So which way will the referendum go?

By Simon Barrow
September 18, 2014

That's what everyone would like to know. Tomorrow morning we will. In the meantime there is both curiosity and speculation about Scotland's independence vote.

The polling situation is that three polls have shown Yes head by between four and eight per cent, but since the onslaught of economic fear launched by the Westminster parties and big business, together with a vague offer of 'more powers' in exchange for voting against more powers, the situation seems to have evened out.

All the recent polls indicate a two to four per cent lead for the No campaign, as does the poll-of-polls at lunchtime and the Telegraph's tracker ( This, of course, is all within a reasonable margin of error and suggests the result could be pretty tight.

Personally, I hope for a clear win one way or there other. That will be better for democracy.

The private polling done for the leaders of the two campaigns, weighted and compiled differently to many of the others, indicates a 56 per cent share of the vote for No (according to a leak from their side to BBC political editor Nick Robinson) and a 53 per cent share for Yes (according to sources close to Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond).

There are at least four really huge unknowns in all of this. First the polling companies are using internet polling, and the voter sampling is not up to date. This is significant when you have up to a million people voting who do not usually take part in elections.

Second, there is no precedent for an independence referendum in Scotland, while the appetite (given the 97 per cent registration) is huge, so it is really difficult to 'weight' poll outcomes for variables across the different segments and demographics that polling companies use for internet sampling.

Third, there could be a lot of people, especially on the No side, keeping their head below the radar, which would explain the discrepancy between what the polls are saying overall and the experience of Yes canvassers about a huge swing to them.

Fourth, if Labour voters, the poorest, and new or undecided voters swing heavily to Yes, there could be what some pollsters fear will be a huge shock (given their interest in getting it right) with a big Yes win.

As someone commented to me this morning: "The fine detail of latest polls show don't knows moving to No. Poor people will decide the outcome – if they vote." This is true. The rich and secure are voting No, because though some of them may tut-tut about cuts, they have most to lose.

I have maintained for a very long time that this vote would come down to the last three weeks (which it has, as the original 22 per cent No lead disappeared), and to the last day. That is, people will decide at the final moment. There are signs that this is happening, but no-one knows who this will benefit.

Yes have gone for hope, social and economic change and warnings about the continual drift of Westminster to privatisation for their main pitch. Through the self-organised Radical Independence Campaign and autonomous local groups they have registered many thousands of previously disenfranchised people, especially on housing schemes and in poorer urban areas.

No have played on fear and uncertainty (armed by Westminster's repeated claims that it will not cooperate over currency and other issues), have promised further devolution (to the fury of many UK backbenchers) and seem to hope that people who might be tempted to go Yes will not vote – they have had no registration campaign – or will "vote No if you don't know".

At this stage, I would rule out neither a large win for either side, nor a very close run thing. Of course, after the result, there will be plenty of 'told you so', especially if it is a decisive No win – since the chateratti in London, in particular, have always loudly mocked the idea that Scotland would vote for self-rule. (One journalist, the Scottish editor of the Telegraph, is alleged in Private Eye this week to be in line for a £10-20,000 bonus if No wins.)

My own firm hope is that Yes can still do it. If we do, it will be the biggest upset of any election in my lifetime, because more than 50 per cent of a massively engaged public voting in Scotland will have chosen not only to govern themselves, but to reject the UK system and state.

This would be an earthquake, an event of landmark proportions, overturning 300 years of constitutional history. It will have been achieved by a Yes campaign which is actually a vast social movement rather than the plaything of a political party, and in defiance of the entire UK media (bar one Sunday newspaper), the three Westminster parties who monopolise government, the City of London, Goldman Sachs, multi-millionaires and a swathe of others in the establishment.

Is this possible? It is. Whether it will happen today is another matter.

* More on the referendum from Ekklesia:


© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. He has been actively involved in the Yes campaign, though Ekklesia itself has not taken a position on the vote. He hopes to be reporting live from the international media centre in Edinburgh tonight, sometime after 3am.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.