Friday, 7 June 2013

Young Scots and independence



Anyone who has ever been active in Scottish politics would have been surprised, to say the least, by the results of a survey published last week, which found that 60% of Scots aged between 14 and 17 planned to vote ‘No’ in next year’s independence referendum.

The reason for the surprise is that, for many years, whenever a mock election was held in Scottish secondary schools, the SNP usually won. This has always been the case, even when the SNP were performing badly in real elections.

British Unionist parties – Labour, Tory, Lib Dem – were never too bothered about such results, because real elections showed the SNP had a problem holding-on to those potential young voters. By the time they reached the age to vote, many had found ‘more interesting’ things to do, while others had changed their political outlook. In more recent years, though, the flow of support away from the SNP and independence had been stemmed.

Virtually every opinion poll conducted in Scotland over the past decade has found support for independence is strongest amongst the younger generation. That fact alone should have had people asking questions of last week’s survey, which was massively out of kilter. However, as usual, anything that is perceived to be damaging to independence is instantly seized on by the pro-British Union media, which was why newspaper headlines and television news bulletins screamed about bad news for the ‘Yes’ campaign as Scotland’s young people ‘reject independence’.

The Tory-supporting Scotsman newspaper was so excited about the survey’s findings it actually ran a headline stating, “80% of young Scots snub independence”. Apparently they reached that figure by including the 20% who said they were undecided.

Perhaps if the survey hadn’t produced a result the Unionist media was so ready to hear, newspapers and television might have taken the time to question why young Scots, previously so pro-independence, were now apparently even more pro-British Union than their parents.

Closer examination suggested why the survey may have produced results that so blatantly contradicted all that had gone before.

The poll was carried out using a system called Random Digit Dialling (RDD), which basically does as it says on the tin: telephone numbers are generated and dialled randomly. If you no longer have a landline telephone – and that would include a very large number of people – you are extremely unlikely to have been selected by the random number generator. There is no evidence that random numbers selected were spread across Scotland to give a balance of political allegiance in terms of parliamentary constituencies.

It is also the case that no weighting was applied to results in order to factor-in known support levels for political parties in Scotland. For example, at the last Scottish Parliament Election in 2011, the SNP won an overall majority of seats, with pro-independence Greens and an Independent also elected. However, the organisation that carried out last week’s survey canvassed households where 58% indicated they were pro-British Union, with just 17.5% supporting independence.

The method used in carrying out the survey was to speak with an adult in a household, determining their voting intention in relation to the independence referendum, and then asking that the 14-17 year-old in the house was put on the phone. With their parent standing next to them, the young person was then asked whether they were for or against independence. Of the 1,018 households whose responses made up the survey, 594 had parents or guardians who said they would be voting 'No' in the 2014 referendum, only 178 households had parents or guardians who said they would be voting 'Yes'.

Clearly, the methodology and lack of weighting to correct imbalances in the political outlook of the one adult in the households that were randomly selected (and the potential for parental influence on outcomes) leave a lot to be desired, and possibly go some way to explaining why this poll produced results so starkly different from others, both in terms of the voting intentions of young people and the views of the general public with regard to the independence referendum.

Had a survey been produced that reported a massive surge in support for independence, particularly amongst a section of the population that had previously, and consistently, backed the British Union, it would have been dismissed as, at best, a rogue poll. The media would either have ignored it or rubbished its findings.

However, by contrast, the results of the survey published last week could not have been reported more prominently. Once again the media was highlighting something that fitted into their programme of British Unionist propaganda, and this time there was a menacing undertone, with the message targeted at young Scots: your pals are dead against independence, and you don’t want to be different, do you?

Meanwhile, in real news, the Labour Party announced it would stick to Tory spending levels if elected at the 2015 Westminster Election, making clear that it would also end its long-standing commitment to universal benefits, while reducing welfare funding. The reality, therefore, is that if Scots reject independence in 2014, we will be hammered with further devastating cuts irrespective of which British party forms the UK Government.

Already, youth unemployment is soaring, while others placed into Modern Apprenticeships are forced to work for as little as £2.65 an hour. That situation will continue if Scotland remains within the British Union. Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat or Westminster coalition (which could possibly include the far-right UKIP), Scotland’s young people will continue to suffer if we reject the opportunity to run and govern our own country in the interests of the Scottish people, in a normal independent nation.

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