A Remarkable Outbreak of Unity!

Three polls of voting intentions were released yesterday evening and appear in today’s papers. One was conducted by ICM for The Scotsman, one by Survation for the Daily Mail while the third was undertaken by Opinium for the Daily Telegraph. After undecided voters are left to one side, all three out Yes on 48% and No on 52%. While that suggests the No side remain narrow favourites to win, all three polls can be interpreted as providing some evidence of movement to Yes.

ICM’s poll in The Scotsman uses the same method of internet sampling and the same weighting scheme as that in previous polls the company has conducted for Scotsman Newspapers. The result is thus best compared with the previous poll that the company conducted for that group in August rather than the phone poll it undertook for The Guardian last week, or indeed the (small sample) internet poll that appeared in last weekend’s Sunday Telegraph.

The poll puts Yes on 41%, No on 45% while 14% still say they are undecided. That represents a three point increase in Yes support and a two point drop in the proportion proposing to vote No, as compared with the previous Scotsman poll in mid-August. The estimate of Yes 48%, No 52% after undecided voters are excluded represents a three point swing to Yes since mid-August and a five point one since July. It thus means that ICM concur with those pollsters such as YouGov and TNS BMRB that have suggested there has been a substantial swing to Yes during the late summer (although the company did somewhat unusually also put Yes as high as 48% back in April).

Survation also revert to the internet methodology it has used in all of the polls it has conducted during the campaign other than in a poll for the Better Together campaign that was released on Saturday. Yes are on 44%, No on 48%, while 8% are undecided. That represents a two point increase in Yes support since the company’s last internet poll earlier this month, while the No tally is unchanged. The 48% tally for Yes when undecided voters are excluded represents a one point swing in favour of independence and makes this marginally the highest score for Yes that Survation have ever recorded.

Opinium only conducted their first poll of voting intentions in the referendum last week, and thus cannot provide us with any evidence of how the position has changed other than over the very short term. Its latest poll (based on those certain to vote) puts Yes on 45%, No on 49% (with 6% undecided). Both of these scores are unchanged as compared with the company’s previous poll, but the 48% figure for Yes once undecided voters are excluded does represent a one point increase in its support.

The effect of the release of these polls is to leave our poll of polls, based on the six most recent polls, unchanged at Yes 49%, No 51%.

Between them the latest polls illustrate some of the strengths and weaknesses of the two sides’ campaign messages so far as voters’ reactions are concerned. If the Yes campaign does lose narrowly one key explanation will be that it has never quite managed to persuade people of the merits of the economic case for independence. Both ICM and Opinium find that it remains the case that rather more voters take a pessimistic view of the economic consequences of independence than do an optimistic one. ICM report that 38% say that independence would be good for Scotland’s economy while 45% reckon it would be bad. Although this represents a four point increase in the proportion of optimists since ICM’s last poll in August, the net level of optimism (minus seven points) is still no higher than ICM recorded on a couple of occasions during the spring. Similarly, Opinium report that while 37% think that independence would benefit Scotland’s economy, 45% are of the opposite view.

In contrast if the No side loses, it will be asking itself why it spent so much time talking about currency to so little apparent effect. True, at 57% the proportion in ICM’s poll that think that an independent Scotland should try to reach an agreement with the rest of the UK so that it can continue to use the pound is down six points on the proportion that were of that view when the UK government’s original currency announcement was made in February. However, at 48% the proportion that think that an independent Scotland would continue to be able to be able to use the pound ‘in much the same way as it does now’ is almost exactly the same as the 47% that were of that view in February. Meanwhile Opinium report that 47% think that an independent Scotland would continue to be able to use the pound (two-thirds of whom think this would be as part of a ‘currency union with the rest of the UK’) while just 37% reckon it would not.

Much of the No side’s campaigning in the last ten days has, of course, focused on trying to reinforce the message in voters’ minds that a No vote would be followed by more devolution sooner rather than later. This appears to have had two consequences. First, voters now seem to be even keener on the idea of more devolution. According to ICM no less than 74% of voters (including 65% of No supporters) feel that the Scottish Parliament should ‘become mainly responsible for making decisions about taxation and welfare’, up seven points on August and 14 points on June. In advocating the case for more devolution the No campaign seems to have helped ensure that that is what voters will want to see delivered in the event that it should prove victorious.

Second, the No side’s efforts have had some success in persuading people that between them the three unionist parties would deliver on their promise of more devolution. However whether it is has done enough remains unclear. ICM report that the proportion that think a No vote would be followed by more devolution has increased by eight points since August to a record new high. But at 49% the figure still indicates that many Scots remain unconvinced. Opinium find that only 34% trust the three main party leaders to deliver on their promise of more powers, while 50% say they do not. Meanwhile Survation even report that slightly more voters say the promise has made them more inclined to vote Yes (19%) than say it has helped persuade them to No (11%). However, this is probably simply a reflection of the scepticism that existing Yes supporters have towards any pronouncement made by the No side (a feeling of course that is often reciprocated).

Still, the No side will take comfort from the fact that a clear majority of their own supporters do now think that more devolution will be delivered; at 74% that proportion according to ICM is no less than 20 points higher than it was a month ago. And given the apparent narrowness of the No lead that achievement may well prove vital. For according to ICM a little over one in ten (11%) of No supporters say they would switch to Yes if they were to conclude that more devolution would not be delivered – and a switch on that scale would be enough to see the unionist cause sunk. We will find out on Friday whether teh No side’s efforts have indeed proved to be enough for that not to happen.

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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.