By the numbers: the Scottish referendum

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September 18, 2014

8:30 PM

This week, in a nod to my physics major and polling website FiveThirtyEight.com, it occurred to me that taking a look at where I live by the numbers could offer useful insight. As I remarked this past week to a friend back home, my stories come from big events, but it’s the small things that truly make St. Andrews University home.

Beginning with the referendum, it is useful to note the recent polling that still shows a race too close to call. Looking at factors here, there is more than meets the eye to each campaign.

The question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

The “Yes” campaign: More than any other age group, the “Yes” campaign has captivated the under-30 bracket in recent weeks.

What this has meant for the “No” campaign is increased efforts, particularly here on a university campus. So why do I see more “No” than “Yes” stickers worn by students? First, the majority of students at the University of St. Andrews are not Scottish. According to the international pages, approximately 30% of St. Andrews students (1,500 undergraduates) are international and represent more than 120 different countries, with North American students comprising approximately 15% (750 undergraduates). Furthermore, only 33% of students are from Scotland, with a further 33% from the rest of the UK. Additionally, the university accounts for approximately half of the town population. Giving some rough freedom with the numbers, this means that 63% of students living here are not Scottish and 36.5% of the population of St. Andrews is from abroad. What this means is that for the “Yes” campaign to capture votes of residents here, it has to provide a convincing case for stability; in the rest of Scotland, the campaign has been focusing on several largely-unfounded premises and emotional arguments (e.g. that Scotland will be able to keep the pound because Westminster was bluffing when it rejected the notion, that Scotland has been oppressed by the English for centuries, etc.). Unlikely. Conversely, many Europeans view Scottish independence as a way of keeping at least some of Britain in the EU ahead of the UK-wide in-out referendum next year, giving the “Yes” campaign some support from European residents.

The “No” campaign: Several interesting aspects of the voting demographic appear to break down in favor of the “No” campaign. According to the General Register Office for Scotland’s 2001 Census, the voting population itself is skewed in favor of a “No” vote.

Another aspect of the demographics here that supports the “No” campaign is the economic makeup of the student body. While some good reasons were put forth in a 2013 article in The Saint, it still stands that out of 11,000 students offered a place at the University of St. Andrews in 2013, only 14 were from economically-deprived backgrounds. And yes, while there is a correlation between grades earned in school and economic background, there is also a correlation between economic background and which side of the referendum one is willing to vote for – unsurprisingly, the higher the annual income, the more likely a voter is to support the “No” campaign.

All these numbers culminate in a simple question: given the information, would a 51% vote for independence represent a sufficient mandate? While it has been discussed in the press, saying that the vote will go forward with a simple majority rather than a supermajority seems unfair considering that, in this nation of approximately 5.3 million, 400,000 are from other parts of the UK and a further segment of the population is comprised of either recent immigrants or short-term residents (i.e. university students, oil workers, etc.). The question the simple numbers don’t answer, however, is why does the “Yes” campaign still stand such a chance with political, business and social leaders coming out in favor of a “No” vote? Clearly the validity of the polls will be shown by the result of the referendum.

The referendum does have a major effect on studying abroad, most notably by way of currency stability. All banks are expecting a run on the pound, albeit temporary, in the event of a “Yes”, and a rally in the event of a “No.” What this means, however, is that depending on how deep or long the run lasts, I could hypothetically make or lose money by transferring money to my bank in Scotland. Essentially, this means I currently have no cash until mid-day on the 19th.

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