Could newly registered voters swing it? Photo: Getty
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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?

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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital