It’s 8am and the last result from Highland comes in with a 47% Yes/53% in Danny Alexander’s back yard, making a grand final total of 1,617,989 Yes votes against 2,001,926 No votes. Despite the consistent polls during the run-up pointing to a knife-edge result, that 45%-to-55% difference is decisive and the Yes campaign in the shape of Nicola Sturgeon conceded defeat before the last half-dozen results were in.
Yes supporters like myself have been reported variously as disappointed, gutted, stunned, etc and I’m sure that is true. But the ad hoc Yes party outside Dynamic Earth kept spirits until the dawn and dispersed without any incidents—as seems to have happened across the country. As could be expected, the No party in Glasgow was ebullient.
In the grey light of dawn (the haar is in here in East Lothian and the roofs are wet without it actually raining) the result seems to have surprised both sides. While I’m sure there is much ongoing anguish and even resentment from crestfallen Yes supporters, many of us are actually proud and relieved that Scotland came out and voted in such numbers to give an unheard-of 85% turnout.
The last time Scotland voted so completely was the 1945 General Election that came in the dying days of WW2 and swept wartime leader Winston Churchill out of office and the reforming Labour administration of Clement Attlee in. Ordinarily, elections in Scotland these days are lucky to achieve a 60% turnout—with some socially derived city constituencies even falling below 50%.
What campaigners and poll-gate-checkers of both persuasions shared throughout yesterday was a reward for all their work by turnout that was an exemplary display of democracy in action. The mood at the polling stations sometimes verged on the carnival, with groups showing up singing here and bagpipes skirling there. Despite some minor blips earlier in the summer, the intense campaign of the last few weeks was fought very hard but very fairly. Some 20% of the votes were postal and represented a return rate around 95% of those sent out returning—again an unheard-of figure.
With such a definitive result on the back of effectively total participation, there is little by way of doubt for Yes supporters like me to grumble about—“if only the ‘X’ vote had turned out” is a non-starter of an excuse. Which should make it rather easier to wake up today, unpin the Yes and No lapel badges from the jackets and all be friends and Scots together—although resentment at the bias of almost all major media is remains unfinished business if democracy is to be truly fair and open.
Because the story doesn’t end here any more than if there had been a ‘Yes’ landslide, debate about what these vague ‘additional powers’ promised by all three unionist parties in the dying days must be addressed, especially as any unity will do a ‘snaw-aff-a-dyke’ job as the 2015 UK General Election looms. And, given the humphing and grumbling from many parts of England that they were excluded from yesterday’s vote, the democratic deficit of the non-existent English Parliament and a re-thinking of this UK Heath-Robinson constitution is immediately front and centre.
Proper analysis of why the vote was so decisive may need to wait until data from across the country can be better correlated but, having been a counting agent in East Lothian and watched votes tumble out of our 96 ballot boxes (as I have done for the last two decades) some factors seem fairly clear.
- A surprising uniformity across Scotland with the main differences between city, suburban and rural areas rather than geographic location
- That said, faith in the Union seemed strongest along our southern border: Scottish Borders (33%/67%) and Dumfries & Galloway (34%/66%)
- “Tory” areas (known down our way known as ‘The Stone Houses”) overwhelmingly voted No. This came as no shock but the anguish displayed by residents there over the prospect of independence and loss of British identity was surprisingly intense.
- SNP areas did more poorly than expected—Aberdeenshire, Moray, Clacks, Perth, West Lothian, East Ayrshire all have strong SNP presence but none lay much outside the general trend and none managed a Yes majority. The exception was Dundee which had been predicted to be “Yes City”
- If the Lib-Dems had an influence in all this, I failed to see it (there were no Lib-Dem activists present at any polling station I visited—and they once had 6 councillors here)
- Most interesting were the Labour ‘strongholds’ where there seems to have been considerable erosion of party loyalty and a significant number of the 35% predicted to vote Yes doing so. This meant Glasgow, the Lanarkshires and Fife came in far closer to the knife edge the pollsters had been predicting overall and it remains to be seen how much damage Labour’s No stance has done to their support
- Affluent suburban areas generally seem to have voted No by 2 to 1. This can be seen in the three ‘Easts’ (Renfrewshire, Dumbartonshire and my own Lothian) are within a whisker of each other around 38% Yes to 62% No.
- The Islands—as always and as in 1979—have minds of their own (Orkney 33/67; Shetland 36/64; Argyll 42/58 but Western Isles a more balanced 47/53)
Overall in a contest this huge, there will be no glib single explanation of the result. But for my money what we saw was a variant of the surprise result in 1992 when Kinnock’s Labour were widely predicted to win and yet Major’s Tories scraped in with a majority and ruled another five years. The explanation given was that it had become embarrassing to admit to being a Tory so the polls deeply underestimated their real strength
In this campaign, I believe pollsters asking Scots how they would vote were getting many answers from people who did not wish to be thought unpatriotic by voting No so they responded as Undecided or even Yes. But on the day, they were fully in the mood of their fellow independence skeptics and cast their ballots firmly for NO.