After a pre-referendum foray in which I declared my (losing) hand I’ve shied away from any substantive comment on Brexit. I didn’t like the decision but it’s a done deed, we’re a democracy and we live with the consequences.
The SNP of course have not wanted to live with the consequences and the six months since the referendum have been full of their agitation on the EU to the exclusion of almost anything else, apart from a New Year ’s Day launch of the first minister’s baby box scheme. The previous number one priority of education has disappeared into the maybe capable but certainly dull hands of John Swinney. And, in a slightly curious act of timing, the season of goodwill was punctuated by the pre-Christmas launch of their how-we-can-stay-in-when-everyone-else-leaves paper Scotland’s place in Europe.
Nicola Sturgeon’s – record length – five-page foreword to that document starts with the words that have formed the justification for all the SNP’s absorption with the subject:
On 23 June, the people of Scotland voted categorically and decisively to remain within the European Union
which reflects their consistent refrain that they are uniquely placed as a nationalist political party to represent the entire country.
A detailed look at the statistics tells a slightly different story.
All figures are taken from the Electoral Commission web site and are rounded to the nearest whole percentage.
A sample of SNP voters, or at least people who said they voted SNP in the 2015 general election, claimed in a Lord Ashcroft exit poll (p. 6) that they voted as follows:
- Remain 64%
- Leave 36%.
To summarise the key features of the statistics for the points I’m making here:
- there is no majority of the electorate as a whole either in the UK or Scotland for either option presented in the referendum
- once differential turnout/non-voters are taken into account, the differences between the UK and Scotland are not that great
- allowing for the margin of error of the Lord Ashcroft poll, SNP voters are no more nor less enthusiastic for the EU than the rest of the Scottish electorate.
Although many don’t accept my view, I’ve argued before that on the existential issues our British referendums test, the percentage of the whole electorate who vote for a proposition is as important as, perhaps more important than, the percentage of those who actually vote.
If you can accept this argument, the critical issue in relation to the Scottish statistics is that given the chance only 42%, a minority, of the total Scottish electorate voted for Remain: 58% either voted Leave or couldn’t be bothered to vote at all.
Where does that leave ‘categorically and decisively’? Well, here’s an example, a straw in the wind perhaps. It’s a comment about an article entitled Nicola Sturgeon: ‘I’m not bluffing about indyref2’ on The Scotsman website yesterday. I’ve paraphrased it as it’s not written in words I’d use. But if you want to check my faithfulness to the original, it’s the comment by ‘Neverendumdidlydumb’ timed at 11.17 p.m. on 8 January:
Senior SNP activists claimed that grassroots members of the party are said to be horrified at the approach taken to the EU by the first minister, as so many despise the EU, even more than the English. Apparently the feedback from the party’s recent ‘National Survey’ was appalling with lots of vitriolic responses mocking them, which is why the results are not being made public. Senior people have apparently urged caution on the first minister about another independence referendum … Some think she is reckless and that could destroy the party.
Well that, as they say, is not my problem. But it would fit perfectly with what a more subtle look at the statistics tells us than the first minister’s categorical and decisive claim. And it may also tell us that, in the short term at least, her ambitions in relation to both the EU and a second independence referendum are doomed to failure.