Perhaps the most eye-catching statistic contained in the latest Ipsos MORI research, published in The Times yesterday, was the spike in support for independence among young people: 58 per cent of 18 – 24 year olds favour full Scottish autonomy, up from 27 per cent last October, while those in the lowest income brackets and poorest communities remain more likely to favour self-determination than those in the top income brackets.. This is not surprising. The young and the poor have borne the heaviest load in austerity Britain, and Westminster does not even pretend to offer a solution. Instead of jobs we are presented with the bedroom tax, instead of investment in public services we get Trident renewal. Not exactly the ‘positive’ image of Britain the No campaign was promising.But if the young and the working classes are key constituencies in the independence movement – the people who could tip the balance in favour of a Yes vote next year – then we have a problem, because they are also the people who are least likely to be registered to vote. This problem has an obvious solution: a mass voter registration drive.
When Jesse Jackson ran for the nomination of the Democratic Party in 1984 and 1988, the majority of his votes came from members of the public who were registered by his campaign team. This strategy has been repeated on a number of occasions. If you run a progressive campaign your electoral base inevitably resides in the most disenfranchised sections of society, those who have little or nothing to gain from the continuity of the status-quo. It is an unfortunate but inevitable truth that these are the people who also feel most alienated from the democratic process.
The next twenty months provides us with an opportunity and a challenge. We need to fight to involve everyone in the debate about Scotland’s social, political and economic future. Those currently lacking a voice live in our poorest communities. They study in our schools and colleges. Many have never voted before (many are too young to have had the chance). To convince them to vote, to get them out on the campaign trail themselves, the independence movement has to focus less on the debating chamber at Holyrood, more on the day care centre in Dalmarnock.
Ultimately, we are pushing at an open door. “Independence”, according to Patrick Harvie, is “an inherently radical concept.” He is right, and its transformative potential resonates with young people. But to translate that into votes will require serious organisation and serious planning. Only Yes Scotland has the resources to pull off a voter registration drive on the scale required, and in truth we are running short on time. The work required to register 14 and 15 year olds who will be 16 by next autumn is enormous. We have to knock on the door of every council house in every housing scheme in Scotland. We have to be prepared with appropriate legal advice for those who aren’t on the electoral register because it might bring the debt collectors one step closer. We have to get university students off campus and into communities. We have to find ways to convince people to join the campaign – not just vote – bringing their ideas and new approaches to the movement.