More powers for Scotland might be an assumption too far

There’s a new consensus in Scotland among politicians. It is that there is still a a huge appetite for independence in Scotland, but that in the absence of an immediate mandate for independence, almost all the population is in favour of ‘devo max’/home rule or whatever you might like to call it instead.

But is this really the case, or is it an assumption too far? 45% of those who voted in the September referendum voted for independence. However, if you take the turnout into account, only 38% of eligible adults actually voted ‘Yes’.

That’s high. But the key point is that 62% didn’t vote yes – they either voted ‘No’, or didn’t care enough to vote, something that suggests the appetite for independence isn’t quite as high as the SNP likes to think (their view remains that independence is more a matter of ‘when’ than ‘if’).

Note that the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey has long told us that the percentage of Scots in favour of independence has long shifted between 27-35%.

If you compare that to the percentage voting ‘Yes’, you might think that getting the vote up only three percentage points in 18 months of passionate and very well-financed campaigning isn’t actually all that hard.

There were polls after the referendum (notably by Lord Ashcroft) which suggested that many of the ‘No’ voters were concerned about things that aren’t a problem with devo max (the currency and defence for example).

But while this kind of thing might make it clear that ‘No’ voters were nervous about the economy, it doesn’t confirm that they perceived devolution to be the answer – home rule could arguably be bad for the economy in much the same way as independence.

We also have no evidence that the panic vow (in which all parties promised devolution) made any difference to the final vote. It wasn’t a vote for devolution; it was a vote against independence. Different things.

I’m pro-devolution myself (the Scottish government might be held more to account if it had to raise more of its taxes as well as spend money), but I am concerned that all parties and groups are now assuming that everyone else is too – when we have no real evidence that is the case.

There was a great letter to The Times a few weeks ago from a reader who said “Politicians are always telling me I want change. I don’t.” It may be lots of Scottish voters don’t either.