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Gender and age vital elements in referendum

Yet more polls are published, so cue the weary mantra that "the only one which matters is the one on polling day".

Aye, right. Rest assured the number crunchers from both camps will be examining each set of figures with heightened forensic zeal every week.

Following Sunday's batch they have rather more to chew on. Panelbase chose to chuck some psephological oil on troubled waters by asking respondents for their country of origin as well as voting intention, by which device they deduced that two-thirds of English folks living here would be saying No, while a simple majority of home-grown Scots were planning to vote Yes.

This led, with alarming predictability, to follow-up headlines suggesting those English voters could be the decisive factor in a No victory. This is eggshell territory, as anything relating to ethnicity tends to be. You don't have to be a Romanian with designs on the empty property next door to the Farages to fret about what the neighbours might be thinking.

Yet, for good or ill, this will become a talking point in the pub. Having everyone of eligible age given a vote in the referendum seems no more than natural justice.

Sure, it means Scots living elsewhere are disenfranchised but it also means people who have paid Scotland the compliment of settling in this country have a say in the future of their adopted homeland.

It poses a real conundrum though for those on planet Yes. Is that huge disparity in voting intention by English residents down to respondents having more friends and family down south?

Is it because, having been brought up in a culture where British and English were deemed interchangeable, they find it natural to buy the bigger-is-better pitch? Or is it neither of the above?

One of my English No-voting friends says it's just because she doesn't believe Scotland has much to gain from independence; one of my Yes-voting English friends says he believes it gives his new homeland the chance to make things fairer.

And how significant is the fact that the man is for independence and the woman not? It's certainly a consistent trend across voters, regardless of background. There is infectious enthusiasm in the ranks of Women for Independence, which is arguably quite a young demographic but a stubbornly large female tranche among the still remarkable number of undecideds.

It is hopeless to generalise about 52 per cent of the population but it would be futile to deny that the female take on what it will all mean for the family budget could be a major factor in their prolonged swithering.

Then there's the age thing. Again, it seemed no more than fair minded to enfranchise the 16 to 17-year-olds who are deemed old enough to marry and don a uniform. Some of them will not be switched on to politics. Neither will some of their dads and mums.

Yet, according to an online survey published by The Herald yesterday, a sizeable majority of this constituency worry about their parents' finances. An odd one this, given that those going on to university north of the Border will make much less of a dent in the family purse.

A counterweight is the quite remarkable number of under 30-year-olds who have become actively engaged in the debate, from the already politicised Radical Independence Campaign to the creatives who make up the heartland of the National Collective.

In their different ways these three groupings will have a very big say as to where Scotland plights its troth on September 18. And the home straight will be littered with new best friends anxious to woo and win them over.

It may be that these final months will bring what the Americans call a gamechanger; an intervention to blow all previous assumptions out of the water.

From my own observations as I travel round the airts and pairts, I believe one of the most decisive elements will be who gets their vote out.

And, at present, there is little doubt that the Yes campaign has a much bigger grassroots presence. Doubtless they'll be telling folks on the day not to get into strange cars.

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