IT IS said that the difference between winners and losers is that losers focus on winners, and winners focus on winning. There is much truth in this, in normal life. Not so, though, in Scotland’s interminable constitutional debate, where the opposite is true.

Six years ago today, Scotland’s unionists, fresh from their victory in the previous day’s referendum, commenced a strategy (if we can call it that) of focussing entirely on the nationalists at the expense of all other issues.

Every election, every announcement, every day since September 18, 2014, has presented us with the unionist message that they will be the dam that breaks the nationalists’ flow.

The message was electorally successful, up to a point, particularly for the Tories, whose single-issue anti-nationalist campaigns in 2016 and 2017 delivered large upticks in their number of parliamentarians.

However, the well is now empty. And, with the winners having spent six years focussing on the losers, it is difficult for them to argue that the losers’ request for another try is somehow illegitimate.

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That is especially true when it seems likelier than not that those same losers will enjoy a majority in the Scottish Parliament, and when there is (as unionists privately acknowledge) currently a majority in this country in favour of independence.

Here, six years on, unionists can be fairly neatly split into two camps. The first group is what might be called the ‘ultras’. They are mainly but not exclusively Tories, and mainly but not exclusively at Westminster. The ultras believe that there are no circumstances in which another referendum is acceptable, including after an SNP majority on a clear manifesto commitment.

They are angry that we are still discussing this issue (a sentiment to which I can relate), and hope that if the UK Government simply refuses to grant a referendum, then people in Scotland will gradually forget about it, wean themselves off the SNP and live happily ever after.

At the heart of this is a rank pessimism about their chances of actually winning a second referendum, and it is this point which is earning my focus today. Because, when one analyses the regular opinion polls of the years which have passed since 2014, the cause of unionism begins to look comprehensively doomed.

The headline numbers are bad enough. Yes has won the last seven polls in a row; No has won only two of the last 13 polls. Some may wish to take comfort from the notion that this is an acute reaction to coronavirus, but in fact this polling trend goes back 12 to 18 months, when pro-independence sentiment emerged from something of a slumber.

What is much, much worse for unionism is what sits behind these numbers. The old constitutional truisms are crumbling.

In 2014, social class and financial clout played a key role; bluntly those with money or the prospect of money voted No. Not so now, with all pollsters recording a lead for Yes amongst the ABC1 social classes.

There’s more. Nationalism was always perceived to have a gender problem. Women didn’t like Alex Salmond, and they don’t much like Nicola Sturgeon either, right? Wrong. All pollsters record a heavy lead for Yes amongst females.

Unfortunately for unionists, the truisms which always went in nationalists’ favour, far from crumbling, are being cemented. It has always been well-known that the young tended towards nationalism whilst the old tended towards unionism. Today’s polling shows No losing in every single age-group under 55 years old. Unionists often took comfort in the propensity for people to become more unionist as they get older, but statistics amongst the middle-aged make for grim reading; only one-in-three under 50s will vote No.

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Fewer than one-in-five 25-year-olds will vote No, with some polling recording the proportion as closer to one-in-ten. And, if we estimate that a future independence referendum will take place around 2022, children who were aged between eight and 16 at the time of the first poll will be eligible to vote. Almost all of them will vote Yes.

Bluntly, Yes voters are coming of age, and No voters are dying.

Furthermore, there is no respite in the form of a solid set of current unionists. Only half of Labour voters tell pollsters they are certain to vote No. Two-thirds of Lib Dems say the same, and remarkably even up to 10 percent of Tories – which may amount to the electorally significant sum of 50,000-or-so voters – might consider voting Yes.

In short, there are no silver linings for unionism. There is no good news. Demographics dictate that the longer this goes, the more heavily unionists will lose. This is a game unionists cannot win.

Enter, then, the second group. Smaller, comprised of people from all the pro-UK parties and more likely to be at Holyrood, they are winners focussing on winning. They know they cannot win indyref 2 based on our current understanding of what voting No means.

To them, if voting No means status quo, independence is inevitable. But if it means something more like federalism, or what has been known as home rule, then that is a game they can win.

In the final analysis, more than anything nationalists can do, the constitutional future of Scotland will be dictated by which group of unionists wins the argument.

Andy Maciver is Director of Message Matters