Did it re­ally divide us?

The in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum di­vided a na­tion but Yes and No vot­ers have more in com­mon than you might think, Dundee Uni­ver­sity re­search has shown. Jack McKe­own finds the mid­dle­ground

The Courier & Advertiser (Dundee Edition) - - VIEW -

SEPTEM­BER 18 2014 was a day when 300 years of pas­sion and fer­vour came to a head. Cam­paigns were waged. Battle lines drawn. Scot­land’s pop­u­la­tion, young and old, be­came more po­lit­i­cally en­gaged than at any point in mod­ern times. What­ever you think of the out­come there can be no doubt that the in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum ig­nited the na­tion’s imag­i­na­tion like never be­fore. It also di­vided Scot­land like never be­fore.

Or did it? Re­search car­ried out by the Uni­ver­sity of Dundee sug­gests Yes and No vot­ers have much more in com­mon than any­one might think. Ex­perts on polling, so­cial me­dia and fo­cus group re­search looked into voter be­hav­iour in the ref­er­en­dum. Their find­ings will be pre­sented and opened for public dis­cus­sion at a free event at the uni­ver­sity to­mor­row.

The project team, led by Dr Edzia Carvalho, of the Pol­i­tics pro­gramme at Dundee Uni­ver­sity, con­ducted sev­eral fo­cus groups with both Yes and No vot­ers from the city in the af­ter­math of Septem­ber’s vote. The re­searchers gath­ered groups of Yes vot­ers, No vot­ers, Yes and No cam­paign­ers, and peo­ple who only made up their mind late in the cam­paign.

“What may sur­prise peo­ple is just how sim­i­lar both sets of vot­ers were,” Dr Carvalho says. “In the build up to the ref­er­en­dum and since it took place the nar­ra­tive has been all about the di­vi­sive­ness of the cam­paign. How dif­fer­ent both sets of vot­ers were and how the cam­paign split Scot­land.

“Par­tic­i­pants did talk about the per­sonal cost of the de­ci­sions they made. In many cases the in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum di­vided fam­i­lies and friends. But when you look at how they made up their minds and what their ex­pe­ri­ences of the ref­er­en­dum cam­paign were, many of them were quite sim­i­lar.

“What our re­search shows is that while both sides had dif­fer­ent aims they were re­mark­ably alike in the way they went about mak­ing up their minds and the way they then jus­ti­fied their de­ci­sion. How they made up their minds and what their ex­pe­ri­ences of the cam­paign were like were all very sim­i­lar.”

The sub­jects of the re­search talked in a round-ta­ble dis­cus­sion for as long as two hours. “We had them talk chrono­log­i­cally through their ref­er­en­dum ex­pe­ri­ences. When they made up their mind which way to vote. What in­flu­enced their de­ci­sion. Their ex­pe­ri­ence of the day it­self — did they go to the polls? How they felt when the re­sult was an­nounced and their feel­ings since.”

Ac­cord­ing to Dr Carvalho’s re­search, peo­ple used both their emo­tions and their rea­son to de­cide which way to vote and then to jus­tify that de­ci­sion.

“Peo­ple used both their hearts and their heads. Quite of­ten their hearts ini­tially set the way they wanted to vote but then they used their heads to jus­tify their de­ci­sion.

“Time and time again peo­ple told us they didn’t want to rely on an emo­tional im­pulse for such an im­por­tant de­ci­sion. They wanted to make ab­so­lutely sure they were mak­ing the right de­ci­sion for the right rea­son. It was a much big­ger and more fi­nal de­ci­sion than who to vote for in a gen­eral elec­tion.”

Dr Carvalho says peo­ple didn’t just go look­ing for sources that would back up the way they had de­cided to vote.

“They were not just look­ing for con­fir­ma­tory sources. Both Yes and No vot­ers ac­tively sought out sources that put for­ward the op­pos­ing view to the one they held.”

At to­mor­row’s event Dr Carvalho and Dr Kristi Win­ters from GE­SIS, Ger­many will ex­plore th­ese and other fac­tors that shaped peo­ple’s choice, with con­tri­bu­tions from vot­ers on both sides. The im­pact of dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion will be dis­cussed by Dr Mark Shep­hard from the Uni­ver­sity of Strath­clyde, while Steven Hope of Ip­sos MORI Ed­in­burgh will ex­plore public opin­ion polls and the ref­er­en­dum.A Q&A ses­sion will fol­low the pre­sen­ta­tions.

Dr Carvalho says of the event: “I hope this will help both sides to un­der­stand one an­other. The ref­er­en­dum was quite di­vi­sive and it did cause wounds. If we can get peo­ple on both sides hav­ing at least a civil con­ver­sa­tion then that will be a good out­come.”

The Scot­tish Ref­er­en­dum in Dundee: Look­ing Back, Look­ing Ahead takes place at 3pm at the D’Arcy Thomp­son Lec­ture Theatre, Tower Build­ing to­mor­row. Free tick­ets can be ob­tained from www.eventbrite.com/e/the-scot­tish-ref­er­en­dum-in-dundee-look­ing-back-look­ing-ahead

The project is spon­sored by the Carnegie Foun­da­tion. If you would like to take part in Dr Carvalho’s project email her at: [email protected] dundee.ac.uk

Pic­ture: Steve MacDougall

Op­pos­ing coun­cil­lors Dave Doogan (left) in the Yes camp and Den­nis Mel­loy in the No camp at The Courier Ref­er­en­dum Road­show in Coupar An­gus last year.

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