clock menu more-arrow no yes

The Scottish vote was a class war and the rich won

A Yes voter consoles herself, wrapped in the Scottish flag.
A Yes voter consoles herself, wrapped in the Scottish flag.
Christopher Furlong

Scotland is remaining in the UK after a referendum for independence lost decisively at the polls Thursday. And it looks, from one snap analysis, that that's exactly what Scotland's richest citizens wanted. Rich areas, it seemed, voted overwhelmingly for staying in the UK, while poorer ones leaned towards independence.

Biologist Susan Johnston was curious about the relationship between income and independence votes. So she ran a simple regression attempting to correlate the percentage of votes with independence in any one area of Scotland with disposable income per capita in that region. Here's what came out:

Scotland correlation wealth vote

X axis is disposable income per capita in each region, Y axis the percentage of people voting against independence. (Susan Johnston)

According to Johnston, change in income predicts about 55 percent of any region's likelihood of voting for independence. So, all things being equal: the wealthier a region was, the more likely it was to oppose independence. But wealth was hardly the only factor that mattered.

Johnston's analysis is pretty quick-and-dirty: the election results just came out this morning, so there's no time for peer-review quality statistical work. But her findings make a lot of intuitive sense. Perhaps most obviously, they're consistent with the pre-election polls, which found consistently higher levels of support for independence among lower-income Scots.

Welfare state politics were a leading cause of support for independence: Scots in general are more left-leaning than other Britons, and independence supporters wanted a bigger government than current British politics allowed for. Poorer Scots stand to benefit the most from this more generous welfare state, so it make sense that they'd be the most ardent supporters of independence.

And, accordingly to this comically absurd Tatler article, Scotland's 1 percent saw the referendum as a fundamental threat to their way of life:

The Scottish aristocracy is nervous. Change is afoot. 'As one whose family was involved in the 1707 Act of Union, I can't really comment on the referendum,' barks one of the country's pre-eminent dukes. 'But the buggers are out to get us!' The buggers, according to His Grace, are those currently trying to persuade the Scots that they should peel themselves off from the rest of the United Kingdom and become independent. The vote is on 18 September, and impassioned campaigning on both sides is in full flow. But were you to skip 300 or so miles northwards from Berwickshire to John O'Groats, combing heather and dredging lochs as you go, you'd be hard pushed to find a single Scottish grandee who favours the split. Will their 80,000-acre estates be parcelled out to crofters? Might SNP leader Alex Salmond bring in a swingeing castle tax? Will treasonous Scots cast off the Queen as their head of state? It's causing disquiet among the ranks, if not the file.

The astonishing display of privilege panic documented in the article is pretty entertaining, and I'd suggest reading it. But my guess is the estate holders are a good deal more calm today. They've won.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.