Turnout matters: No secures 46.7% and Scotland remains in the Union

So, now we know.

With 46.7%, the noes have it, the noes have it. Scotland is to remain within the United Kingdom.

Hang on… No got 55.3% of the votes cast, not 46.7%!

That’s true. But as with all percentage figures, an important question to ask is ‘what is this a percentage of’?

According to the official referendum count web site, there were 2,001,926 No votes. That is, indeed, 55.3% of the 3,691,915 votes cast for both Yes and No in total.

However, not every elector turned out. Scotland saw a massive turnout – 84.6%. This is a record high turnout for Scotland, as fact-checking organisation Full Fact (and many others) have noted.  The electorate for this referendum was 4,283,392. And the No vote is 46.7% of this figure.

Oh, I see. Isn’t that just statistical pedantry?

Well, yes and no…

Aha – I see what you did there! Carry on…

Let’s look at a different election. On 21 August 2014, there was a by-election for a Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands region.

The winning candidate – Labour’s David Jamieson – got 102,561 first preference votes under the supplementary vote system used in these elections. That’s 50.8% of first preferences. The second placed Conservative candidate got 54,091.

OK… a lower percentage than No got in Scotland. But a win’s a win, surely?

Indeed, it is. But the turnout was a dismal 10.4%.

The electorate was nearly two million, not much less than half that of that for the Scottish referendum.

Yet, barely one in ten of eligible votes engaged in making a decision. The newly elected commissioner has a mandate from not much more than one in twenty of the people to whom he is accountable.

Imagine, if the Scottish referendum had seen a similar turnout when voting No. Would this have settled the question for a generation?

Hmm… I doubt it very much! The Yes side would hope to get more of their supporters out in a re-run.

Precisely. Not only has No won the democratic test by getting more than half of the votes cast, it did so by nearly getting half of all votes that could possibly have been cast. It is hard to see how increasing the turnout would have seen a different decision.

Turnout matters. And in this respect all those who voted in Scotland – whether Yes or No supporting – are on the winning side.