Chart: Struggling Scottish cities were more likely to vote for independence than affluent ones

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond addresses a business event in Aberdeen last February. Image: Getty.

In the highly likely event that you've been locked in a cupboard without Wi-Fi for the last eight hours, you may have missed the news that Scotland has said no to independence. Around 55 per cent of the voters elected to remain within the United Kingdom, compared to just 45 per cent that wanted to leave.

What's interesting about this result is the way the figures vary by region. Look at this map. Green areas had a majority for yes; red ones a majority for no. It's a little misleading, because it looks like a landslide. In fact support for independence in different council areas varied between 32 and 58 per cent: even in the deepest, reddest areas, there are a lot of Yes voters.

Those green areas also contain a lot more people than the sparsely populated Highlands. They cover two of Scotland's four major cities, Glasgow and Dundee, the latter of which was the most pro-independence region in the entire country. The western vale of "Yes" also includes West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire, both of which contain swathes of Glasgow suburbia.

Why these two cities should be so pro-independence while Aberdeen and Edinburgh were not is a complicated question – but the economic data may provide some clues.

The two Yes cities have consistently suffered unemployment rates well above the national average. And that gap seems to have widened during the recent recession:

Those who are in work have seen wages lag behind:

Dundee in particular seems to be struggling. Wages lag behind those in Glasgow, and even in 2013 unemployment was still rising. That's probably due in part to the relatively poor quality of the jobs the city has to offer:

It'd be too simplistic to credit an entire city's views on government and national identity to its economic situation, of course: all sorts of other factors, political and social, will come into play, too.

Nonetheless, it seems unlikely to be a coincidence that the residents of vibrant Edinburgh and oil-rich Aberdeen are relatively happy with the status quo – while those of poorer, ex-industrial cities aren’t.

Map of referendum results courtesy of Sceptre, via Wikimedia Commons.

 
 
 
 

What’s in the government’s new rail strategy?

A train in the snow at Gidea Park station, east London, 2003. Image: Getty.

The UK government has published its new Strategic Vision for Rail, setting out policy on what the rail network should look like and how it is to be managed. 

The most eye-catching part of the announcement concerns plans to add new lines to the network. Citing the Campaign for Better Transport’s Expanding the Railways report, the vision highlights the role that new and reopened rail lines could play in expanding labour markets, supporting housing growth, tackling road congestion and other many other benefits.

Everyone loves a good reopening project and this ‘Beeching in reverse’ was eagerly seized on by the media. Strong, long-standing reopening campaigns like Ashington, Blyth and Tyne, Wisbech and Okehampton were name checked and will hopefully be among the first to benefit from the change in policy. 

We’ve long called for this change and are happy to welcome it. The trouble is, on its own this doesn’t get us very much further forward. The main things that stop even good schemes reaching fruition are still currently in place. Over-reliance on hard-pushed local authorities to shoulder risk in initial project development; lack of central government funding; and the labyrinthine, inflexible and extortionately expensive planning process all still need reform. That may be coming and we will be campaigning for another announcement – the Rail Upgrade Plan – to tackle those problems head-on. 

Reopenings were the most passenger-friendly part of the Vision announcement. But while sepia images of long closed rail lines were filling the news, the more significant element of the Strategic Vision actually concerns franchising reform – and here passenger input continues to be notable mainly by its absence. 

Whatever you think of franchising, it is clear the existing model faces major risks which will be worsened if there is a fall in passenger numbers or a slowdown in the wider economy. Our thought leadership programme recently set out new thinking involving different franchise models operating in different areas of the country.

The East-West Link: one of the proposed reopenings. Image: National Rail.

Positively, it seems we are heading in this direction. In operational terms, Chris Grayling’s long-held ambition for integrated management of tracks and trains became clearer with plans for much closer working between Network Rail and train operators. To a degree, the proof of the pudding will in the eating. Will the new arrangements mean fewer delays and better targeted investment? These things most certainly benefit passengers, but they need to be achieved by giving people a direct input into decisions that their fares increasingly pay for. 

The government also announced a consultation on splitting the Great Western franchise into two smaller and more manageable units, but the biggest test of the new set-up is likely to be with the East Coast franchise. Alongside the announcement of the Strategic Vision came confirmation that the current East Coast franchise is being cut short.

Rumours have been circulating for some time that East Coast was in trouble again after 2009’s contract default. The current franchise will now end in 2020 and be replaced with public-private affair involving Network Rail.


This new management model is an ideal opportunity to give passengers and communities more involvement in the railway. We will be pushing for these groups to be given a direct say in service and investment decisions, and not just through a one-off paper consultation.

Elsewhere in the Strategic Vision, there are warm words and repeated commitments to things that do matter to passenger. Ticketing reform, compensation, a new rail ombudsman, investment in improved disabled access and much else. This is all welcome and important, but is overshadowed by the problems facing franchising.

Stability and efficiency are vital – but so too is a model which offers deeper involvement and influence for passengers. With the building blocks of change now in place, the challenge for both the government and rail industry is to deliver such a vision. 

Andrew Allen is research & consultancy coordinator of the Campaign for Better Transport. This article was originally published on the campaign’s blog.

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