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On Scotland's Referendum, Poor Lean Toward Indpendence


And I'm Robert Siegel. Tomorrow, Scots vote on their future. A national referendum asks whether the country of 5.3 million should become independent - that's a yes vote - or remain in the United Kingdom - that's a no vote. According to the latest round of polls, the nos are slightly ahead, but it's close. And there's a pretty big chunk of undecideds.

One of those polls is by the London-based firm ICM. Martin Boon is their director of polling. He joins us now to talk about what kind of Scots typically favor independence and what kind typically favor remaining part of the United Kingdom. Welcome to the program.


SIEGEL: And if you were to explain to us the most basic division about who's on which side of this referendum in Scotland, what would you say?

BOON: Well, there are a couple of cleavages which Scots are breaking down on on that one. The most important one is obviously the party support that Scots have demonstrated in the past - the Scottish Nationalist Party - the SNP, which, as its name implies, is very much in favor of Scottish independence. And then we have the more English, mainstream, Westminster-based political parties - the conservatives which is led by David Cameron, the prime minister, which is against Scottish independence, the Labour Party which has also come out against independence and the liberal Democrats which has also come out against independence.

SIEGEL: So if the Scottish Nationalists are almost by definition in favor of a yes vote in this referendum - it's their referendum that the regional government has called - what about the Labour voters who are quite numerous, how do they break down?

BOON: They are critical to all of this. And they are the most interesting group. The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, has very much come out against Scottish independence. But a third of Labour supporters in Scotland do not appear to be following him. So which side wins this referendum may come down to the extent to which the Labour leadership is able to impart upon its supporters to stick with the Labour no position rather than fall in line with Alex Salmond and his Scottish National Party in favor of yes.

SIEGEL: Geographically, Glasgow - I gather the metropolitan area in Glasgow is 2.8 million. It's about a half of the population of the country or Edinburgh. Is one especially pro-independence and the other especially pro-remaining in the union?

BOON: I think that possibly overstates the extent of the Glasgow population slightly. But it is true that Glasgow will have a dominant presence on this result. And it does seem that Glasgow is a center of the potential yes vote. Edinburgh I think is a little bit more Anglicized, perhaps more likely to go with a no vote. So they are very different cities in nature - Glasgow and Edinburgh. And there's a little bit of antipathy between the two - it has to be said sometimes.

SIEGEL: Is there a gender gap in the vote over independence?

BOON: A minor one. Men do seem to be slightly more favorable towards independence than women. I think it breaks about 56-44 in favor of no among women. And it's split down the middle for men.

SIEGEL: In terms of income or class, is there a pretty neat breakdown between who favors independence and who's against?

BOON: A slight one. The intellectual, slightly more affluent Scottish elites seem to believe more favorable towards Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom. It's the less affluent, poorer people who seem to have something more of a desire for independence for Scotland.

SIEGEL: An advocate of independence told me that he thought that if the nos win, it's the last time they'll win because so many elderly voters oppose independence, and that they won't be around in 15 years if there's another referendum on Scottish independence then. Is that true? Do you see an age difference?

BOON: We do. It's very much the case that the oldest cohort of Scots - those aged 65 and over - are much less inclined to vote for Scottish independence. It breaks down about 65 percent, 70 percent for no.

SIEGEL: Most Scots, as you've said, live in city areas - Glasgow, Edinburgh - I guess Aberdeen would be the next?

BOON: Yes.

SIEGEL: What about our cliched image over here of the Highland Scott with his bagpipe and his kilt. Is he a fervent Scottish Nationalist? Or is he typically a stay-in-the-union vote?

BOON: It would seem not. The Highlands and Islands which are very much the remote Scottish communities - so let's remember that much of Scotland is mountainous, and there are many offshore islands which are very sparsely populated and characterized by crofters, you know, people who live off the land - very rural communities, very remote. They do seem to be breaking down in favor of no. They've got an antipathy to Edinburgh political power elites as much as they do to Westminster ones. But, you know, they seem to be breaking slightly in favor of no. So, you know, that cliche doesn't quite work. They're not the great advocates of independence.

SIEGEL: (Laughter) They like having a capital farther away than the nearby Edinburgh perhaps. Keep it down in London.

BOON: Doesn't it sound ironic? But, you know, that's the way they seem to be going.

SIEGEL: Martin Boon, director of polling for ICM, talking with us about the polls in Scotland this week. Thank you very much for talking with us.

BOON: Welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.