in order persuade the Don’t knows and turn the Yes’s into actual votes. Our support still drops off in the older age categories, but now more voters up to the age of 55 support independence than are against it.

KEY FINDINGS

A majority of voters interviewed want a referendum before the 2021 Scottish elections, including a clear majority of Don’t Knows.

We find strong movement toward Yes when we ask people how they voted last time and their future intentions. This movement is most marked in women under the age of 44.

Brexit is starting to have an effect, particularly in the young and particularly in young women, with women under 34 saying it is having the strongest effect on their intention to vote for independence.

The don’t knows look more like Yes supporters than No supporters, both in terms of their age, gender and occupation but also in their psychological make up, such as how confident they are in Scotland’s ability to solve the challenges independence will bring.

We now know the types of message that persuade ‘don’t knows’ to re-engage with the arguments for Independence and that persuade them to change their minds.

Why? Well a year ago our participants told us that Brexit wasn’t having an effect but expected it would. We are now seeing its effect, and again this is strongest in younger women (under 34). It is also pulling women aged between 35 and 54, and men up to the age of 64, towards independence. It is vital we find out exactly why Brexit is having this effect on younger women and discover the deeper reasons behind their journeys to Yes. It is also having a strong effect on voters in high managerial/ professional occupations and those who are unemployed. Brexit is moving both these groups toward independence, though the former are not there yet.

Just as some folks have moved toward Yes, some have moved away. When we examined where they moved to, we found that more moved to don’t know, than to No. However, the same is not true for our opponents who lost more of their voters to Yes than to Don’t Know. Those who couldn’t vote last time are coming to us 2:1.

When you compare the demographics (age, gender, occupation) of current Yes, No and Don’t Knows, the Don’t Knows look more like independence supporters than they do No supporters. We also profiled voters on their psychological make-up, such as their attitude to risk and how good they think they are – and how good they think the people living in Scotland are – at solving problems. Proponents of independence are canny about taking risks and can be classified as ‘risk averse’. No supporters, however, have significantly higher levels of risk aversion. Our supporters have more confidence in themselves, and us as a collective, to solve the problems independence will bring. When we look at Don’t Knows on these measures, they are also psychologically more like independence supporters than No supporters.

A year ago, people were scunnered by the thought of another referendum, and many still are. Now, however, when presented with a message about the effect of Brexit, a majority want a referendum before the next Scottish parliamentary election. Including a proportion of No voters…

A year ago, people were not ready to listen again. Very little had been done actively at a national level in Scotland to change minds, and life after 9 years of Tory austerity was (and is) hard. People were left with little energy for politics and referenda as neither seemed to solve anything. Now some are ready to listen, enough in fact, to take us from borderline 50% to comfortably above.

So rather than just relying on Theresa May and Brexit to move people towards support for independence, what can we do? Instead of testing finished messages designed to persuade different groups, we primarily tested different forms of message. We tested the type of hope they should portray and whether there should be an element of fear? Should we be explicit or just imply the benefits independence can, will or may (we tested these words too) bring?

We found very strong, nearly off-the-charts, results for a particular type of message and message structure (i.e. the way it was worded and what it focused on) that made Don’t Knows feel hope and made them more likely to change their minds about voting for independence. It is a message structure that is positive, confident without being over confident, and has a wee touch of steel in it.

Crucially, we also asked respondents if the messages shown to them led them to reconsider arguments for independence. The message structure for achieving this is the same as the message structure motivating people to vote Yes. But the focus of the messages is very different. The message leading people to reconsider independence most effectively, promoted the idea that Scotland ‘needs its own currency to truly control its economy’.

We have to be careful about repeating messages that Don’t Knows did not engage with last time. They want something more concrete with specific examples. The responses to messages on the economy suggests they are interested in listening to our alternative progressive view. Perhaps Brexit has finally shown that the UK cannot be trusted to run our economy, if we want an economy that focuses on the wellbeing of all of us?

From this, we know we have a very good idea about what types of messages people find more hopeful, which format they like more, agree with more and which general topics have more impact. It also highlights that people at different points of their journey need to be spoken to differently and about different issues.

So then, where are we now? More women have joined us, younger women in particular. Our movement is still oriented to the younger than those over 65 and contains voters who are more hopeful, and more confident in the abilities of people who live in Scotland. Brexit is now having an effect. Don’t Knows look more like us both in terms of their demographic and psychological profile, and we’ve lost more to this group than we did to No. We need to keep working to understand how to help this group join us again. There are the 30% of British Nationalists who will just sap our energy if we try to change their minds. Let’s just smile, remind them that we are all Jock Tamson’s bairn’s and move on.

