The Post-White Paper Verdict: A Little Boost for Yes?

The first post-White Paper poll, by Progressive for the Mail on Sunday, suggested the Yes vote had not increased at all in the wake of the publication of the Scottish government’s independence prospectus. The second, by Ipsos MORI for STV, showed the Yes vote was up by three points as compared with that company’s previous poll in September.  Now, the third, conducted by YouGov and published in today’s Times, paints a picture in between those two – a rise of just one point.

YouGov’s poll puts the Yes vote at 33% (+1), the No tally at 52% (unchanged). Once the Don’t Knows are excluded the Yes vote stands at 39%, again up one point.

With three post-White Paper polls now published we can begin to come to some summary judgement of its impact on the balance of opinion. Once the Don’t Knows are excluded, the average Yes tally in these three polls is 36%, while No are on 64%. When the same three polling companies previously asked about referendum voting intention – in each case in September – the equivalent figures were Yes 34%, No 66%.

On this basis it looks as though the White Paper may have provided the Yes side with a small boost of some two points or so  – though that is to assume that all of the movement since September occurred during the last fortnight. Even if that is the case that still leaves the White Paper looking more like a touch on the tiller rather than the game changer the Yes side would appear to need.

If we take all of the polls conducted since the beginning of November, the average Yes vote stands at 38%.  This is exactly the same as the equivalent figure for all of the polls conducted between February and May this year, and just one point higher than the average in the polls (bar one evidently rogue poll conducted for the SNP) undertaken in the four weeks leading up the 18th September year to go anniversary.

If the Yes side has made any consistent progress in recent weeks it has apparently only been to reverse a slight slide that occurred in the middle of the year. Otherwise it looks as though the referendum race is going to end the year looking in much the same shape as it began.

Not least of the reasons for this would appear to be a lack of success in persuading voters of the economic benefits of independence. Today’s poll contains a question on that subject that is worded in almost the same way as one that was included in a poll YouGov conducted in May 2011, shortly after the SNP won its Holyrood majority.

Asked then, ‘Economically, do you think Scotland would be financially better off or worse off if it became independent’, just 28% said ‘better off’ while 47% said ‘worse off’.  Today when asked, ‘Do you think Scotland would be economically better or worse off if it became an independent country, or would it make no difference?’ the figures are almost identical: 26% ‘better off’, 48% ‘worse off’.

Given the degree to which voters’ views on independence depend on its perceived economic consequences – in today’s YouGov poll 88% of No voters say ‘worse off’ while 73% of Yes supporters feel an independent Scotland would be ‘better off’ – there seems to be little prospect of a Yes majority next September unless the nationalists can pursue their economic case more effectively. What remains to be seen is whether they have any new, more persuasive economic arguments to be unveiled in the New Year.

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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.