Could newly registered voters swing it? Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Will the "missing million" vote Yes or No in the Scottish referendum?

With 97 per cent of the Scottish population registered to vote, a record turnout could swing the pendulum in favour of the Yes or No camp.

With a record turnout expected at the Scottish Independence referendum, today looks set to be the busiest day in the electoral history of Scotland. A total of 97 per cent of the Scottish adult populace have registered to vote, making this the most sizeable electorate to be remembered. What’s more, over 120,000 voters have registered in the last month alone. Salmond says he expects a turnout of 80 per cent, which is radically higher than the 64 per cent turnout in Scotland in the 2010 Westminster election or the 50 per cent turnout in the Scottish parliament election the year before. With unprecedented numbers of citizens queuing up to place their vote, it is even harder than usual to predict how today will pan out.

It is unclear whether the huge increase in new voters or those who haven’t voted in a very long time will benefit the Yes camp or No camp. These new voters have been dubbed the "missing million" - a phrase which refers to those who are not registered to vote yet but are eligible, those who don’t generally vote, and those who are newly on the register. Many of these are 16 and 17- year-olds who will be exercising their right to vote for the first time in history. As the stakes have risen throughout this lengthy and momentous campaign, the "missing million" could swing the referendum result in either direction. As a result, both sides of the campaign have focused their final weeks of frenzied campaigning on newly-registered voters. To complicate matters further, the transient nature of this particular cohort means it can be difficult to assess their voting patterns. They are often omitted from polls because they are hard to track down.

Throughout the campaign, the Yes camp has placed its confidence in the "missing million". In its view, the fight for independence has sparked the attention of Scots who previously felt disillusioned with party politics but are now keen to see radical change. What's more, Yes campaigners argue that the polls fail to accurately represent newly registered voters because this part of the populace are less accessible by the phone and less likely to respond to online surveys or social media. In addition to this, they may be less inclined to take part in a political survey. Polls analyse previous voting patterns in order to fine-tune their predictions, but if the "missing million" haven’t voted before, it can be difficult to forecast accurately how they will vote today.

Jonathon Shafi, the co-founder of the Radical Independence Campaign says: “the opinion polls can’t possibly account for all those people who are voting for the first time and aren’t on the polling books”. The Radical Independence Campaign has focused its grassroots efforts on this so-called "missing million". “We’ve put lots of work into areas with low voter turnout. As we’ve campaigned all the way from Easterhouse to Castlemilk, Seaton and Aberdeen, we’ve come across thousands of people who will be voting for the first time in a long while”. Shafi says he has “absolute faith” in these newly registered voters to vote Yes: “these people are not apathetic, they are alienated by a Westminster politics which simply ignores them.”

Despite this, there are a number of political commentators and analysts who believe that while non-voters might be less likely to be represented in the polls, they are in fact unlikely to vote Yes. Polling expert Professor John Curtice’s comprehensive analysis of the "missing million" found that newly registered voters were in fact more likely to vote No today. Curtis argues that although “some polls may have too few of the ‘missing million’ in their sample, the effect may be to lead them to over rather than under-estimate Yes support”. If the pro-Yes tendency is over-exaggerated, those voters who the pollsters haven’t been able to reach will not necessarily be voting Yes today.

To sum up, support for the Yes vote is stronger in poorer, deprived areas of Scotland where voter turnout is far lower to begin with. Nevertheless, the "missing million" is a loose term which doesn’t refer to an ideologically homogenous group, therefore it is speculative to assume that newly registered voters will definitely be voting Yes. What is clear is that large numbers of formerly disenfranchised and newly registered voters will be voting today. With democracy looking healthier than it has for a long time, the unprecedented voter registration and lively debates will hopefully continue in future elections. As Scots rush to the ballot boxes to make the most significant political decision of their lifetime, it seems that the "missing million" may be the wildcard in today’s referendum.


More referendum coverage:

“Should Scotland be an independent country?” Referendum voting is under way
Scotland: What do the final polls suggest?
How will women, men, the young and old vote today?

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.