We need to ensure we are not complacent about those whose jobs put them in the ‘semi-skilled’ and ‘skilled manual’ workers’ categories. People here still support us more than No, but a relatively high number of these folk say they don’t know how they will vote. We also need to do more in the ‘lower supervisor, administrative and professional’ category – again, many don’t know how they’d vote. The retired are still not coming to us.

To continue to understand where we are heading, we need to continue this research work; delving deeper and exploring more why women are coming to us. And we need to sharpen further the types of messages and their specific context. We need to stay alert to detect if the Brexit effect starts to taper off and people get used to the idea.

So Mrs May, even with the chaos your party is creating over Brexit, now still isn’t the time, but it is coming soon. With every shambolic headline undermining Brand Britain and the belief that it represents a strong and stable economy, it is getting closer. Our movement is getting larger and now we know even more about how to encourage people to join us. The Scottish Independence Convention believes now is the time for a national campaign group. One that can hone our understanding further and is able to help build our movement even further. So when Nicola next goes to see Theresa May, our voice cannot be ignored because it represents the will of the clear majority of the Scottish people.

Iain Black

Comments (42)

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  1. Jim Davidson says:

    “The message leading people to reconsider independence most effectively, promoted the idea that Scotland ‘needs its own currency to truly control its economy’.”

    If this is accurate and the GC proposals on currency become SNP government policy next spring, how are Yes activists supposed to sell sterlingisation to persuadable No voters and Undecideds ?

  2. Derick fae Yell says:

    That’s really useful work, Iain

    Food for thought

    1. lawrenceab says:

      Agreed. Very good work and a lot to chew on

  3. Alan Beattie says:

    It’s great to read that a comprehensive approach/program is being put in place.
    I hope this works as Scotland needs to break from the shackles of WM.

    1. Yea – there’s a ton of work and new developments coming out this week … watch this space.

  4. Andy Gaffney says:

    Well – I’m retired and I’m with you. What makes me different, I wonder? Possibly because I have a strong “old school” need to see Justice done. The Brexit vote was secured by what the Electoral Commission described as “criminal acts”, but the MetPolice have not investigated those responsible. Ironic that the main driver of an independence vote is the result of a Brexit fraud. On the positive side, I am impressed by the Scottish Government’s commitment to renewables. We are already a world leader in its development.

  5. alasdairB says:

    The demographic age groups comprising those nearing retirement age + pensioners was the major cause of the No vote in 2014. Looks like this still remains a major hurdle to overcome . This grouping is past the “hope” stage , as most major lifestyle & lifetime decisions have been made, but are looking for a more comfortable retirement encompassing pension and a range of readily accessible health care & social services. Complicated but needs to be addressed as a radical & all embracing retirement package which can only be provided by an Independent Scotland.

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      Spot on, Alasdair! The Yes movement needs to give this serious attention in any future campaign.

    2. John B Dick says:

      My 79th Birthday was yesterday. I was YES in 2014

      I have seen how the SNP and independence support has grown incrementally and slowly for nearly 70 years. It hasn’t been like Liberal/LibDem progress interspersed with sudden sharp regression destroying hope for a generation. I can’t see any reason why this trend should not continue. At some point there will be a majority and YouGov, John Curtice and Political Betting will show when it has been reached.

      It won’t be much longer. Indepenence supporters just have to be patient, and the Westminster System of Government will do all that is necessary. My guess is that Brexit will prove to be enough.

      If you particularly want to win over the elderly, then showing what independence can do for yet unborn grandchildren will be persuasive. In the 600+ pages of the 2014 proposal, one word stood out. Expenditure on child health and nutrition was described as an “investment”, with a return in crime, Health and Education outcomes 20 to 60 years later. Not a ‘freebee’ for the undeserving poor and undeserving not quite so poor; Not the ‘nanny state’ interference. Not a burden on the taxpayer, but an investment from which we would all reap a dividend, whether we had responsibility for small children or not.

      1. Justin Kenrick says:

        Very useful article, although many of us think that the time is now, as long as the ‘now’ given us is enough months to be knocking doors, having the conversations, changing minds that are unlikely to change until faced with a real choice.

        and I love this comment from JBD: “If you particularly want to win over the elderly, then showing what independence can do for yet unborn grandchildren will be persuasive”

    3. Lorna Campbell says:

      Actually, AB, this demographic covered several other demographic groups, and it is only when it is isolated that it appears to be the biggest determining factor.

