A Year To Go – The Verdict from the Polls

On this day next year Scotland will cast its verdict on whether it wishes to become independent or remains part of the UK. The date has been marked by the publication of two polls this morning, while we also have the first reading for a long time of what people in England make of it all. (An anticipated Ipsos-MORI/STV poll did not appear last night.)

One of the new Scottish polls comes from a company that has hitherto brought relatively unwelcome news for the Yes side – YouGov. The news this time is a little better.

In a poll in today’s Times YouGov put the Yes side on 32%, No on 52% while 15% either say they don’t know or would not vote. Although at 20 points the No lead is bigger than in either of the two polls (from ICM and Panelbase) published on Sunday, it is much lower than the 30 point lead YouGov recorded less than a month ago.

The second poll comes from a newcomer to referendum polling, Progressive Scottish Opinion, though the company has conducted Scottish polls in the past. Its findings are a big disappointment for the Yes side. Published in the Daily Mail, t puts the Yes vote at 27%, no less than 32 points behind No on 59% – the biggest No lead yet in any poll conducted since the summer.

Nine polls of referendum voting intention have been conducted in the last two months. Our best estimate of what they all mean with one year to go is to calculate the average Yes and No vote across these nine polls after we have taken out the Don’t Knows and Won’t Says.

That calculation puts Yes on 40% and No on 60%. That suggests the Yes side have a lot to do but perhaps face a challenge that is not utterly impossible to meet. They will though worry that although this figure is two points up on the equivalent figure in the polls conducted between February and May this year, it is still a point down on where the Yes vote stood in all the polls conducted last year. Alex Salmond and his colleagues certainly cannot afford to have another seemingly wasted twelve months.

Meanwhile, back in today’s YouGov/Times poll there are two other findings of note. First, contrary to the impression created by the recent SNP/Panelbase poll  the prospect of a Conservative victory in 2015 may not necessarily bring the Yes side much of a dividend after all.  The No lead simply falls from 20 points to 15. Another five years of David Cameron at Downing St would certainly seem to be much less of a potential vote winner for the Yes side than would persuading people that they would be £500 a year better off, the power of which was confirmed by a second round of results from ICM’s poll unveiled on Monday.

Second, in line with previous Scottish Social Attitudes surveys, YouGov find clear majorities in favour of the devolution of both taxation and welfare benefits, including pensions. However only between a quarter and a third of No voters are in support of such a move, while a majority of all No voters (59%) say they think there will be further devolution if Scotland does vote No.  ICM’s poll on Sunday suggested there was a risk some No voters could switch sides if they felt that Scotland would not secure more powers, However, it now appears that, at the moment at least, No voters are not overly concerned that their hopes will not be fulfilled.

And the view of those living south of the border? In its latest poll for The Guardian,  ICM asked voters in England how they would vote in response to the referendum question, ‘Should Scotland be an independent country’.  As many as 31% (in England) said it should while 52% felt it should not.

The finding is very similar to that obtained when the issue was last addressed in November last year by the IPPR/Cardiff University Future of England survey, which posed the question the Scottish Government had originally wanted to ask in the referendum, namely, ‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country. In that poll 30% said it should while 49% felt it should not. It seems that England is almost as keen on Scottish independence as Scots themselves – and just as unlikely to change their minds too!

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About the author

John Curtice is Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, Senior Research Fellow at ScotCen and at 'UK in a Changing Europe', and Chief Commentator on the What Scotland Thinks website.