IT’S the stat that drew a collective intake of breath at the Build Indy conference last week.

And throughout Dr Craig Dalzell’s vital paper The Demographics of Independence, it’s the one he’s most anxious about: “The underlying reasons … should be investigated immediately”.

Here it is: Support for indy among women over 55 has dropped from 44 per cent in 2014 to 22 per cent in 2016. “The idea of the UK leaving the EU appears to have affected this group profoundly, as their leaving the Yes group has not resulted in a rise in the undecided vote,” says Dalzell. “Instead, there has been a movement straight to No.”

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Scramble the focus groups! Unleash the questionnaires! But surely, taking a long slow breath, we could trust our intuitions and experience first.

These are, very largely, the grannies (and beyond that, the great grannies) of Scotland. And in many aspects, grannies hold the country together, no matter what the political or constitutional upheavals are.

Count the ways. For example, they are the near-universal childcare system that didn’t need to be designed or funded, just asked.

And let’s not pretend that this is an automatic or easy ask. Grannies are also women of modernity, after all – why shouldn’t they enjoy some years of care-free autonomy? I don’t think we often recognise, or honour, what a double-shift this is for many thousands of older women, who have already mightily laboured to bring up their own.

But enough say yes to become one of our most vital infrastructures. Grannies can hardly go on strike. When the frazzled son or daughter looks them in the eye and says: “I just can’t cope unless you do Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays”, the only labour to be withdrawn there is love. And in the main, that’s not likely to happen with a granny.

Grannies (if they are active) also bestride the voluntary shops and services, the food banks; they tread the high streets during the working hours, and see the walking wounded of austerity. If any demographic has an acute sense of how well or badly their society is hanging together, under the crash and bang of big politics, it’s going to be them.

Thus I’m not surprised that the 44 per cent who were up for the change of indy have halved in number, post-Brexit. “So much upheaval – and you’re telling me that more’s going to make things better? Naw, son, you’re not on”.

You can call it conservative – but conserving things (family togetherness, local traditions, practices of giving, and – yes – jams) is what many grannies do, or have found themselves doing.

If women over 55 were at the national average Yes vote in 2014, I can’t believe this is a mere constitutional shift. This is an emotional, visceral shift – literally, a protective move: one arm thrown around those under their care, the other with a hand up against any more “big changes”.

Faced with this, and many other such defensive political reactions around the world at the moment, progressive democrats (of which no doubt Yessers are a subset) often move into “but-why-don’t-they-see” mode.

Why don’t they see that making political choices to preserve or even harden a status quo can “degrade” it as much as “conserve” it? A Resolution report earlier this week, titled Live Long And Prosper, noted that if a hard Brexit cut migration to a minimum, the elderly will have to work years longer to make up the economic shortfall, before pensions could kick in. Is this what the elderly thought their solid Leave vote was securing?

And as for Scotland ... why don’t they see that a well-balanced, steadily-progressing independent Scotland is the best guarantee for their living standards? Look at all the elder benefits that have come through devolution – free personal care, prescription charges, etc.

Doesn’t this feel like a country you could trust more with the powers to protect your long-term social security, than a perma-Tory Westminster never happier than when cutting public budgets?

You may have heard this line before (I certainly heard it come out of my mouth a few years ago). Its targets have proved impervious. I’m told by Dalzell that the over 65s (who currently make up 18 per cent of the population, and who managed the highest percentage of turnout of any social group in the first indyref, at 96 per cent) are currently thumbs-up-for-Yes at ... 15 per cent.

We heard a few stories from the floor at Build about activists trying to counter No campaign black propaganda – “you vote Yes on Thursday, your pension’s gone by next week” – but that’s only salve for old wounds.

The White Paper Project by Common Weal has pensions on its production schedule. But even slightly revisiting this one over the archive of 2012-14, it’s a shock to see how central it was.

The way it looks now – and it’s far from an easy tale to tell, though it never was – is that responsibility for maintaining state pensions would ultimately rest with an indy Scotland. However there would be deal-making between the UK and Scottish states about who takes the burden of payment, over an agreed period. (If any one has two sentences that are better, send them in.) When it comes to the great grinding gears of the indy process, it was our problem then, and it’s our problem now. How do we make public opinion strong and patient enough for the task?

Everyday Scottish citizens would have to hold their nerve. They have to be capable of seeing their representatives hustle and deal with massive numbers, but which connect directly to the continuity of those citizens’ everyday realities ... like pensions.

(Incidentally, the Brexiteers have presumed their constituency just can’t take seeing all that gubbins, if May’s stern omerta over leaking details of negotiation plans and progress are any indication.) From all this one could easily see the argument about elders and indy edging into the corner of despair. But I want to throw you two lines of flight – into what I hope is lots of work being done by others – about how your elders might not be such a lost cause.

One comes back to those society-weaving grannies (and of course grandpas – both are still game). There has to be a way to talk directly to the emotional core of these mega-carers in our society – who mostly do, rather than urge others to do – and ask them, with some passion: You know struggle. You’ve seen great changes in society. You’ve worked hard and survived, and now rightly enjoy a little ease.

But through independence, we want to build a much better society than the one that’s ripping apart the lives of people around you; the ones you’re already loving and caring for.

We need you. We need your wisdom, your caring instincts, even your ability to act when others don’t have the time and resources. Can you help us do this great thing?

Another line to explore is how elders might be the ideal place to recruit those who can explain the demanding processes and negotiations involved in independence. The great challenge is to make indy feel like a house-plan being realised – we want the design, we essentially understand the materials and techniques being used, but we’ll trust the pros to build it (while checking in when we like).

Or choose some other metaphor. But I’m betting that one consequence of a life long-lived can be a feel for the analogy, or image, or story that sums up a complex reality very well. I can imagine quite an army of “elder explainers” out there in communities. If we can fire their hearts with the previous line, then this could be one of their primary ways to help.

This century will be dominated by longevity. Our life-span is increasing by five hours a day; a third of the recently born will be centenarians; and never mind what the labs are about to come up with to stop our cells ageing… I think a lot of room is opening up for a new culture of idealism and hope to flower in later years. So I refuse to consign our elders to conservatism and reaction. Let’s ask them to help us build a better Scotland, and see what happens.

The Demographics of Independence by Craig Dalzell is at www.allofusfirst.org. Live Long and Prosper is from www.resoultionfoundation.org