FUTURE POLITICS

State of the Union

The State of the Union is the most comprehensive survey of attitudes towards the Union since 2014, drawing on new attitudinal research in all four nations of the United Kingdom.
Will Tanner, James Blagden
March 23, 2021
State of the Union
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There is all to play for if Unionists attend to the root causes of rising separatism. That means avoiding needless spats on constitutional issues – which only serve to rally Scots around the Saltire and further inflame separatism elsewhere – and focusing on voters’ true priorities. The UK Government should show – rather than tell – the benefits of the Union, and build a British identity that is complementary to, and accommodating of, the values and culture of all four nations. If it can, the Union is not yet lost.

Will Tanner, Director of Onward

 

Scottish voters do not want a referendum to be held for at least two years

The State of the Union – the most comprehensive survey of attitudes towards the Union since 2014 – reveals how rising support for independence is volatile and far from inevitable.

Between the end of February and the first weekend in March 2021, the Yes lead fell by 6 percentage points (from 56%/44% to 53%/47%), driven in large part by a 9 point drop in the Yes lead among women and a 25 point drop among 18-24 year olds towards No. This was the week that Nicola Sturgeon gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament inquiry into the Salmond trial. 

But even with this volatility, support for independence remains higher than before the 2014 referendum. Yes retains a 30+ point lead among 18-45 year olds, a 21 point lead among working class voters, and net support in five of Scotland’s eight regions. At 53%, support for independence is at least 15 points higher than it was before the 2014 referendum campaign began. The poll compares this to support for separation elsewhere in the United Kingdom: 34% of Welsh voters agree that Wales should be independent and 31% of Northern Irish voters agree that Northern Ireland should be part of a United Ireland.

 

Nov 16
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We explore the factors most likely to affect support for independence and the benefits people would miss if Scotland did vote to leave.

  • 35% of Scottish voters, and 58% of Yes voters, say that if the SNP wins a majority and the UK Government refuses a referendum outright they would be more likely to vote Yes, compared to 19% and 8% respectively who say they would be less likely. The implication is that support for independence may harden considerably if the UK Government decides to “just say no”.
  • But if the SNP wins a majority and holds a referendum without the agreement of the UK Government, roughly the same number (33%) and 53% of No voters, say they would be less likely to vote Yes, versus 24% and 11% who say it would increase their likelihood to vote Yes. This suggests that the SNP may be overreaching by putting a second referendum on the ballot paper and committing to an immediate and unilateral referendum.
  • Yes voters say that if Nicola Sturgeon resigned they would be less likely to vote for independence. 28% of Yes voters say they would be less likely to vote Yes in this scenario, versus 23% who say it would make them more likely. It appears that support for independence is at least partially stored in the political personality of the First Minister.
  • When asked what benefits or features of the Union they would miss if Scotland did vote for independence, 57% of Scottish voters said they would miss “funding for public services like the NHS”, 40% said they would miss “the ability to travel and work freely around the United Kingdom” and 38% said they would miss a “shared British identity”, including 47%, 27% and 19% of Yes voters respectively.

The fragile State of the Union

A large share of Scottish voters believe that the focus on constitutional issues is distracting from the other priorities of the Scottish people:

  • When ranked, Scottish voters say their top four priorities are Health and Social Care; Jobs and Employment; Managing the Covid Crisis; and Education. Reforming the UK Constitution is ranked 12th out of 20 issues.
  • 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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