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Published on May 21st, 2014 | by Samuel English-Kershaw
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It’ll be the shy unionists wot win it.

Some say that the newspapers don’t matter that much, whether that is true, well it’s hard to weigh up and I’m sure most in the political spotlight would disagree with the sentiment. I do personally think however, that the sentiment may apply to the reporting of the Scottish referendum. Everywhere I turn I see the same thing; column inch after column inch, billboard after billboard all declaring that it would be ridiculous for Scotland to vote ‘yes’ to independence. Even Gary from down my local, who up to now has shown no interest in politics declaring only once in 2010 that “they’re all the same” has formed the opinion that Scotland simply can’t vote for independence.

It’s all very similar to the state of the papers, and nation back in 1991. Then, Britain was one year away from a general election and our newspapers were, by and large reporting that a period of Conservative dominance was going to end in a matter of months. The journalists reporting on the imminent collapse of Major’s government back in 1991  were only doing their jobs – reporting and then commenting on the polls and they couldn’t be clearer, Labour were going to win. The latest polls relating to Scottish independence published in the Daily Record show that 47% of those polled plan to vote ‘no’ to independence compared with 36% of respondents who plan to vote ‘yes’. Polls are famously fickle though, so what if we go back and glance at a poll from March? Well we see that 46% of respondents intended to vote ‘no’ with 39% of respondents saying they would vote ‘yes’. Hardly a seismic shift in the last few months. Back in 1992 when Major won the election with a 7½ point lead it seems that everyone was exceptionally confused ‘how could the Tories have won again?’ asked Britain. Well, the answer given by the pollsters was simple. There was, apparently a “shy tory factor”. In other words, people simply didn’t want to be associated with Major but they actually quite liked what he and his party stood for.

Does that sound vaguely familiar? It certainly did to me and I think many Scots may feel the same way about the Union. Recently I have come around to the idea that, rather than the late swing in favour of independence predicted by Salmond and Sturgeon we will see poll results barely change before the election. Then, when the votes are cast I think we will for the first time observe “the shy unionist factor”. This is of course, only personal conjecture but when I broach the question of independence with a Scot, the overwhelming majority respond with ‘ooh I’m not sure’ or ‘I’m definitely thinking of considering it’. I see these responses as very interesting, primarily because I think they show that many Scots feel they simply can’t be against independence, publically at least. As Major’s victory in 1992 shows, it is not what people say that matters, but what they do when they’re alone, crammed into a small space with a pencil in one hand and a ballot paper in the other that matters.

I am certainly not alone in predicting that the polls are inaccurate and that the shy unionists will win out by a huge margin on the day, but I do wait eagerly to see whether my prediction is correct. If I’m wrong, well, then it will be clear that the blogs don’t matter much.

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About the Author

Samuel is current editor of the NUS Conference Newspaper 'The Delegate' and was formerly news editor of 'The Lion' voted one of London's best student newspapers. Samuel is currently Vice President of Heythrop College, University of London Students' Union, he lives in London and doesn't have a dog. You can find him on twitter @englishkershaw

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