We know the date and we know that we can win

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By Steven Noon

Yesterday’s poll in the Sunday Times provided the most recent snapshot of opinion on Scotland’s constitutional future, with the gap between Yes and No narrowing. According to Panelbase, a swing of only 5% is needed for the pro-Scottish independence campaign to win in 2014.

As the experience of the SNP in the run up to the 2011 election tells us, we have to be cautious about headline poll numbers. Throughout the autumn and winter of 2010/11 the SNP was well behind in the polls, and yet all of us involved in the campaign remained confident in our prospects for a substantial victory in the actual Scottish election.

Why? Because the fundamentals underneath the headline numbers told a very different story – including a substantial lead for the SNP on questions such as who would make the best First Minister. We knew that the election was almost certainly going to be fought on this ground, and so it transpired. As we got closer to the actual poll and people focused on the actual issues at stake, these fundamentals transferred into higher SNP support.

The same is the case with the independence polls. While the headline numbers currently show a No lead, the fundamentals paint a different picture – including clear majorities who believe decisions on tax and welfare should be taken in Scotland, higher levels of trust in the Scottish Parliament than Westminster, and the belief that the Scottish Government will do a better job of representing Scottish interests in the EU. Once again, when people actually focus on what the referendum means – and essentially it does mean a choice between a Yes path and a No path (as ably demonstrated by the SNP broadcast last Friday) – then I have no doubt that Yes will win.

Yes Scotland’s research confirms that people are there to be persuaded. At SNP conference this weekend we launched new canvass cards, which have the independence question asked in two ways, including an innovative 1-10 scale. So people are able to tell us how they plan to vote in the referendum – Yes, No or Don’t Know (in the same way as the traditional polls) but they can also say where they are on the scale, with 1 being totally opposed and 10 being totally in favour.

This method is already forming part of our research approach, with thousands of people across the country engaged in this way. The 1-10 scale gives us a more detailed understanding of people’s attitudes towards independence than any poll. If we take ‘don’t knows’ as anyone between 3 and 8 on the scale then just over half of voters in Scotland are undecided. If we narrow that definition to people between 4 and 8 on the scale, just under half are undecided.

And, contrary to some received wisdom, women are not more opposed to independence, but rather women are more undecided. That doesn’t mean that the Yes campaign does not have work to do to make the case to women more effectively, but we should also be aware of two other points. First, if Yes has a ‘women problem’ then that means No has a ‘men problem’ (and they face that problem from what has been their high-water mark in the polls). And, second, with the No campaign’s appalling welfare changes about to come into effect on April 1st and with women set to feel 75% of the impact of those changes, what we can be sure of is that No are on the point of massively alienating this sector of their support.

Which brings me to the third and final lesson from our research – No support is built upon incredibly shaky foundations. We know that many people who currently say they will vote No do so because they have a ‘fact’ or belief that means they think we can’t be independent. This is usually around whether or not we can afford it. These anchors for No support are very fragile and can be removed by a series of simple arguments: essentially being able to persuade people that Scotland’s got what it takes to be an independent country and that, when we look at our many economic strengths, it all adds up to more prosperous Scotland if we are independent and able to determine our own economic future.

Once people have a full understanding of Scotland’s financial position and our economic potential then their doubts about independence are quickly erased and they begin to ask the more pertinent question, not whether we can afford to be independent, but rather, given all we have, why isn’t Scotland a more successful and fairer nation?

Now that we have the date of the referendum, it is my intention to blog a bit more regularly and so, in a few days time, I’ll set out the key arguments that we know, currently, are most effective in drawing people towards a Yes vote.

This article was first published on the author’s blog site and is republished here with kind permission.