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Does the Scottish election result prove there is support for indyref2?

Scottish Government

Does the Scottish election result prove there is support for indyref2?

So Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson are now on a collision course – over a second independence referendum.

Speaking at the Glasgow count, Scotland’s First Minister described the SNP’s performance as providing “a renewed, refreshed, strengthened mandate” for a new independence referendum.

Not independence itself, crucially – “I don’t pretend that every single person that voted SNP yesterday will necessarily support independence”, she said – but a chance to put the independence question to the people of Scotland for a second time. It was, she said, at the heart of the SNP’s campaign and the Scottish Tories put stopping another independence vote at the heart of theirs, so the pro-SNP vote on Thursday represented “a strong endorsement” of her call for a fresh referendum.

With the SNP gaining 12 seats, going up to 47 (as well as a win for suspended candidate Neale Hanvey), and the Scottish Tories losing seven, going down to six, her assertion may be understandable, but is it correct?

Nicola Sturgeon says the country has sent a “clear message” on a second independence referendum, but in truth, the message is not very clear at all.

After all, the picture in Scotland is a complex one, in which Brexit, independence and domestic issues cut across one another, making it hard to attribute a result to just one factor.

The First Minister wants Westminster to grant a Section 30 order – providing the legal underpinning for a referendum – so that the vote can be held within 12 months, but Boris Johnson has insisted his government will never agree to one.

Nicola Sturgeon knows that research showed Brexit, not independence, was the single most important issue for Scottish voters in this election and that many people will have voted tactically for the SNP to throw out a Tory candidate, either because of their Brexit stance or because of antipathy towards Boris Johnson. Jeremy Corbyn’s unpopularity with voters, now much-discussed as a factor in Labour’s terrible performance south of the border, will also have been a factor to some extent in Scotland, though we will have to wait until polling organisations drill down into people’s motivations before we know for sure what motivated people to vote the way they did.

Support for independence is well short of what the SNP would feel safe with in order to be confident of winning a referendum

Sturgeon is certainly wise not to claim that the result was a show of support for independence. The polls on that have narrowed, but only slightly. Since June 2016, five polling results have shown 50 per cent or more support for Yes, the highest being 53 per cent in June 2016, while 59 results have shown No ahead. Of three polls in December, the average was 53 per cent No to 47 per cent Yes.

So support for independence is well short of what the SNP would feel safe with in order to be confident of winning a referendum.

Support for a second independence referendum is higher, though not dramatically so. Like independence, people’s feelings on the timing of an independence referendum are something the pollsters ask about regularly. The latest poll, by Panelbase on November 22, shows that 48 per cent don’t think there should be one in the next few years at all. A further 27 per cent favour one, but not until after negotiations with the EU have finished, while only 25 per cent agree with Sturgeon that a second independence referendum should be held within the next two or three years while the UK is still negotiating.  

There has been a slight increase overall in the number of people favouring a referendum in the next few years, as opposed to not wanting one at all, but again, the movement is small.

So the result from Thursday’s general election must be put in that context. Nicola Sturgeon says the country has sent a “clear message” on a second independence referendum, but in truth, the message is not very clear at all. It can be said that Scots are less enamoured with Boris Johnson and the Conservatives than English and Welsh voters seem to be, and Labour is facing an existential crisis in its former heartland, but there is not much corroborating evidence that support has leapt within the last three weeks for a second independence referendum, particularly not a quick referendum as Sturgeon favours.

What Sturgeon can claim is that the general election result once again highlights the dramatic difference politically between Scotland and England. With the new Prime Minister so unpopular among Scots, the polls on independence and the timing of a referendum may well change further in the months ahead.

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