With Scottish Independence back on the agenda and Northern Ireland heading for crisis, Keiran Pedley argues that London is far too complacent about the future of the Union.
Following last week’s poll by Ipsos Mori showing an apparent spike in support for Scottish Independence and Jeremy Corbyn’s comments this weekend suggesting that he is ‘fine’ with a second referendum, it feels like a good time to unveil the latest Polling Matters / Opinium survey. Our latest survey focused on UK public opinion on Scottish Independence. It was conducted last weekend (3-7 March) but I held it back to now so as not to clash with the budget last week.
Our first question deals with whether or not another referendum would be justified in the context of the Brexit vote. As you can see, a majority say it would not.
- Do you think it is justified or not justified for Scotland to have another Independence referendum following Brexit?
|Not justified – the 2014 referendum was “once in a generation” and has settled the issue for the foreseeable future and there should not be another referendum so soon after the last one.
|Justified -in 2014 many Scots voted to stay in the UK so that they could also stay in the European Union. Brexit is a significant change in circumstances and Scots should be allowed to revisit the question in another referendum.
Opposition to another referendum is strongest among Conservative voters (77%), Over 65s (74%) and Leave voters (70%). Basically Theresa May’s base. Interestingly, although among a small sample of n=170, Scottish respondents were split on the issue (46% justified, 48% not justified). This reflects a wider trend in other polls where Scots themselves do not seem to be clamouring for another vote. John Curtice explains here that typically just over a third of Scots currently tell pollsters they want another referendum.
Some will look at these numbers and think Unionists have nothing to worry about. I think this is mistaken. Nicola Sturgeon will face a lot of pressure to hold another vote and knows that she may never get more favourable conditions in which to hold one. Meanwhile, Scottish Labour is in disarray and the dynamics of what a ‘No’ campaign would look like in practice are very different to 2014. Granted Ruth Davidson is very popular north of the border but a second Independence referendum would likely be an SNP versus Tory affair. Davidson’s popularity aside I am uneasy about that. Especially considering the ‘don’t go it alone’ argument feels quite hollow in Brexit Britain.
My uneasiness seems to be shared by many Brits. When our survey asked respondents what they thought would happen if another referendum took place only 35% seemed confident Scotland would vote ‘no’. More thought they would vote ‘yes’ (40%) whilst one in four didn’t know (25%). Tory voters think Scotland would vote ‘no’ (55%) but Labour voters think they would vote ‘yes’ (57%).
- If there was another Scottish Independence referendum, do you think Scotland would vote…
|Yes to independence||40%|
|No to independence||35%|
At this stage it is worth stressing that UK public opinion remains very committed to the Union. Respondents to our poll were more than twice as likely to say that they would prefer Scotland to vote ‘no’ (48%) than vote ‘yes’ (22%) in another referendum. There was no obvious demographic in support of a ‘yes’ vote either beyond (unsurprisingly) SNP voters.
- And what would be your preferred outcome?
|I would prefer Scotland to vote ‘Yes’ to Independence||22%|
|I would prefer Scotland to vote ‘No’ to Independence||48%|
UK public – Scottish Independence is unworkable and unnecessary
Our poll also asked whether respondents agreed or disagreed with a series of statements on the subject of Scottish Independence. Looking at the results, we see a clear consensus (67%) that it is ‘better for the UK as a whole if Scotland remained part of the United Kingdom’ whilst 49% disagree that Scotland would be better off financially outside the UK (just 15% agree). A majority (58%) think Scotland ‘gets more out of being in the UK than it puts in’ – a view strongly held by Conservative voters (84%) – whilst the public also think that ‘there is no need for Scottish Independence because Scotland already has its own parliament’ (50% agree, 18% disagree). British public opinion on the subject overall seems part commitment to the Union / part scepticism that Scottish Independence is necessary or viable.
- Do you agree or disagree with the following statements related to Scottish Independence?
|It would be better for the UK as a whole if Scotland remained part of the United Kingdom||67%||8%||25%|
|Scotland gets more out of being in the UK than it puts in||58%||11%||31%|
|There is no need for Scottish Independence because Scotland already has its own parliament||50%||18%||32%|
|Scotland would be financially better off outside the UK||15%||49%||36%|
Of course, such scepticism is not particularly relevant to the question itself. It will be Scottish public opinion that decides. That’s why I am uneasy that Unionist confidence seems to rest on Theresa May’s refusal to allow another vote. The idea of London ‘forbidding’ Scotland another vote when the Scottish Parliament has a majority for one is dangerous. If Nicola Sturgeon asks for one, May says no and then delivers a sub-par Brexit deal in the eyes of Scots then I expect the polls to turn in favour of Independence. Scottish Independence may not feel very likely right now but it is a lot more likely than London realises. The key question is whether Nicola Sturgeon will have the guts to call another referendum – and when.
Meanwhile in Northern Ireland
Finally a brief word on Northern Ireland. On this week’s podcast (see below) I spoke to Mick Fealty of Slugger O’Toole. The situation there feels very precarious with no obvious sign that a power-sharing deal will prove successful. We seem to be heading for a ‘double whammy’ of direct rule from Westminster and a Brexit that raises the prospect of a ‘hard border’ with the Republic. Fortunately, a return to the dark days of the 70s and 80s is unlikely but we must not be complacent about how quickly events can move in the wrong direction there. In any case, with Theresa May dominant in Westminster, it feels that London is far too relaxed about the situation in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Yet a year from now things could be difficult indeed.
Keiran Pedley is the presented of the Polling Matters podcast and tweets about politics and public opinion at @keiranpedley.
Listen to the latest episode on Northern Ireland, Labour leadership polling and the budget below.
Note on the above poll: Opinium interviewed a nationally representative sample of 2,006 UK adults online between the 3rd and 7th of March, 2017. Tables will be found at http://opinium.co.uk/ early next week.