The Asch conformity experiments of the 1950s were a series of studies that demonstrated the power of conformity in groups.

The fascinating details can be read here but the summary is that, in group situations and despite a contrary clear correct answer, individuals are disposed to providing an incorrect answer against their better judgement if they are conforming with a clear majority view.

From Wikipedia:
Solomon Asch hypothesized that the majority of people would not conform to something obviously wrong; however, when surrounded by individuals all voicing an incorrect answer, participants provided incorrect responses on a high proportion of the questions (32%). Seventy-five percent of the participants gave an incorrect answer to at least one question.

The famous experiment proved that people are more likely to opt for something that they don’t necessarily believe in if a number of people before them, even if they are strangers, opt for that same choice.

This may well be a hint at the battle ahead right up to Autumn 2014.

For Nationalists, the challenge is to persuade Scots to conform to the notion that Scotland as an independent country is merely conforming with a world view of where our constitutional borders should be drawn. It is tantamount to asking the following: ‘Complete the sequence: Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Denmark, Finland,… That’s right. Sc-… Scot-… You can say it to us, everyone else has.’

On the unionist side, the rat-a-tat-tat of conformity is just as unrelenting: ‘Stronger together, weaker apart. Too small, too stupid. Stronger together, weaker apart. To small, too stupid. Stronger together, weaker apart… Say it back to us, come on…’

The above is precisely why I hope that every Scot who is eligible to vote in this referendum takes a quiet moment to themselves, away from the bluster, the blogs and the b*llocks, has a conversation with themselves deciding what it is that they want from their country going forwards and, crucially, that they stick to that decision come what may right up to voting day.

As far as I am aware, every meaningful poll on Scottish independence has shown lower than 50% support in favour of a Yes vote. However, mindful of the Asch experiments, there is a strong argument that these polls unfairly increase the likelihood of the next poll delivering the same result, irrespective of what people may really think on the inside.

There was a time, not so long ago, that to admit that one voted for the SNP was akin to having a stain on your character. You were a narrow-minded, caber-tossing, bagpipe-playing isolationist if you voted SNP and you weren’t allowed to forget it. The SNP has of course largely managed to cast off that reputation when it comes to elections to Holyrood but to what extent does it still exist within Scotland when it comes to the independence question?

When Lord Ashcroft is concerned that there is bias in the referendum process then he uses his money and privilege to publicly highlight this with a useful poll. However, a not dissimilar bias, and a potentially more significant one, exists the other way but there is no poll that will quantify, let alone qualify, the impact of the press, the main political parties and the business leaders with vested interests lining up to instruct the public to conform to their particular view.

Asch has proved that meek conformity will be a factor in this referendum, at least to some degree. We should ignore this at our peril.