Comparing Catalonia and Scotland: Part 3, Public Opinion

In Scotland the independence campaign is very much a battle for public opinion, and a struggle to get the message of the positive benefits of independence out to a population whose traditional media outlets are almost universally active supporters of the Union.

The referendum campaign began with a No campaign which complacently looked on opinion polls showing consistent majorities against independence and decided that they could close the folder on the Scottish question, the result was already in the bag.  That’s why the UK government’s strategy was headed by George Osborne, bagging and folding in a department store was his only real life work experience before he went into politics.

It’s quite probably the case that the Westminster government only conceded to the referendum in the first place because it thought it was going to win easily.  If they thought they were going to lose, they’d have made a more concerted attempt to prevent independence by offering a more comprehensive devolution package while refusing to concede that Holyrood had the right to hold the referendum.

However UK government felt so confident that Scottish people are proud little Union flag wavers at heart that they allowed us to have an independence referendum that turned out not to be about questions of national identity after all – instead it turned into a debate about democracy, and inequalities, and what sort of future would serve ordinary people in Scotland best.  And on those questions the existing constitutional settlement has nothing to offer.

Scottish public opinion seems to be far less decided than the no majority in opinion polls would suggest.  That no majority is extremely fragile, and is easily persuadable to switch sides.  The result of the Scottish referendum is by no means a foregone conclusion, which a hitherto complacent Better Together has belatedly shown slight signs of recognising.

Perhaps it’s just me, but of late Project Fear seems to have undergone something of a gear change.  It’s more Project Mass Hysteria, it’s what happens when you fear that Plan A hasn’t worked but Plan B turned out to be Alistair Carmichael.

There’s still all to play for in the independence campaign.  The Yes campaign has spent the past year building a network of tens of thousands of activists and volunteers.  Over the coming months they will step up the door to door canvassing, the local events, and the face to face discussion that can overcome the media barrage of unionism.   All Project Fear has to counter this is a dispirited and diminishing band of unionist party members.

Between now and September 2014, the challenge for the Scottish independence campaign will be to persuade the undecided, and those whose support for continuing Westminster government is weak or doubting.  Once public opinion is secured, and expressed in the referendum vote, independence will follow.

Catalan public opinion is already made up and has decided on independence, the independence campaign must now find a political route that will allow Catalan statehood to become a reality.    The challenge for the Catalan independence campaign is to find a way out of the current impasse: Catalonia’s insistence on its right to decide its own future, and the Spanish government’s insistence that Catalonia has no such right.

There’s still no certainty about when Catalonia will have a vote, never mind agreement on details like the exact form of the question, but all opinion polls show large majorities in favour of independence.  More people are in favour of independence than the combined total of those opposed, those who don’t know, and those who say they’ll not vote.  The only question is just how large the pro-independence majority will be.

An opinion poll published by Cadena Ser in September found that 52% would vote in favour of independence, with 24% opposed.  15.9% were undecided or wouldn’t say, while a further 7.7% had decided not to vote.  Discounting the don’t knows and the abstainers, that would produce a referendum result of Yes 68.4%, No 31.6%.

A more recent poll, published on 22 November, found that 54.7% were in favour of independence, with 22.1% against.  15.7% said they would abstain, while the remainder were don’t-knows or wouldn’t-says.  This poll actually reported a slight decrease in support for independence (although within margin of error) from the previous poll in the series.  Again discounting the don’t knows and won’t says, it produces a hypothetical referendum result of  71.2% Yes, 28.8% No.

Whatever the exact numbers the polls paint a consistent picture.  By a substantial margin, the Catalan Yes campaign has already won over public opinion.

The fact that Catalans have already made their minds up is precisely why Madrid is so set against a referendum.  It’s already lost a referendum campaign before it’s even begun.  A Catalan Millor Junts campaign would be duffed up by els independentistes far more comprehensively than Nicola Sturgeon duffed up Alistair Carmichael.  And it wouldn’t even have such a tame media to rely on.  So you can see why Madrid is keen to avoid it, it wouldn’t be at all pretty from its point of view, although those who delight in schadenfreude would love it.

The massive and enthusiastic public support for independence was fully displayed in la Via Catalana in September this year, when over 1.6 million Catalans formed a human chain stretching across Catalonia from the French frontier to the Valencian Community.  Catalans know how to party, they also know how to demonstrate.

Following the event, the Partido Popular’s leader in Catalunya, Alicia Sánchez-Camacho, sniffed that her party (with its 19 seats in the 135 seat Catalan Parliament) represented the silent majority of Catalans.  She probably didn’t mean those who did not especially relish standing in the sun in 30º temperatures along a stretch of motorway in order to prove a point, but were quite likely to vote yes anyway.

It only left her open to the contemptuous response: Let us have a vote then we’ll find out who’s the majority.

Madrid is growing nervous of external developments that may upset its increasingly desperate attempts to fend off the growing clamour from Catalans for the right to vote – like the possibility that the Scots may just vote Yes after all, despite all the assurances the Partido Popular heard from friendly Tories that it wasn’t going to happen.

Scotland can probably expect to hear a bit more from Mr Rajoy and his friends over the coming months.

