The closing date for voters to register is today and the headlines say it all – there is both a big increase in the numbers registered to vote and movement in the polls towards the Yes vote. The Yes campaign is in a buoyant mood. New shops have sprung up across the country and the campaigners continue to pound the streets. However, the No vote also remains very active, with Jim Murphy MP back on the streets addressing a large crowd in Edinburgh this morning. What can the campaigns do to convert the last remaining don’t knows?
You cannot help but notice the plethora of Yes flags, banners and posters across communities in Scotland. There are plenty of No banners too and Union Jacks fluttering from garden sheds and windows, though not as many. The initiative seems to be swinging behind the Yes vote, but let’s not get too carried away with how things look – the figures in even the most recent polling still show a win for the No vote – albeit by a closing margin. Just how small can the margin get? We all expected the vote to be close, so both sides will be doing their best to keep a steady nerve in the closing days of campaigning, but there is a danger that they spend their time preaching to the converted, rather than to the don’t knows and those who are newly registered to vote.
Registration for the historic vote is high, with ward increases across Scotland’s local authorities. Yet, though the number of voters registered is high, there is still a disconcerting number of people who will not be participating in the vote on 18th September. Speaking to people on the doorsteps it is often those from the poorest households who are unfortunately not willing to participate. For some the vote has just become too divisive. For others it is a decision they would rather leave others to make. For more still there is just no history of voting in their family. These will be hard for either campaign to crack in the final days of the campaign and we would expect there to be a residual number of don’t knows/not voting on the day.
Neither campaign has a last minute rabbit it can pull out of the hat. The opportunities for big government announcements are gone. The scope for publishing new evidence or policies is too tight now to really make a difference. All what remains is for the campaigns on the ground to deliver the necessary votes. This is where the Yes campaign has an advantage, with a large band of grassroots supporters. And with the vote becoming increasingly close, few media outlets are likely to come out strongly one way or the other. And even if they did, it is unlikely to make a huge difference this late in the game. The remaining TV debates are likely to add to the media coverage, but less likely to convert voters one way or the others. That leaves the don’t knows at the mercy of the grass-root campaigners and Jim Murphy et al will be coming round and round again to try and persuade the doubters to vote.