There are quite a few reasons why the outcome of Scottish referendum is proving so hard to predict. The electorate has no voting history, the demographic is wider than in any general election, and some of the voters are sixteen. But there may be another factor at play both in both the uncertainty of the outcome and the number of undecided voters who have said they will vote but are leaving it until the day before the election to make up their mind.
In his thrilling book on the human psyche, Thinking Fast And Slow, Daniel Kahneman talks about the way in which people assess the potential candidates in an election. Half a second snapshot of a candidate’s face, he says, is enough to affect considerably the way in which a person will vote come election time. The mind is made up about a candidate’s trustworthiness, their strength, their honesty, based, apparently, on a small mouth and a strong jawline. From this comes certainty in the quality of the candidate. Faced with the question of why people vote a certain way, this certainty diminishes. A frequent sentiment: I just know that I like her.
This is a fairly well-known study, and the feeling of knowing you like or dislike a politician without really knowing why is probably a familiar one to many. But it is something that is worth introducing into the situation in Scotland. What face should be ascribed to the two sides of the referendum question? Alex Salmond might be voted out of power when Scotland writes a constitution and hosts a general election; in thirteen months according to very ambitious estimates from the SNP. David Cameron could lose power by next May. And as everyone campaigning in Scotland this week repeats, this is a once-in-a-generation decision. The many faces of politicians who will come and go in this time cannot be imagined, let alone sorted into order of trustworthiness.
I am not Scottish. I do not have to make a decision on Thursday. But I wonder that if I did, my decision might be made that much harder by the fact that really no one can put their face on independence or togetherness. It seems to me that any vote cast on Thursday based on the faces of the campaigners is a vote that is misdirected and whatever the basis for a decision, it shouldn’t be these mugs