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by Margaret Taylor
17 February 2023
Support for independence dips to 46 per cent, poll finds

Support for independence dips to 46 per cent, poll finds

Support for independence stood at almost 46 per cent immediately prior to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announcing her resignation this week, a drop of five points since November, polling from Scottish Election Study (SES) has found.

The polling, conducted by YouGov on behalf of the University of Edinburgh-led research group, was carried out among 1,239 Scots at the beginning of February.

It found that when don’t knows are removed 45.6 per cent of the electorate are in favour of independence, but that the proportion rose to 52 per cent for those under the age of 66 and 58 per cent among the under 50s.

The poll also found that Scots are more likely to say things are going in the “wrong direction” for Scotland than they were when SES completed its November 2022 research (48 per cent against 39 per cent), with over three-quarters of respondents saying the economic situation has declined in the past 12 months and 45 per cent saying it has declined a lot.

Around a third (32 per cent) said that was the fault of the UK Government while just over a quarter (26 per cent) blamed the Scottish Government. While 28 per cent said both administrations were to blame, the gap in blame allocation between the UK and Scottish government declined from 17 percentage points to just six between November and this month.

Despite the findings, SES researcher Dr Fraser McMillan said they do not point to a significant decline in support for independence.

“While the outgoing first minister’s claim that there is now a majority for Scottish independence in the electorate is contradicted by Scottish Election Study data, it would be premature to write the movement off,” he said.

“Yes support rarely dips below the level achieved at the 2014 independence referendum, and, while it has dropped from recent highs, it still commands a majority among working-age Scots.

“Although Sturgeon has not achieved her life-long goal while first minister, she has also not presided over any substantial decline in support for independence from the then-unprecedented 2014 result, shoring up backing among younger age groups.”

The SNP appears to have distanced itself from Sturgeon’s plan to use an upcoming election as a de facto referendum on independence, postponing an upcoming conference on the issue until an undetermined point after a new leader has been elected.

SES’s polling indicated that the plan had been complicating voters’ intentions. Having asked respondents how they would vote in a general election without the de facto factor as well as how they would vote if the SNP did approach the ballot in that context, SES found that support for Labour rose from 23 per cent to 27 per cent in the former scenario, putting the party almost level with the SNP on 29 per cent.

In a possible de facto referendum, 14 per cent of those who previously said they would vote Labour would instead back the SNP, with Labour’s vote share declining back to the 23 per cent seen in November.

This appears to be at odds with an exclusive poll carried out for Holyrood and one conducted by Ipsos, which found minimal support for the idea of a de facto referendum, but according to SES is complicated by voters wanting to use a general election to remove the Conservative government at Westminster.

“With independence support back at its 2014 levels, the prospect of a de facto referendum is a gamble made more complicated by the fact that Scottish voters perceive the next UK election as a way to remove the Conservatives from office,” said Professor Ailsa Henderson, head of the SES.

“Yes supporters actually prioritise removing the current UK government over maximizing indy support, but for Labour and Lib Dem voters, constitutional preferences trump partisan ones.  While the wider political context in the UK is sometimes used as an argument for independence, in this instance it seems likely to complicate paths towards it.”

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