  6. Alf Baird says:

    In my constituency and most others in Scotland the Yes/No and unionist party/SNP vote split obviously remains at root culturally/linguistically based and the census confirms this as did voting intention surveys in 2014. This survey work completely ignores the fundamentals in that Anglo-Scots and English speakers will again predominantly vote No, whilst those who are Scots speakers/Scots culture/heritage dominate the Yes vote. Even the make-up of Holyrood’s MSP’s reflects this when you listen to debates; at least half the Tory MSP’s and a good portion of Lab/Lib’s do not speak or sound Scots, rather they sound English and many are of English heritage. The vast majority and probably over 95%+ of Yes voters are Scots speakers whereas barely 50% of No voters are; does that not confirm we are looking at a similar phenomenon as in Quebec, at an Anglophone/Scotophone cultural/linguistic split.? Around half of No voters in 2014, some one million people, were neither culturally/heritage or linguistically Scottish. What does that tell us? Culture is the way we think and vote and our language is the basis of our culture. This survey has ignored that, yet even Cambridge Analytica maintain that people vote on the basis of emotion, which is essentially culture, the latter linguistically based. When we are voting on the issue of our very national identity mere policies such as currency are actually immaterial. When people vote on whether they are Scottish OR British (identity) our dominant cultural heritage and language determines the answer, nothing else.

    1. Justin Kenrick says:

      the issue is not economics (economics is the excuse used to hide choices that feel selfish)

      the issue is not culture (culture is not static, and drawing up such battle lines leads to a sad diminished place)

      the issue is the need for a vibrant rootedness to place and openness to others, one that enables all to flourish

      the issue is democracy rooted in community, and community insisting on democracy, the issue is care

      1. Alf Baird says:

        That all ‘sounds’ fine, in theory, Justin, and if one believes in some kind of perfect society, but the bottom line here is how to decolonize a colony, as that is what Scotland appears to be now. The past century and more has given us plenty of examples on how that may be done, as does the UN in its endeavours for all member states’ to end ‘the scourge of colonisation’.

        1. e.j. churchill says:

          ‘Decolonisation’ is an after-emancipation process, meaning you have to beat FIRST.

          So far — including flag rallies and ‘grassroots’ (and other formats) organising — is preaching to the choir.

          Show those crowds in the N.E. and Borders and you’ve got something.

          ’tis sad

          CityBankster

          1. Alf Baird says:

            A colony is believed to have three main features – https://newsnet.scot/archive/brexit-vote-underline-scotland-not-country-colony/

            Regrettably Scotland appears to fit the definition rather too well.

  7. Willie says:

    The finding that the prospect of Scotland having its own currency was a driver to make people reconsider their resistance to independence is an interesting one.

    Whether an independent currency or not, in the short or longer term, is good or bad is an non understood issue for the vast majority of folks.

    What of course is understood by most folks is emotion. The emotion that something isn’t right, the emotion that something is wrong and the emotion that something could be better. Alf Baird refers to this emotion which is also driven by language, by culture and identity.

    That folks previously hostile to independence could now potentially be persuaded to change their mind is therefore most interesting. If accurate, it suggests that the dissatisfaction with the British state, and the vision of something better, is maybe much deeper than we think.

    It also potentially sits slightly at odds with the EU, since the EU has a currency used by most but not all members.

    Frying pan to fire, devil you know, starting afresh was the hallmark of Project Fear and here we are uncovering that there are those among us who are more daring than we thought. Maybe they are the Brexiteers turned Scotisteers.

    On a personal choice, I’d prefer, oxymoronic as it is with my support for EU membership, to have an independent currency. That said, I’d take independence without a currency too since choices can be made later. However, and this is a big however, the apparent support for an independent currency being a driver to change sides, needs much more research.

    Brexiteers are cutting their noses off to spite their faces in an orgy of xenophobia. We should not do the same and currency can not be allowed to be something that could blow up in our Independence Movement’s face.

    Great that this research is being done. Very constructive article. And yes, we will find the key to unlock our potential.

    1. Kenmath says:

      Willie is spot on about the preferability of an independent Scotland having its own sovereign currency and of the need for a better and wider understanding of why we need to go that route rather than sterlingisation. I recommend visiting https://modernmoneybasics.com for a simple but comprehensive explanation. It’s an American model, but everything in it applies to any sovereign currency. It’s very well laid out and not dauntingly academic or complex. Use of jargon is minimal and, where it’s used, carries easy-to-understand explanations, so if you don’t understand anything at first read, persevere as it will become clearer. It’s also worth following through to the concluding section which is a bit like FAQ pages with reinforcement of the principles and useful debunking of the economic myths used by politicians to muddy the waters.

