Campaigner Mike Fenwick explains why he thinks it's a mistake to assume over 65s will never vote for Scottish independence in substantial numbers
FOR me, two subjects stood out in the run up to the Scottish independence referendum.
Yes, the to-and-fro over oil was important, and still is, but the two which I wish to highlight are currency and pensions. They still appear frequently to this day, perhaps even more so than oil.
On currency, Craig Dalzell's papers on currency options, Andy Anderson's commitment to forming small groups across Scotland addressing currency and economic issues, and Ronnie Morrison, who later this week will be speaking at IdeaSpace on currency reform, are all signs that the subject of currency is being discussed in a manner, and depth, which was lacking the first time round. A highly knowledgeable meeting I attended at South Ayrshire Common Weal last week discussing Scotland's options on currency was further evidence that we will be better prepared for indyref 2.
I want to crunch some numbers with you because I think pensioners may be the group who could play a major part in winning the next referendum.
On pensions, the demise of final salary schemes, failures such as British Home Stores (BHS) and the current scandal which prompts WASPI are all evidence that we need to revise our pension arrangements from top to bottom.
However what I want to focus on is not pensions, but pensioners. I want to crunch some numbers with you because I think pensioners may be the group who could play a major part in winning the next referendum.
And no I am not happy with the idea we should wait for them to die of, not least because I am one of them. What we need is simply to have a conversation with them.
Let's start with these numbers (rounded off) 1.6 million people voted Yes, 2 million voted No – a gap of 400,000. Can we narrow that gap, or even overcome it, and is having a conversation with pensioners one way of doing so?
Next, let's take a look at these numbers: the population estimate for Scotland on 30 June 2015 was 5.4 million with 17 per cent of people estimated to be aged under 16, 65 per cent aged between 16-64 and 18 per cent aged 65 and over.
What evidence do we need to have a conversation with those over 65 and ensure them there is no risk to them receiving their state pension? The answer is that they have paid in, and cannot be denied their right to be paid out, that is the simple truth.
That 18 per cent gives us a figure of just over 950,000 individuals, all of whom are eligible to vote.
Immediately after the referendum, Lord Ashcroft ran a poll which showed that those over 65 voted 27 per cent Yes and 73 per cent No. Now we need to ask why. Why did that percentage of those over 65 vote No?
We can be sure some did so because they ardently believe in a United Kingdom, not in an independent Scotland. But for others, were they influenced by the posters which appeared saying they were risking their pensions with a Yes vote? Or was it the same fear, added to and heightened by Better Together and the mainstream media, that there was a risk to their pension entitlement? Did we have the conversations to rebut that claim and provide the evidence that they were not being told the truth?
One exception that I can trace to the absence of rebuttal of a risk came, not surprisingly, from Wings over Scotland.
What is the truth? What evidence do we need to have a conversation with those over 65 and ensure them there is no risk to them receiving their state pension? The answer is that they have paid in, and cannot be denied their right to be paid out, that is the simple truth.
Simply talk to those who voted No, because we failed to tell them, in big enough numbers, that any contractual risk was non-existent.
Here is another link, it is to a government site citing information from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), and it is the evidence we need:
On that link, you will find these words: "We pay the UK state pension worldwide," and it provides a list of the countries where UK state pensions are sent, including those where even the index-linking of pensions is included. They paid in, and are being paid out, wherever they may now live.
May I suggest you consider printing off the list, and also the item from Wings Over Scotland, to be used as part of the conversations that we should start having with those over 65. Simply talk to those who voted No, because we failed to tell them, in big enough numbers, that any contractual risk was non-existent.
Perhaps, however, also point out that the supreme irony is that the fall in the value of sterling caused by Brexit was and is the real risk. It will bring higher prices for those dependent on the state pension living here, and lower value pensions for those abroad – all of which also brings us back to the questions over currency, and the need for further conversation.
I do not know, and do not want to speculate on the numbers of voters over 65s who voted No that might now vote Yes through being better and more accurately informed. What I do know is that by having a conversation with the older person who lives in the flat above you, or in the house next door, or in the street close by, we can find out, and potentially remove the fear many may have had, by telling and showing them the truth on pensions and currency.
Perhaps, however, also point out that the supreme irony is that the fall in the value of sterling caused by Brexit was and is the real risk.
Let's start the conversations, show the evidence, and tell the truth to those nearly once million individuals before they are lied to again.
Here's another thought, a personal one: what the Ashcroft poll also showed was that those age 16 and 17 voted 71 per cent Yes and only 29 per cent No. What right have I in my closing years to deny the future of those younger than me who voted to create and inherit an independent Scotland? My answer – none.
Perhaps those of my age group who are today listening to xenophobic utterances, should seriously question whether that is the future they truly wish to bequeath their descendants.
Perhaps they will take time just to remember and acknowledge that it was their immediate forebears who fought and died to oppose such views, and gave them the life and freedom they have enjoyed.
Picture courtesy of Jonas Boni
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