6 comments on “Comparing Catalonia and Scotland: Part 3, Public Opinion

  1. Amicus Curious says:

    When you look at the methodologies of these opinion polls, and take account of the small sample size, it is hard to give them much credence. Yet we all want to see rays of hope, don’t we? The problem I see with all these polls is the way that voting intentions are weighted by previous voting, or likely voting intention at the next Scottish parliamentary election, as well as a host of other demographic factors and assumptions (most of which are dubious at best and have modest empirical suport). The problem is the referendum presents an inherently novel issue for the Scottish electorate without any direct comparators, and one which is mostly unobscured by party loyalties. So when you see the media’s favourite expert Prof. John Curtice (or Poultice if you are a bbcscotlandshire reader!) come out and criticise a particular poll, usually because they haven’t been done in the same way as the others, what he can;t tell you, and will never be able to tell you until after the vote, is how accurate they are likely to be. There is no ‘ideal type’ poll because all the parameters are entirely new. I suspect the polls will be massively out of touch with the result, and I’d be astonished if they were even within 10%. Only a fool would rely on them, and a wise man might ignore them all together. But they provide headlines and something for the media hacks to talk to each other about.

    At the moment we seem to have social media sewn up (even articles on the Daily Mail and Express now generate a flood of pro-indy commenters), and the ground war is a no-contest. Were it not for the pro-union MSM, I’d be overwhelmingly confident of victory. Unfortunately, it seems likely they will carry on parroting BT propaganda as if it were gospel and demonising dictator Salmond and his braveheart comrades right up until the vote.

    Early on YES Scotland made a crucial decision, they knew they couldn’t rely on the MSM, and equally they believed that even a massive social media campaign would not be sufficient to reach the dis-enfranchised 40% or so who never vote, but may well do so on 18/9/14; so they launched a popular political campaign on an unprecedented level which now has an army of volunteers out at every event imaginable, visible in all our major towns and cities talking to people and handing out leaflets almost every weekend, doorstepping, holding public meetings, running drop-in cafe’s. This community based action is why the referendum might well be won. Local people who can relate their passion for a new Scotland to their friends and neighbours, these people are more likely to be trusted, because they are not some politician speaking from a script, but because the YES message becomes reflected through the lens of their own concerns and aspirations. On the ground YES becomes normal, everyday, possible, not some esoteric abstraction. This is where the referendum will be won. BT cannot win on the ground for the simple reason, one that will not change, that very very few people are voting NO because they passionately believe in the merits of the Union, they vote no (or remain don’t know) because YES has not yet been able to persuade them. But right until the final hour those voters are likely to change, to be persuaded. It is the volunteer army that will make this happen.

    • weegingerdug says:

      I agree totally with your assessment. I’ve not hugely convinced by the methodologies of Scottish polling either, they seem to be an attempt to force the referendum vote into the patterns of political party voting – but I believe the correlation between party loyalty and voting intention in the referendum (especially with Labour voters) is not especially strong. What the polls tell us just now is that people are still considering the issue, or have yet to consider it. No is the default position, it doesn’t mean No voters are passionate supporters of the Union.

      That’s where the community based action and face to face campaign becomes all the more important, and as you say that is where the referendum will be won. The Yes campaign’s volunteer army with its positive message of hope is huge in comparison to Better Together’s wee band of nay-sayers. Not many people get enthused about Westminster’s style of politics.

      As the campaign gets into gear, the importance of face to face and community based persuasion becomes more important. That’s why Better Together is starting to keech its breeks, they know they have nothing on the ground which can compete with Yes Scotland. All we see from BT is a series of campaign launches, Labour’s own campaign, veterans for the union, artists and musicians for the union … all get launched with a blaze of publicity, and then die a death because BT doesn’t have the popular support to back them up.

    • Sir, I don’t know who you are, but I hope,someday, I can buy you a pint!

  2. Andrew Morton says:

    Paul, why do you think it is that foreign journalists are ignoring the story of how the media are distorting and hiding the truth?

    • weegingerdug says:

      You mean the truth about Scottish independence? It does get reported in Spain, just not in Spain’s own unionist media. There’s better coverage in the Catalan language media, which tends to be more supportive of Catalan independence. There are also some pro indy publications in Galego (the language of Galicia, despite the name it’s not related to Gaelic, it’s very similar to Portuguese), like Sermos Galiza.

      By and large the foreign press picks up on what gets reported in the UK press. I can’t really speak for media in languages other than Spanish or Catalan because I don’t follow them closely, but the Spanish media is exactly like the English language media in the UK – it only picks up on foreign stories that it deems “interesting”, and by and large what these publications consider “interesting” are stories that happen to fit the publication’s own narrative. As far as the Scottish independence debate is concerned that means they will leap on any news from or about Scotland which can be used to cast a negative light on Catalan independence.

      I don’t think there’s any deliberate conspiracy however, more a form of observer bias.

  3. Olga says:

    I am tired of reading that Catalonia wants its independence because “Espanya ens roba”. All right, I understand it. The secession war was provoked to take off Catalonia’s rights, obviously. As far as I know, Cataluña was part of the “Corona de Aragon” since the very beginning of our history and only after Aragon lost the war were they definitely absorbed into Spain. Do you want to know something? Castile also lost its rights after a war, same as Catalonia, but I don’t cry over spilled water because I live in 2014, not in 1714 or 1521, just saying. Medieval rights in the contemporary world has no sense. And Catalonia was never independent. Scotland was indeed.

    There is a difference between you and me. I think we all can live together and I don’t tell children to hate their neighbours, as you are telling people to hate me.

    And if somebody has the right to speak, it should be all of us, not only some of them. There are things I don’t like about Spain, of course, but I believe in dialogue- something impossible when all Artur Mas says is “money, independence, Espanya ens roba”. Spain is bad, Spaniards are bad, they hate us, they don’t let us speak Catalan, Spain is like Hitler, exterminating Catalans. Wtf????

    Madrid is bad, Castile is bad. Yeah, I get your point. I’m lazy and a bad person.

    You know, I love Catalonia- been there many times, my family lives there. People like you make me feel sad. I think we can be friends, you think I’m your enemy. That’s the difference.

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