The latest story doing the rounds is that a large chunk of people who vote SNP do not support independence (see for example the Scotman and the Express). The coverage of this story is bothersome for at least four reasons:
1. The news is not new – we have known this for some time.
2. The difference between party-voting and referendum-voting attitudes can be identified in relation to most parties. While the numbers may be less newsworthy in other parties, there are Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour supporters who favour independence and SNP voters who support the status quo (a few might even favour the abolition of devolution).
3. This story could easily be spun in the opposite way – the SNP managed to persuade a large number of people, who don’t support independence, to vote for them anyway. This seemed like a major feat as recently as May 2011 and it said a lot about their improving image of governing competence (at a time when attitudes to independence may not have changed).
4. It is being used, in a disingenuous way, by parties like the Conservatives to undermine support for independence without recognising the support for a referendum question on further devolution. The Conservative press release uses the figures as a segue to their argument that there should be a single yes/no referendum question and that Alex Salmond’s openness to a question on further devolution reveals his cowardice. Yet, it is using figures generated by Reform Scotland to demonstrate the high levels of support for ‘Devo Plus’ and to remind political parties that they are ignoring the most-popular option of further devolution in favour of polarising a debate on independence.
5. Most parties know this (1-4) and they do it anyway. This is an overly cynical and too-misleading way to engage in such an important debate.