The Scottish Yes campaign’s class problem

Working class Scots are more likely to support independence but less likely to vote than their middle class counterparts.

Left-wing supporters of the Union often accuse the Scottish National Party (SNP) of pursuing constitutional change at the expense of focusing on more concrete issues like the economic crisis and its implications for ordinary Scots. The assumption which informs this criticism is that nationalists are more interested in questions of identity than they are in those of class. Recent political history suggests this is largely true, but it overlooks one crucial point: there is a clear class dynamic to the constitutional debate in Scotland.

In the 1979 referendum on devolution, 57 per cent of working class Scots voted in favour of a Scottish legislative assembly, whereas 60 per cent of middle class Scots voted against. In 1997, 91 per cent of working class voters backed the creation of a Scottish Parliament compared to 69 per cent of middle class voters. A similar pattern emerges when it comes to independence. In January, Ipsos-MORI published a poll which showed that support for full Scottish self-government registers much higher among Scots living in deprived parts of the country (58 per cent) than it does among those living in affluent areas (27 per cent).

The divide between a Scottish working class with radical constitutional instincts and a Scottish middle class with more conservative ones poses a serious challenge to the pro-independence coalition ahead of the 2014 referendum. In Scotland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, middle class people are significantly more likely to vote than their working class counterparts. Indeed, according to the Scottish Election Study, between 1997 and 2007 the average turnout in all parliamentary elections in Scotland (Westminster, Holyrood and European) among voters in the highest and intermediate social class categories was 40 per cent and 36 per cent respectively, while the figure for those in the lowest group was 24 per cent.
 
If this trend continues the likelihood of a majority Yes vote in the referendum is extremely slim, which raises the question: what kind of campaign should the SNP and its allies run? One option is to focus on winning middle class voters over to the idea of independence - a considerable challenge given the constituency’s traditional loyalty to the Union. Another is to try to ‘expand the electorate’ as Barack Obama did to great effect in the 2008 US presidential election. If successful, this would ensure a higher working class turnout than at previous ballots. A further option is to build a campaign which appeals to both middle class and working class interests, but this risks promoting conflicting narratives.
 
There is little in the SNP’s recent past which indicates how it might deal with the class cleavage at the heart of the independence debate - its approach to the issue of class has always been rather disjointed. In the 1970s it advanced a broadly social democratic agenda, pledging to wage a "war on poverty" by raising tax thresholds, increasing child benefits and establishing a universal minimum income, but did so while rejecting what one 1978 policy document called "the extremes of outdated class politics". In the early 1980s efforts were made by a radical left-wing faction within the party to give nationalism a distinctive socialist identity, but this failed when a dispute with the leadership resulted in the faction’s expulsion.
 
The experience of Thatcherism was formative for the current generation of SNP leaders. The socially destructive effects of Thatcher’s flagship economic policies (Scottish unemployment and poverty rates nearly doubled during her period in office) consolidated the centre-left consensus in the party but didn’t contribute to the development of a coherent class strategy. The continuing lack of any such strategy has been made apparent in recent years by the leadership’s simultaneous championing of the Irish laissez-faire experiment and the Nordic social model.
 
With leading members from both the socialist left - like Dennis Canavan and Colin Fox - and the Scottish business elite - like George Mathewson and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh - the make-up of the Yes Scotland coalition reflects the SNP’s ill-defined perspective on class. If the independence campaign is to be successful, its organisers need to develop a much clearer position - and quickly.

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond at the launch of the 'Yes' campaign for Scottish independence in Edinburgh. Photograph: Getty Images.

James Maxwell is a Scottish political journalist. He is based between Scotland and London.

Photo: Getty
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UnHerd's rejection of the new isn't as groundbreaking as it seems to think

Tim Montgomerie's new venture has some promise, but it's trying to solve an old problem.

Information overload is oft-cited as one of the main drawbacks of the modern age. There is simply too much to take in, especially when it comes to news. Hourly radio bulletins, rolling news channels and the constant stream of updates available from the internet – there is just more than any one person can consume. 

Luckily Tim Montgomerie, the founder of ConservativeHome and former Times comment editor, is here to help. Montgomerie is launching UnHerd, a new media venture that promises to pull back and focus on "the important things rather than the latest things". 

According to Montgomerie the site has a "package of investment", at least some of which comes from Paul Marshall. He is co-founder of one of Europe's largest hedge funds, Marshall Wace, formerly a longstanding Lib Dem, and also one of the main backers and chair of Ark Schools, an academy chain. The money behind the project is on display in UnHerd's swish (if slightly overwhelming) site, Google ads promoting the homepage, and article commissions worth up to $5,000. The selection of articles at launch includes an entertaining piece by Lionel Shriver on being a "news-aholic", though currently most of the bylines belong to Montgomerie himself. 

Guidelines for contributors, also meant to reflect the site's "values", contain some sensible advice. This includes breaking down ideas into bullet points, thinking about who is likely to read and promote articles, and footnoting facts. 

The guidelines also suggest focusing on what people will "still want to read in six, 12 or 24 months" and that will "be of interest to someone in Cincinnati or Perth as well as Vancouver or St Petersburg and Cape Town and Edinburgh" – though it's not quite clear how one of Montgomerie's early contributions, a defence of George Osborne's editorship of the Evening Standard, quite fits that global criteria. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the full page comment piece Montgomerie got in Osborne's paper to bemoan the deficiencies of modern media on the day UnHerd launched. 

UnHerd's mascot  – a cow – has also created some confusion, compounded by another line in the writing tips describing it as "a cow, who like our target readers, tends to avoid herds and behave in unmissable ways as a result". At least Montgomerie only picked the second-most famous poster animal for herding behaviour. It could have been a sheep. In any case, the line has since disappeared from the post – suggesting the zoological inadequacy of the metaphor may have been recognised. 

There is one way in which UnHerd perfectly embodies its stated aim of avoiding the new – the idea that we need to address the frenetic nature of modern news has been around for years.

"Slow news" – a more considered approach to what's going on in the world that takes in the bigger picture – has been talked about since at least the beginning of this decade.

In fact, it's been around so long that it has become positively mainstream. That pusher of rolling coverage the BBC has been talking about using slow news to counteract fake news, and Montgomerie's old employers, the Times decided last year to move to publishing digital editions at set points during the day, rather than constantly updating as stories break. Even the Guardian – which has most enthusiastically embraced the crack-cocaine of rolling web coverage, the live blog – also publishes regular long reads taking a deep dive into a weighty subject. 

UnHerd may well find an audience particularly attuned to its approach and values. It intends to introduce paid services – an especially good idea given the perverse incentives to chase traffic that come with relying on digital advertising. The ethos it is pitching may well help persuade people to pay, and I don't doubt Montgomerie will be able to find good writers who will deal with big ideas in interesting ways. 

But the idea UnHerd is offering a groundbreaking solution to information overload is faintly ludicrous. There are plenty of ways for people to disengage from the news cycle – and plenty of sources of information and good writing that allow people to do it while staying informed. It's just that given so many opportunities to stay up to date with what has just happened, few people decide they would rather not know.