  8. C E Ayr says:

    Interesting, but it still seems to me that the 3 main obstacles to Independence are not being addressed.
    1. The Protestant ‘hard right’, who should be reminded, inter alia, that there were separate parliaments in Scotland and England under the same crown for 104 years before 1707. The same can be true again.
    2. The SNP should distance themselves from post-independence rule. They should make it clear that they, as a party, will cease to exist, their goal achieved. How many anti-Salmond votes were there last time?
    3. The media. We have to get a clear message out by alternative means. Social media is good, but does not reach the key pensioner group. We all know the BBC is the voice of the establishment except for those who, incredibly, still trust it, again the pensioners.

  9. Graham Findlay says:

    A highly commendable piece of work which will put some science into our gut feelings.
    Approaching retirement myself, probably more determined to have independence than ever.

    1. Alf Baird says:

      Any scientific survey on who “represent(s) the Scottish population” really needs to address some hard questions. Scotland is increasingly like Wales, Quebec and Catalonia in the sense that a large proportion of the resident voting population, perhaps over 25%, are not indigenous in terms of culture, heritage or language. Scotland has population inflows averaging 50,000 people from rest-UK every year, so one million since devolution alone, and this has been a trend for the past century at least, and predominant among the professional classes. I believe that almost half of No voters in 2014, one million people, were not of Scottish culture, heritage or language. These are the people we are asking to vote to give us our Scottish citizenship, Scottish nationality, and Scottish self-government, which is what independence is. Most of ‘them’ view this as anti-British; we see their vote as anti-Scottish, or we should, because that is what it is. Culturally ‘they’ have no reason to vote Yes and every emotional reason to oppose our right to self-determination. Policies may influence peoples views, but culture is far more difficult to change and culture is by far the dominant rationale for the way people vote when it comes to their choice of national identity. Currency etc is immaterial.

  10. David McCann says:

    So glad to see that SIC, and organisation which I am proud to have been a founder member, are addressing many of the most important issues in moving to Yes.
    Also note the interesting replies, many of which highlight the fact that we need to persuade older folk (a category I am in!) that they have nothing to lose, by embracing independence.
    Their pensions, for instance, are completely protected, as everyone’s National Insurance contributions are the basis of UK State Pension, and were Scotland to gain independence, then the government of Scotland would be responsible for the administration of that pension, which is payable worldwide, regardless of the recipient’s country of residence or nationality.
    How do I know this?
    Because I wrote to the DWP in June 2017 and asked them, and have a letter to prove it, which I would be happy to share with anybody!

  11. e.j. churchill says:

    Was George Lakoff your tutor?

    In addition to ‘controlling the narrative’ &c, I’d think that — as many otherwise bright people hang around SIC (and shows), time&effort spent developing something of a Business Case for an iScotland.

    and/or start working on you handwaves, goalpost moves, diversions, distraction, shout-downs and smoke n’ mirrors, for serious — or maybe playful poking — WILL be asked of you.

    Last time, the yessirs had two NOBEL LAUREATES under contract and they decided teaching a pig to sing was easier than giving Scotland an economic foundfation.

    rgds,

    CityBankster

    1. Me Bungo Pony says:

      Did some one say something there? Could have sworn I heard a vague muttering. Oh well, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been very important.

      1. e.j. churchill says:

        Hello MBP, how’s thing?

        1. Me Bungo Pony says:

          He was never the same after Uncle Fester got married. Just hides in his box …. moping.

  12. Margie Davidson says:

    “The retired are still not coming to us” – and the retired are those who will defintely vote-the younger voters are either too busy- forget- or have something on.
    The retired-older voters lost us the last referendum apparently so we can’t write them off we need to find out what commands their respect.
    I amone of the very older voters and attended Conference for the first time this year. What an eye opener Nicola Sturgeon’s speech was – she was brilliant and I am delighted her speech in London at the weekend commanded as much respect as the Conference one did in Scotland.
    More of that needed as the braying of MPs in Westminster loses respect and is beginning to be commented on as it has become so out of hand.

  13. Ivan Carnegie says:

    A section of our society that seems to be ignored in discussions on independence is the large number of foreign nationals (EU and non-EU) who have chosen to live and work in Scotland but who were denied a vote in 2014. We must make sure that they are given that right in the next referendum.

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      That’s already being taken care of – the Scottish Government announced a bill in its Programme for Government on extending the franchise so that it’s based on residency rather than nationality, thereby ensuring EU nationals won’t lose their vote, and non-EU nationals who can’t currently vote will also be able to vote (Norwegians, Icelandics etc).

