GLASGOW - A Canadian team of voter-contact experts working with Scotland’s Yes team is forecasting that Scots will vote by as much as 54-46 in favour of independence when the final vote is tallied early on Friday morning.
“I believe they’re going to win,” said Mike O’Neill of the Canadian voter-targeting firm First Contact, which has been doing data-modelling work with two academics, one of them Canadian, to profile likely Yes and No support in Thursday’s referendum.
“I feel pretty confident,” O’Neill said.
The bold prediction flies in the face of most poll predictions that are still giving a narrow edge to the No forces as Scotland began voting early Thursday on whether to go it alone or stay with the United Kingdom.
Turnout was reported to be brisk and large at the more than 5,500 polling sites across Scotland. At most of them, Yes and No teams were staked outside the front, smiling and handing out pamphlets to the still-undecided Scots who could be making up their minds at the ballot box.
“It’s those kind of voters who make things volatile,” O’Neill cautioned. But as far as he could see from his early calculations and voter-profiling models, Yes had reason to feel optimistic about the result – which won’t be known until early Friday morning.
O’Neill was camped out at the Glasgow headquarters of the Yes team on Thursday afternoon, working side-by-side with a social-media team busy monitoring Facebook and Twitter for early signs of how the close race was tilting.
Stewart Kirkpatrick, head of the social-media team, was busily tapping out messages to a “wobbly No voter,” as he called it, while also keeping score of Yes and No support. By mid-afternoon on Thursday, the Yes side’s Facebook page had more than 323,700 “likes,” compared to roughly 219,000 for No. On Twitter, Yes had about 103,000 followers, compared to about 42,000 for the No side.
Those figures may reflect the larger demographics in the extremely close-fought Scottish referendum, in which the Yes side has appeared to attract a lot of youth voters, while the No side is generally seen as more attractive to older Scots.
As well, the Yes side have been the far more visible and demonstrative in the final week, but the people who have been watching this referendum closely say that the No may remain the silent majority.
That impression was sealed with a visit to the two headquarters in Glasgow on Thursday. While the Yes team’s storefront operation was doing a brisk trade in T-shirts, buttons and other campaign swag from passers-by who wandered in through the doors, the No team, on the fourth floor of a shopping-mall office, was closed to visitors.
“Everyone’s out campaigning,” a woman wearing No badge said, closing the door. “There’s no one here to talk right now.”
On Wednesday night, on the eve of the referendum, high-spirited bands of young Yes voters were marching all through streets in Glasgow and Edinburgh, singing and shouting until late into the night.
O’Neill, whose firm has done most of its work with federal Liberals in Canada since 1997 met with Scotland’s Yes team back in 2013 and was surprised with the level of technical sophistication they were amassing before the referendum. First Contact has been working with Yes for the past eight weeks, organizing data according to postal registrations, demographic and canvassing data to identify where Yes needed to build or grow support.
The two academics working with O’Neill are Matthew Lebo, a Canadian working at Stonybrook University, and Andrew Sidman, a professor at City College in New York. They have been discovering a significant “canvas effect,” in Scotland, said O’Neill, by which Yes was building its support through networks of neighbours and communities.
If O’Neill’s prediction is correct, it will represent a major upset victory for Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond and his Yes team.
In his final campaign message published in Scottish papers on Thursday, Salmond said that whether it was Yes or No, his country had been transformed by the referendum.
“Our nation is alive with energy and excitement about the future,” Salmond said.
“For all of this, Scotland is richer. It is this popular energy which gives confidence for Scotland’s future.”