New Onward research on Scottish Independence

James Blagden, Will Tanner
September 12, 2021
New Onward research on Scottish Independence
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New polling for Onward by Stack Data Strategy, released today, suggests public support for an early Scottish independence referendum has fallen considerably since the Scottish Parliament elections in May.

Key findings:

Scots increasingly reject having a referendum in the next two years. The combined share of voters wanting a referendum “this year” or “next year” is now 27% – down from 35% in February – while 26% want a referendum in 2023-24 and 9% want one in 2025-26. The combined share supporting a referendum in 2027 or “never” has remained unchanged at 38%.

Just half of current Yes voters (50%)  say a vote should be this year or next, and only two in five 2019 SNP voters (41%) agree. More than half of Labour voters (51%) do not want a referendum in this Parliament, and three fifths of Conservatives (62%) think there should “never” be another referendum.

There is a growing demand for clarity on currency and EU membership. When asked what conditions should be met before a referendum, the most cited answer is now “The Scottish Government has made clear what currency Scotland would use if it became an independent country” (45%), shortly followed by “There is clarity on whether an independent Scotland would be able to join the EU” (41%) and “Jobs and economic growth are back to where they were before Coronavirus” (41%). The condition that “Coronavirus has been completely eliminated” has fallen from the most cited condition in February (49%) to the fourth (32%).

An overwhelming majority of voters want Nicola Sturgeon to focus on covid not independence. Nearly four in five (79%) of Scottish voters agree that “​​It is more important that Scottish politicians focus on tackling coronavirus than on constitutional issues right now”, compared to just 21% who think constitutional issues are more important. This is true of Yes voters and SNP supporters as well as those sceptical of independence:  75% of future Yes voters and 76% of 2019 SNP voters say coronavirus should take priority over the constitution. The SNP conference this weekend (10-13 September) has three priorities –  Independence, the 2022 Council elections and Climate Change – which do not include coronavirus.

Headline VI is settled and in line with other polls at 48% Yes, 52% No. Support for independence is 48%, excluding Don’t Knows, with 52% of voters saying they would vote to keep Scotland in the UK. This represents an 8-point fall since Onward conducted a similar poll in late February, when 56% of Scots said they would vote “Yes”.

Full data tables available here

Will Tanner, Director of Onward, said:

“As the SNP gather for their party conference this weekend, it is clear that their priorities are not those of the Scottish people. An overwhelming majority – including 3 in 4 of the SNP’s own voters – say that the Government should focus on tackling coronavirus, not constitutional reform, and less than a third of people want a referendum in the next two years.

“The message is clear. Instead of ratcheting up the separatist rhetoric, the Scottish Government should be working with the rest of the UK to prevent a fourth wave of infections, bring back jobs and growth and fix public services.”

The State of the Union and wider attitudes to Scottish Independence

This research was published 6 months after Onward’s landmark report on public attitudes to the Union, State of the Union, which found that while support for independence was rising, it is volatile and far from inevitable that Scots decide to leave the United Kingdom. The report, which was released before the May 2021 elections, established that:

  • Three fifths (61%) of Scottish voters agree that “the focus on constitutional issues in recent years has distracted politicians from working more on public services like health, education and the police”, compared to just 19% who disagree.
  • 58% of Scottish voters agree that “Scotland’s schools, which used to be world-leading, have fallen behind relative to comparable countries”, compared to 23% who disagree.
  • This does not however stop Scottish voters from saying that most issues would be better handled if Scotland were independent compared to remaining in the UK. The only issues that Scots think would be better handled by remaining in the UK are foreign affairs and defence, reforming the UK constitution and sourcing vaccine supplies.
  • Scottish voters are more likely to say the UK Government has handled rolling out the vaccine well (38%) than the Scottish Government (34%), and believe the UK Government has done well overall on providing economic support, clear information to the public, and managing the health and care system, suggesting the Union may be benefitting from a vaccine bounce.

 

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