Scottish referendum turnout could exceed 80 per cent, says academic

Some 59 per cent of Scottish voters believe UK should be in the EU

Yes and No supporters gather to listen to Jim Murphy, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development at a Better Together event in Edinburgh,Scotland. Photograph:  Getty Images/Jeff J Mitchell

Yes and No supporters gather to listen to Jim Murphy, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development at a Better Together event in Edinburgh,Scotland. Photograph: Getty Images/Jeff J Mitchell


Turnout in the referendum on Scottish independence could reach or exceed 80 per cent which would be well above the average turnout in UK elections and would give an indisputable legitimacy to the result, according to a leading British academic.

Prof Charlie Jeffery, Prof of Politics at the University of Edinburgh, said that returning officers for the poll in Scotland on September 18th were preparing for a high turnout while Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond is also predicting a high poll.

“We know that the returning officers are beginning to make contingency arrangements for a large turnout and I have heard from the Electoral Commission, the formal body monitoring this poll, that they are thinking on the basis on registrations that turnout will be 80 per cent.”

“Both sides have signed up to a position that it has to be 50 per cent plus one with no turnout criterion attached - if it were less than a Scottish Parliament turnout which is 50-55, then, I guess, it would be in dispute.”

“But I think anything like 70 per cent or upwards to the 80 per cent mark, that would be quite unusual for UK politics so if it’s above the norm, then I suggest that’s enough to say it’s legitimate for both sides in the debate,” he said.

Prof Jeffery, who has studied the issue of UK devolution for over a decade and advised both the House of Commons and the Scottish Parliament, said he was surprised by yesterday’s YouGov poll which put support for the Yes side increasing to 47 per cent with the No side at 53 per cent.

The YouGov poll for The Sun and The Times newspapers showing growing support for independence in the forthcoming referendum was an interesting development but it was still too early to say whether it reflects a swing that will result in victory for the Yes side.

“YouGov has typically had Yes at 40 per cent, plus or minus, but it is one of the pollsters which has had a low level of support for Yes so YouGov returning 47pc Yes is something which breaks the normal pattern,” he said.

“The next YouGov poll will be the key to whether this was a blip or whether this level of support for the Yes side sticks but there is some evidence to suggest major change is unlikely such as the fact we know that there are not many people in the Don’t Know category.”

Prof Jeffery was speaking in Cork where he delivered a paper to 44th Annual Conference of University Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES) hosted by the Dept of Government at University College Cork.

Speaking on the subject “Constitutional Referendums and the EU: Scotland”, Prof Jeffery pointed out that Scotland was markedly different in its attitude to the EU to the remainder of mainland Britain where Euroscepticism is more evident.

He pointed to an MORI poll in 2013 which found that if Scotland did vote Yes for Independence, some 61 per cent of people believed Scotland should be in the EU while 33 per cent believed it should exit the EU.

The same poll found that in the event of Scotland voting No to Independence and remaining part of the UK, some 59 per cent of Scottish voters believed the UK should be in the EU while 35 per cent believed it should exit the EU.

“Scotland is different - there is no significant Eurosceptic party in Scotland whereas England and Wales have the Conservatives and UKIP,” he said, adding a 2014 poll found 43 per cent of Scots believed the EU was “ a good thing” compared to 34 per cent in England and 35 per cent in Wales.

Such a contrast in attitude towards the EU between Scotland on the one hand and England and Wales on the other, posed some interesting possible scenarios when it comes to a future UK referendum on membership of the EU as promised by Prime Minister David Cameron.

If Scotland votes Yes for independence in a few weeks and wants to be part of the EU only for the rest of the UK to vote in a few years time to exit the EU, then it will pose a difficult challenge for an independent Scottish government, said Prof Jeffery.

Conversely if Scotland votes No to independence and opts to remain within the UK, then it a pro-EU Scotland could find itself exiting the EU after being outvoted by a Eurosceptic remainder of the UK, he added.