Class, Age and Support for Independence

Both before and after the referendum connections were being made between class and support for independence. As early as 2012, commentaries were noting that intending Yes supporters were more likely to be working class (Maxwell 2012). An analysis of voting intentions by McLean and Thomson (2013) distinguished between income and socioeconomic group, arguing that it was lower income rather than socioeconomic group that was associated with support for independence. In February 2014, an article in the Economist referred to the Scottish independence vote as a ‘class act’, drawing on an opinion poll which found that working-class Scots (C2DE) were more likely to vote Yes than higher social classes (ABC1) (Economist 2014). Dunt (2014) in August 2014 referred to Scottish independence as a class issue. He reports figures in which 46 % of those in low income groups compared to only 27 % of high earners were intending to vote Yes.

What we know from the actual result is that the proportion voting Yes was greater in areas with higher levels of deprivation (SIMD 2012). The following scattergram presents the referendum vote for local authority by the percentage of population classed as income deprived within the 2012 Scottish index of multiple deprivation. The figure points towards a relationship between areas which are economically deprived and those more in favour of independence. In only four local authorities was the Yes vote over 50 %—Dundee (57 %), the city of Glasgow (54 %) and two areas neighbouring Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire (54 %) and North Lanarkshire (51 %). Each of these four areas are amongst those ranked highest in Scotland for income deprivation. About 50 % of areas within the top 10 % for overall deprivation are within the Glasgow authority area. Both Dundee and North Lanarkshire (encompassing the new town of Cumbernauld) were areas which experienced significant job losses from the closure of manufacturing industries in the 1980s as described earlier. In areas where the majority No vote was marginal (less than 3 %) there were similarly clear divisions between areas of poverty voting Yes and areas of affluence voting No (Mooney and Scott 2015). Conversely, the highest percentages voting No were found in the least deprived areas, including Orkney and the Border region (Fig. 5.1).

Activists involved in the Yes campaign were keen to portray the result as a revolt of the mostly younger dispossessed in favour of radical change

Scattergram of 2014 Scottish independence referendum result by income deprivation at county level and against the comfortable, mostly older, voting for the status quo

Fig. 5.1 Scattergram of 2014 Scottish independence referendum result by income deprivation at county level and against the comfortable, mostly older, voting for the status quo (Boyd 2014, Red Pepper, Nicki Seth-Smith 2015). Such rhetoric was clearly influential in mobilising large numbers of lower-income and working- class people into voting Yes. Such a straightforward interpretation underplays the complex and contested relationship between nation and class relations, particularly the role of the Scottish middle classes in support of independence. Paterson (2015), for example, drawing on Scottish Social Attitudes data collected in the summer of 2014, found that the percentage of intending Yes voters was actually higher amongst ‘left-leaning’ middle-class people (47 %) than amongst working-class people overall (42 %) (Paterson 2015) . ‘Left-leaning’ are people who agree to statements within surveys like ‘governments should redistribute income from the better off to the less well off or that ‘there is one law for the poor and another law for the rich’. In the 2013 wave of the survey the percentage difference intending to vote Yes between left-leaning middle-class people (48 %) compared to working-class people (36 %) had been even greater (Paterson 2015). At the same time, it cannot be ruled out that middle- class people, in throwing their support behind independence, were not also motivated by economic insecurities, especially those working in public employment. As already mentioned, there has been substantial growth of the public sector in Scotland since the 1960s. Since 1997, the vast majority of public-sector jobs have been funded through devolved budgets, which themselves come from the UK government via the Barnett Formula (Tomlinson 2014: 176). According to Tomlinson (2014: 174), 31 % of Scotland’s population work in publicly funded employment. But since the 2008 banking crisis these budgets have been subject to cuts made by the Coalition London government (2014: 176). The next table takes this analysis a little further, also using Scottish Social Attitudes data collected in 2013 (Table 5.1).

Those agreeing that Scotland should be an independent country were proportionally highest amongst small employers and own account workers, although numerically this is a small class compared to the others. Nevertheless, there is strong evidence that support for independence in the years prior to the referendum was not primarily a vote by the poor or indeed the working class. This in turn makes the role of civil society groups during 2014 particularly crucial. The leaders of many these groups

Table 5.1 Differences by social class on the question 'should Scotland be an independent country?' (2013)



Employers, managerial and professional




Intermediate occupations



Small employers and own account




Lower supervisory and technical




Semi-routine and routine occupations



Not classified



Source: Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (2013): questions/should-scotland-be-an-independent-country-combined-responses-of- those-who-have-3/explore/ClassSum/#table

were certainly left wing and middle class but were able to convince many politically disengaged people from deprived communities to vote Yes by articulating independence in terms of social justice, itself linked to ideas about Scottishness as inherently left wing and social democratic.

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