So far, much of the focus of the campaign has been on younger voters.
HE referendum battle for the grey vote got under way yesterday with the launch of a pro-independence group for older Scots.
The first meeting of Seniors For Yes, in Perth’s Bell Library, marked the start of a concerted bid by Yes Scotland to try and win over the 900,000 pensioners in Scotland. Yes Scotland strategists have identified older Scots as the age group with the “greatest potential” and acknowledge that along with female voters it is an area where they need to make significant gains.
So far, much of the focus in the referendum campaign has been on younger voters, particularly with the novelty of 16 and 17-year-olds getting the vote for the first time.
But younger voters account for a small proportion of the electorate and are less likely to get out and vote than their elders.
Finance Secretary John Swinney last week set out ambitious, and as yet uncosted, promises of better pensions in an independent nation.
It was an acknowledgment that one of the big referendum battlegrounds is with the 2.7 million Scots over the age of 40. Put simply there are more of them and they are more likely to vote. But opinion polls lay bare the unease that older Scots feel over the subject of independence.
A TNS-BMRB poll published in March showed that just 23% of people over the age of 55 would vote yes, contrasting with 66% who would opt to stay in the Union. The same poll showed that 35% of those aged 35-54 and 33% of those aged between 16 and 34 would vote yes, highlighting the generation gap facing Yes Scotland.
Polling expert Professor John Curtice, reflecting on separate ScotCen Social Research that shows just 14% support for separation among those 65 and over, said: “Maybe older people are more likely to worry about the practical consequences of what they regard as a big change from the constitutional arrangements they have known all of their lives. However, perhaps we should also bear in mind that most of those aged sixty and over will have voted for the first time before the SNP became a significant force in the 1970s. Perhaps they are still carrying with them the outlook and sympathies of a more unionist era.
“But this pattern has been evident ever since the early years of devolution. In contrast, support traditionally tends to be higher amongst younger people.”
It is this challenge of winning the “grey power” struggle which Yes Scotland had in mind yesterday when its team spent the afternoon in Perth, training up dozens of “Silver Scots” ambassadors to take the group’s independence message to the country’s senior citizens.
The main weapon in the volunteers’ arsenal will be word-of-mouth communication an increasingly crucial factor in this referendum. Tony Waters, co-ordinator of the Yes Dundee group, explained what the Silver Scot ambassadors will be doing in his area.
He said: “What we are planning is something fairly informal.
“It will be pensioners going to speak to other pensioners at places like sheltered housing complexes or nursing homes.
“The idea is fairly simple, we will have a cup of tea and a chat through the issues, some of the guys are singers too, so we will try and make it as fun as possible. It is all about trying to engage people in a way they are comfortable with.”
It’s this type of contact, far from the echo chambers of social media websites like Twitter, where the real gains can be made for both sides of the referendum even if for now they are not reflected in the polls.
Addressing yesterday’s Seniors For Yes meeting, Yes Scotland chairman Dennis Canavan claimed: “In an independent Scotland, the Scottish Parliament would have full responsibility for pensions and would therefore be able to do so much more to ensure a fairer deal for senior citizens.’
The upbeat comments follow John Swinney’s promise that Scots pensioners would benefit from stronger pension safeguards than those elsewhere in the UK if Scotland became independent.
But this is where the wheels could come off for Yes Scotland.
By virtue of their years on this planet, older voters have seen more phony promises from politicians than any of them care to remember.
Crucially though they could always get rid of the offending politician at the next election if the promises weren’t lived up to.
The referendum is different, this is for good, and the onus is on Yes Scotland to not only connect with older voters but also give them the answers on how they will deliver on their promises.