How Scotland voted, and why

Overnight I have polled more than 2,000 people who voted in the Scottish referendum. The results help us understand what happened, and why.

The results indicate that the No campaign won among men (by a six-point margin) as well as women (by twelve points). As expected, older voters were the most decisively opposed to independence, with nearly three quarters (73%) of those aged 65 or over voting No.

Also not surprisingly, Conservative voters were the most staunchly Unionist, with 95% voting to reject independence. Of the other pro-Union parties, nearly four in ten of those who voted Labour or Liberal Democrat in the last Westminster* elections voted Yes. Meanwhile one in seven SNP voters opted to remain in the UK. Those who voted SNP in the last general election comprised just over half (53%) of the total Yes vote.

As the recent tightening in the polls suggested, those who made up their minds late in the campaign were more likely to choose independence. Two thirds of those who decided in the last few days voted Yes; No voters were much more likely than Yes supporters to say they decided more than a year ago or always knew how they would vote.

My questions on the issues that mattered most in people’s voting decisions suggest the No campaign was right to focus on the currency and the other uncertainties of independence. More than half (57%) of No voters said the pound was one of the most important factors in their decision, and the biggest overarching reason for their decision was that “the risks of becoming independent looked too great when it came to things like the currency, EU membership, the economy, jobs and prices” (a more powerful reason for most No voters’ decision than “a strong attachment to the UK” or the promise of the best of both worlds with guaranteed extra powers for the Scottish Parliament). Pensions, the NHS and uncertainties about tax and public spending were also mentioned by at least one third of No voters.

By far the biggest single driver for Yes voters was “disaffection with Westminster politics”. Accordingly, “the principle that all decisions about Scotland should be taken in Scotland” was the most powerful overarching reason for a Yes vote, ahead of the idea that “Scotland’s future looked brighter as an independent country” or that “independence would mean no more Conservative governments”. The Yes campaign’s recent focus on the NHS also appears to have had an impact, with more than half (54%) of Yes voters saying this was one of the most important factors in their decision. It was also notable that the NHS was a bigger factor for women, half of whom said it had affected their decision, than for men, of whom 39% said it had made a difference. Men were more likely than women to mention disaffection with Westminster.

Just as the “silent No” voters produced a bigger margin for the Union than recent pre-referendum polls had anticipated, some said they would keep their decision to themselves. One in seven No voters said they would be reluctant to tell their friends, family or colleagues how they had voted.

Finally, for how long do Scottish voters think the question of independence will remain settled? A majority of those who voted No said they thought the issue was now resolved for at least a generation (28%) or forever (25%). Yes voters disagree: more than six in ten said they thought the matter was settled for no more than ten years, including nearly half (45%) who thought the question would remain closed for no more than five years.

* An earlier edition of this commentary stated that these were the figures for the last Holyrood elections. The summary and tables have been corrected.

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