One third of Labour voters favour independence

The latest poll shows ‘Yes’ in the lead for the first time. The role of Scottish Labour voters will be fundamental to the outcome.

The most recent YouGov poll (for the Sunday Times) has 51% in favour of independence and 49% against, when excluding ‘don’t knows’.

The role of Labour in Scotland has been very near the centre of this debate. At one end of the independence spectrum Conservative voters remain firmly in favour of the union (89% of Holyrood 2011 Conservative voters intend to vote ‘no’ according to YouGov’s latest poll), whereas at the other: SNP voters strongly support an independent Scotland (78% in favour).

Near the pro-union end sit the Liberal Democrats, where an interesting number of whom favour an independent Scotland (15%) - in the most recent poll. But the split is nowhere as profound as in the Labour party. 33% of 2011 Holyrood voters favour independence compared to the 61% planning to vote ‘no’ (when including ‘don’t knows’). From the YouGov poll a month a go, where 18% said they would vote ‘yes’, the figure now stands at 35%, when excluding ‘don’t knows’.

That’s right, one third of those who voted Labour at the previous Holyrood election are now in favour of an independent Scotland.

But why? What’s pulling these voters away from Johann Lamont’s message of tackling poverty not building borders?

Firstly, looking at the figures there has been a swing towards a ‘yes’ vote in the C2DE social grade. 51% of this group are in favour of independence, whereas 40% are against it, according to YouGov’s latest 6th September poll. The previous YouGov poll had 44% of the C2DE grade in favour and 44% against. A significant chunk of Labour supporters come from this social grade so the rise in support in this segment can partially explain in swing towards a Labour ‘yes’ vote.

Secondly, there is an argument that does not involve the numbers, one of political philosophy and direction. Scottish Labour is generally seen as a social democratic party in Scotland, definitely on the left of the political spectrum. Arguments from the ‘Yes’ camp about creating a fairer, more equal, more democratic Scotland, whilst ridding the country of Conservative rule are obviously resonating well with Labour voters. Many will be seeing independence as a chance for an alternative to the austerity from the coalition government. Whether an independent Scotland could forge this path is not set in stone but the element of hope for a more equal society has probably nudged Labour supporters towards the idea of favouring independence.

As well as changes in the social grades and Labour support, the gender gap has narrowed. From being very not in favour of independence women are now 47% in favour, compared with 53% against, when excluding ‘don’t knows’. Additionally, the majority of voters in all age groups favour independence, apart from the over sixties, boosting the swing towards a ‘Yes’ vote.

This race has become too close to call as there is a very real chance that Scotland will vote ‘yes’. Whilst the outcome could go either way it is clear that Labour voters will have a key role to play in deciding this referendum. Ed Miliband will be scratching his head as a ‘yes’ vote could see him lose a chance of a majority in Westminster if Scotland becomes an independent country. With ten days to go, Labour voters will have a fundamental role to play.