The British Election Study team has produced some really interesting graphs showing how the four main groups of Scottish voters voted in the 2015 and 2017 elections (the Yes–Leave graph is shown on the right). Here is a brief summary:
- The Yes–Remain voters (what I’ve called the Blue Tribe in the past) have mainly remained loyal to the SNP, although a few have moved to Labour.
- The Yes–Leave voters (my Yellow Tribe) used to vote SNP in huge numbers, but almost half of them are now voting for either Labour (probably left-wingers who like Corbyn’s Lexit stance) or the Tories.
- The No–Remain voters (my Green Tribe) used to vote mainly Labour, but a large number of them switched to the Tories in the last election, probably because they liked Ruth Davidson’s stance on a second independence referendum. Interestingly the SNP lost votes in this group, too.
- The No–Leave voters (my Red Tribe) used to vote 1/3 Tory, 1/3 Labour and 1/3 others (including the SNP), but most of them now vote Conservative.
Some people (for instance, Autonomy Scotland) have suggested that these graphs show that the SNP need to stop talking about joining the EU after independence to win back the Yes–Leave voters.
I disagree. We didn’t win in 2014, so to win next time we need to appeal to former No voters, not just to keep the old crowd together. Besides, at least some of the Yes–Leave voters are probably so happy with their new political home that we cannot win them back simply by aiming for a Norwegian solution rather than a Danish or Irish one. This means that appealing only to former Yes voters would probably lead to a horrible defeat next time.
The key to winning the next referendum is to convince many of the No–Remain voters that their interests are better served by an independent Scotland inside the EU than by a chaotic UK that keeps arguing with itself whether to be a European Singapore, the 51st state of America, or part of the EU again.
That won’t be easy, however. Many of them feel very British (which is why the Tories won many of them over in the last election), but surely many of them must be looking aghast at the incompetency of the current UK government and wondering whether Scotland would do better on its own.
We also shouldn’t conflate the electoral fortunes of the SNP with the chance of winning the next independence referendum. The Yes vote has generally been holding up well in the opinion polls, which clearly shows that people can remain Yessers while drifting away from the SNP.
Furthermore, it’s unlikely Leave would have won the Brexit referendum if they had had only one campaign. The two main campaigns (Vote Leave and Leave.EU) successfully appealed to different groups of voters, and this is probably something we should learn from.
I simply cannot see how one campaign can appeal to former Yes–Leave voters at the same time as to the ones who voted No–Remain.
It would make sense for the official campaign to take the same stance as the Scottish Government (i.e., Scotland in Europe), but I don’t see why the Yes–Leave crowd couldn’t set up an unofficial Yes campaign organisation to campaign for their standpoint. The alternative is to make the Yes campaign so agnostic on Europe that it doesn’t appeal to anybody post-Brexit.
For better or worse, voters in Scotland feel strongly about both independence and Brexit, and we cannot simply try to pretend that the Brexit referendum didn’t happen. Labour have spent the past three years trying to turn the clock back to before the independence referendum, and that clearly hasn’t worked.
The main Yes campaign should take a strong stance on Brexit and on the EU, one which is in sync with the position of the Scottish Government, and the Yes–Leave people should set up their own campaign. That will allow us to win next time.