Our latest poll in Scotland makes grim reading for unionists and offers much to celebrate for supporters of Scottish independence. Support for independence is now at a record high of 58 per cent. The SNP appear on course for a majority at next year’s Scottish parliamentary elections. And around two-thirds of Scots tell us that such a majority would provide a mandate for another independence referendum within the next five years.
For now, Boris Johnson is holding to the line that the 2014 referendum was a ‘once in a generation’ vote. This will become a harder task if the SNP win a majority come next May. So if a future referendum campaign is imminent, which arguments could win or lose the battle for independence?
Arguments for independence
The messages that Scotland and England want different political futures and that Westminster cannot be trusted to act in Scotland’s interests are particularly powerful arguments for independence. 64 per cent of Scots find the argument that ‘people in Scotland want to take the country in a very different political direction to England’ convincing, including 29 per cent of current ‘No’ voters.
Meanwhile, 63 per cent find the argument convincing that ‘Scotland should be independent because Westminster governments cannot be trusted to act in Scotland’s interests’. Scots are most likely to find this latter argument ‘very convincing’ (46 per cent).
Arguments around Scotland’s political future and whether Westminster acts in Scotland’s interests are highly likely to be influenced by Brexit. Indeed 57 per cent of Scots tell us that ‘the UK leaving the European Union even though Scotland voted to Remain’ is a convincing argument for independence.
Meanwhile, just one in four (27 per cent) find the long-term economic argument for independence ‘very convincing’, reflecting the ongoing challenge the ‘Yes’ side has when it comes to the economic arguments around independence.
These figures suggest that trust (or distrust) in Scottish and UK political leaders would be a key asset to any future ‘Yes’ campaign, such is the strength of feeling on the subject among Scots. Numbers elsewhere in our poll underline this point. Nicola Sturgeon has a +49 net satisfaction rating among Scots, while Boris Johnson has a rating of -58. If a future referendum is framed by who Scots feel would best act in Scotland’s interests in the future, that would clearly be strong territory for the ‘Yes’ campaign based on current leader ratings; especially if this can be linked to a sense that Scotland’s preferred future is very different to England’s.
Arguments for Scotland in the Union
The economic arguments remain strong territory for unionists and a big challenge for the ‘Yes’ side. The argument that leaving the UK ‘would be a major risk for Scotland’s economy and jobs’ is the one that Scots are most likely to say is ‘very convincing’ (35 per cent).
Unionists will be further encouraged by the fact some three in ten current ‘Yes’ supporters (31 per cent) find this argument convincing and one in ten ‘very convincing’. In a global recession, the argument that a vote for independence risks Scotland’s economy and jobs could be more powerful than ever.
Perhaps the most striking argument tested in favour of Scotland staying part of the UK is the emotional and cultural ‘more in common’ one. Six in ten Scots find the argument convincing that ‘in spite of current challenges, the different countries of the UK still have more in common than divides us’. What is remarkable about this argument is that it stands in almost direct contrast to the pro-independence argument above, that Scotland wants a different political future to England. And yet at least half of all age groups find this argument convincing, as do 37 per cent of current ‘Yes’ voters.
What does this all mean for indyref2? Already our testing of the various arguments among Scottish voters for and against independence show how the future campaigns could take shape. There will be powerful arguments about the economic consequences of independence and Yes campaigners will seek to capitalise on the belief among many in Scotland that Westminster does not act in Scotland’s interests.
But there is a far more emotional and philosophical debate to be had among Scottish voters. Does a common shared sense of purpose and history keep the Union together despite current differences? Or do different visions of Scotland and England’s futures ultimately lead to Scots deciding that independence is the best way forward? Given that significant numbers of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ supporters find each argument compelling, this is a debate that is very far from being settled.
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Emily Gray is managing director of Ipsos MORI Scotland. Keiran Pedley is director of politics at Ipsos MORI