      1. Alf Baird says:

        So, Doug, as in 2014, once more virtually anybody and their grannie passing through Scotland on their educational, career or retirement path (or registering even via a holiday home or BTR address) gets a vote to block Scottish citizenship, Scottish nationality, and Scottish self-government? These people from other nations holding their own citizenship and nationality of these other nations get a vote to block our right to enjoy our own citizenship and nationality? How nice of you. You do know that such a wide open franchise is NEVER reciprocated in any other ‘host’ nation (and not even the UK with the Brexit vote)? Scotland is shaping up well to be Quebec2. Might add here that the ‘Scottish Government’ is still controlled by Whitehall appointees as is Holyrood and most of Scotland’s social institutions and they are hardly likely to implement any policy that risks the ‘union’ charade.

        1. Doug Daniel says:

          One of the most despicable things about the whole Brexit nonsense is the fact EU nationals were excluded from voting on something which impacted their lives so massively. We will not convince people Scotland is different to Brexit Britain by aping their nativist tendencies in order to try and gerrymander the result in our favour. Kindly stop spreading borderline-racist pish about “indigenous culture” and the likes, cheers.

          1. Alf Baird says:

            I think you may find that people of ‘indigenous culture’ (in which language is key) form the overwhelming majority of the pro-independence voters in Scotland, Catalonia, Quebec and probably in most other countries that have secured independence from an ‘administrative Power’. The anti-independence vote on the other hand tends to be composed rather differently and will be substantially boosted and may even perhaps be made up predominantly by those of non-indigenous culture/language. What you and the Scottish Government are advocating via an (highly exceptional) open franchise based on residence seems therefore more likely to increase the anti-independence vote, as arguably it did in 2014.

  14. Doug Daniel says:

    Are geographical factors ever going to feature in SIC research, or are we just going to pretend where someone lives has no impact on how they vote? I noticed this glaring omission in the “Demographics of Independence” section during the Build conference last year, and I see it’s still being ignored.

    1. Do you mean regional variation? I can raise this with the researchers?

      1. Doug Daniel says:

        Regional, urban/rural, island/mainland etc. People are the products of their environment, after all. You just have to look at how the border regions in Northern Ireland voted in the EU referendum to know that there’s more to people’s voting intentions than their age, sex and occupation. If we’re going to figure out how to convince people independence will improve their day-to-day lives, we need to be able to tailor our messages to local factors, so the geographical dimension is critical.

        1. Yes, thanks, am following it up

          1. e.j. churchill says:

            Too many ‘adjusted’ messages lead to accusations of two-faced, fork-tongued … properly.

            It’s a waste, anyhow, all would be variants of the ‘moral argument’ — ergo, it’s a proven loser — the choir already believes.

            ’tis sad

            CityBankster

        2. Alf Baird says:

          “People are the products of their environment..”

          With respect, I think what you mean here is culture, rather than environment. And as e.j. Churchill implies with his “the choir already believes”, culture is very difficult to change, much as we see in the polls stasis. Asking those of a non-indigenous culture to alter their national identity to that of another culture is a big ask. Essentially if you don’t consider yourself Scottish you are arguably less likely to trade in what you have for Scottish citizenship and Scottish nationality.

          1. e.j. churchill says:

            yup

            plus the foreign population is composed of purposeful volunteers (Brits) and opportunists (EU here for a sweet job).

            The Brit is a Brit in Ayr as surely as Leeds.
            EU economic migrants? not so much: the ties to Alsace or Silesia or Liguria are still firm bands. Scotland is a waypoint.

            Culture really does matter — a LOT — and turning your coat is not a trivial, momentary matter.

            The yessirs are pretty-well maxxed, and have no prayer of growth unless they can turn Brit NO in bulk.

            Does anybody know if there has been a documented, valid ‘conversion?’

            me neither.

            rgds,

            CityBankster

  15. Wul says:

    I’d be interested to hear from “Yes” voting, “Leave EU” supporters.

    Would the idea of iScotland re-joining the EU put them off supporting independence a second time round?

    1. e.j. churchill says:

      :: crickets ::

  16. Sheila currie says:

    My sister told me this morning that “the SNP hate the English.” She and I are not english. When challenged, she said that all the SNP folk she knows say they hate the English. Any of this talk HAS to stop for us to make progress. She also gets queasy about all the flags (or flegs) so I told her of my English friend with his St George’s flag at the AUOB marches. I am queasy about flegs too. The point I’m making is that noisy raucous tribal stuff puts a lot of folk off. Folk we need to vote for Indy.

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