Battle for women's vote becomes key as Scottish referendum nears

There are five weeks to go until the Scottish referendum vote takes place. Credit: PA Wire

I've just interviewed the actor Brian Cox for ITV Border's politics programme, Representing Border.

To my colleagues' great amusement I gave Mr Cox some directions on how to behave in front of a camera.

The Bourne Supremacy star took it in good part and gently pointed out to me that he had done a bit of directing, and been directed, in his time.

Moving swiftly on we got down to discussing politics. Mr Cox was in Edinburgh to promote independence at a festival fringe event.

A Labour party member still, Mr Cox is nonetheless convinced by the argument for independence and is doing his bit ahead of the referendum on 18 September.

His argument is, he says, based on history. Scotland has been held back by the Union that is the UK. It would be "empowered" by independence.

A large part of his conversation - it was more of a conversation than a speech - at the fringe event was about what he and fellow Yes Scotland supporters say are the "fear stories" from the No campaign.

It's a claim the pro-Union parties and the umbrella group, Better Together, strongly deny. One campaign's fear factor is another's fact.

Unionists say they are merely asking questions - like whether First Minister Alex Salmond has a "Plan B" if his plan to use Sterling after independence is rejected, as the main UK parties promise it will be.

Leaving that debate to one side, it is clear that uncertainty over independence - whether it is justified on not - has had an impact on voters in Scotland.

A survey published today by ScotCen Social Research shows a substantial gender gap ahead of the referendum.

The annual survey found a significant 12% difference between men and women in terms of support for independence - 31% compared with 43% when undecided voters are excluded.

Why? Rachel Ormston, research director at ScotCen, says women may be "put off by uncertainty and less likely to be persuaded by patriotic arguments around 'pride' ".

She says women still need to be convinced that independence will deliver on the economy and other areas.

But she adds:

The No campaign should not assume it will automatically benefit from women's lower level of support for a Yes vote - nearly a third of women remain undecided how they will vote in September.

– Rachel Ormston

So the battle for the women's vote has become a key one in the remaining five weeks of the campaign.

The 'Yes' campaign that when the put the arguments for independence to women on the doorsteps they can be persuaded.

One Yes campaigner, Kate Higgins - who you see regularly as one of our commentators on Representing Border - says women respond to the argument that independence is like leaving home.

When a young person leaves home that might feel a bit nervous but they soon see the benefits of independence, or at least small 'i' independence.

On the No side, they put it differently. They say women are simply being sensible and they do not like the risk at comes with breaking from, the UK.

Women are often responsible for household budgets, so the No side case goes, and they think that independence would put Scotland's finances at risk.

There's one further factor here, the First Minister himself. Polls tend to show that women do not take to Mr Salmond.

It is something he acknowledged himself. After last weeks debate with former chancellor Alistair Darling he quoted Zsa Zsa Gabor: "Macho men ain't mucho".

Mr Salmond has deliberately toned down his instinctive aggressive style to try to appeal to women and ironically the more abrasive performer on the night, Mr Darling, was judged to have won the debate.

So we can expect mucho - if not macho - more debate on women and independence between now and referendum day.

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