In 28 of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas there was a majority in favour of No. The writing was on the wall as soon as the result was declared for Clackmannanshire in central Scotland. If Yes couldn’t win there – an area with a healthy Scottish National Party support base – it was not going to come anywhere near gaining a majority.
The large No majorities then rolled in from the islands, lowlands and central belt council areas. Any geographical analysis must clearly state that in the vast bulk of Scotland’s council areas this was a decisive No vote. At the start of the month, 45% would have been reported as a healthy and credible result for Yes Scotland (because it is). But the inflated expectations engendered by the narrowing polls in the last two weeks of the campaign meant there were a lot of deflated Yes voters once the results came in.
While the overall result was clear-cut there is an interesting story to be told once the results are analysed area by area. That story is that the more affluent the area the larger the No majority and the more deprived the area the stronger the Yes vote.
Town v country, rich v poor
Rural Scotland was decisively No. The Orkney (67.2%) and Shetland (63.7%) islands were, as expected, decisively in favour of the retention of the union. The Highlands (52.9%), Aberdeenshire (60.4%), Eilean Siar (53.4%), and Argyll and Bute (58.5%) were less decisive but had a clear majority. The areas closest to the English border were also decisive in favour of No – Scottish Borders (66.6%) and Dumfries and Galloway (65.7%).
But while these areas are vast in scale geographically, they are sparely populated. The key referendum battles were fought in the more populous councils of urban and the central belt of Scotland. Fife proved to be (as projected) one of the bellwether areas, with the 55-45 No majority almost exactly mirroring Scotland as a whole. Other council areas in this No category were Angus (56.3%), Midlothian (56.3%) and South Lanarkshire (54.7%).
The four areas with Yes majorities: Dundee (57.3%), Glasgow (53.5%), West Dunbartonsire (54%) and North Lanarkshire (51.1%) all share one important characteristic – they house some of Scotland’s most severe areas of poverty. Other areas with marginal No votes: Inverclyde (50.1%), North Ayrshire (51%), Renfrewshire (52.8%) East Ayrshire (52.8%) – share similar socio-economic profiles.
The social housing schemes, former shipbuilding towns, steel towns and mining villages located in these areas had large majorities in favour of Scottish independence. The electorates in these areas did want to rid Scotland, to quote David Cameron, of the “effing Tories” for good. The electorate in these areas had no great concerns about the vagaries of a currency union, projected financial flight, nomadic bankers and the other doomsday scenarios projected by the Better Together campaign. “Project Fear,” as it was labelled by the Yes campaign, largely washed over them. The Union was not delivering for them and they had nothing much to lose in voting Yes.
Another important feature of these areas is that they are former Scottish Labour strongholds. There is no doubt that a significant minority of traditional Labour affiliates in these areas voted Yes. They are also the areas where groups like the Radical Independence Campaign held voter registration drives and mass canvass days. This undoubtedly contributed to the unprecedented 84.5% turnout – though it is still noticeable that turnout tended to be higher in Scotland’s more affluent areas.
In those affluent areas the No margin of victory was widest. For example, Glasgow’s two most affluent suburban areas – East Renfrewshire (63.2% No), East Dunbartonshire (61.2% No) – stand in marked contrast to the city. Other Scottish cities had comfortable No majorities – Aberdeen (58.6%), Edinburgh (61.1%) and Stirling (59.8%).
Looking beneath the headline figures does tell an interesting story. Largely it is that the more affluent the area the higher the vote to retain the union. The more deprived, the greater the Yes vote.