Scotland, not so brave? Up to a third of voters are still wavering about their choice

Opinion: Just 27 per cent of women polled say they will vote Yes, compared with 39 per cent of men

‘Two-thirds are “quite unsure”, or “very unsure” about what an independent Scotland will be like – a significant hurdle for the Yes campaign with time running out.’ Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

‘Two-thirds are “quite unsure”, or “very unsure” about what an independent Scotland will be like – a significant hurdle for the Yes campaign with time running out.’ Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

Thu, Aug 14, 2014, 00:01

Many in the audience for a BBC Questions & Answers style debate in Inverness on Tuesday night were convinced: a new, gigantic reservoir of oil has been found in the North Sea.

The discovery is being kept secret, they argued, lest it convince wavering Scots that they can afford to be independent after the September 18th referendum.

The evidence? One independent oil company, Hurricane recently reported that a test well between the Shetland and Faroe Islands produce 9,800 barrels per day, well above expectations.

For many, however, the conclusive proof came with British prime minister David Cameron’s recent Shetland visit, the first by a No 10 occupant for more than 30 years. During the visit, Cameron met with some local politicians and oil people; encountered a few locals, but not too many and tweeted a photograph of himself with a Shetland pony. Nearly a billion barrels are already known to be held in the latest section of the Clair Ridge field to be explored off the Shetlands: BP is spending nearly £5 billion to get them out.

The conspiracy theory – which is not being voiced by leading Yes figures but is being fuelled by some lower down – has been dismissed as laughable and the last pitch of the desperate. Like all good conspiracy theories, however, it is surrounded by a line of truth: the scale of the North Sea’s riches was deliberately underplayed in the 1970s by London.

With little more than a month to go before voters decide on September 18th, the pro-independence Yes campaign needs a game changer if it is to regain momentum. Scottish National Party leader and first minister Alex Salmond has not recovered from last week’s mauling by Labour’s Alistair Darling about the currency an independent Scotland would use.

Historical average

Support for independence is higher than two years ago, when it stood at 23 percentage points – though the 33 points found now by the Scottish Social Attitudes survey only mirrors the historical average since 1999.

Up to a third of voters are still wavering about their choice: a majority of those in the “don’t know” category instinctively want to vote Yes, but are frightened by an economic downside to independence.

Equally, however, they have been less enamoured of the idea that independence will make them more proud; give Scotland a stronger voice in the world, or that Scotland would be more fair. Despite all of the talk of deep public engagement in the campaign, two-thirds admit that they do not know much, or a lot about the issues facing them on September 18th. Two-thirds are “quite unsure”, or “very unsure” about what an independent Scotland will be like – a significant hurdle for the Yes campaign with time running out. Curiously, the evidence from the Social Attitudes survey – the most detailed of its type, and one that attracts widespread respect – is that Scots are answering a different question to the one that will face them. Instead of answering if they want Scotland “to be an independent country”, Scots instead seem to be debating “whether they want to leave the UK”. The distinction, for now, seems to be significant: more Scots are conscious of their British identity than were two years ago, for instance; while fewer have gripes about English power.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.