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
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
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.