As referendum first anniversary fever grows, today sees the publication of yet another poll on how Scots now view the constitutional question. Like the two polls published over the weekend, today’s poll, conducted by Survation for the Daily Mail, asked people how they actually voted in the referendum and the data have been weighted so that the distribution of responses to that question matches last year’s result. Also like the two weekend polls, today’s poll comes from a company that has asked people on a number of previous occasions in the last year how they would vote in a second referendum.
And like those two polls, the Survation poll also fails to uncover the substantial shift in favour of Yes that recent polls from Ipsos MORI and TNS BMRB apparently uncovered, though at the same time the poll underlines just how evenly divided Scotland now is on the question of its constitutional status.
Once the Don’t Knows are excluded today’s poll puts Yes on 49%, No on 51%. This represents a one point swing to Yes since Survation’s previous poll conducted at the beginning of July. It is the fifth time since the referendum that Survation have but No ahead – though never more than narrowly.
So with three polls now all suggesting that little has changed in recent months, it looks as though we have to conclude that there has not been a significant shift in the balance of support for independence and the Union – but that, twelve months on, the unionist hope that the referendum would prove to be ‘decisive’ now looks forlorn.
As was also apparent in the weekend polls, the relative stability of attitudes towards independence is matched by relative stability on the question of whether a referendum on independence should be held in the first place. Survation report that 43% would like one to be held within the next five years, very similar to previous readings of 41% in July and 40% in March. As many as 73% of SNP supporters would like a referendum to be held within that time frame. It thus comes as little surprise that as many as 60% of SNP supporters say they would be more likely to vote for the party if its manifesto were to include a promise to hold a second referendum, while just 4% say they would be less likely to do so.
However, it emerged over the weekend that Ms Sturgeon is minded neither to rule a referendum out nor to commit herself to definitely holding one, not least because she wants to take on board the implications of the forthcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. Today’s poll certainly underlines the possibility that Scotland might vote in a different direction from that of the rest of the UK. The first poll to tell us how people in Scotland might vote in response to the question wording on which the Electoral Commission finally settled, it shows us that as many as 51% are currently minded to vote to remain in the EU while 29% are inclined to vote to leave. When Survation included the question in a Great Britain wide poll just a week ago, only 40% said they would vote to remain while 43% said they would back leaving.
So the possibility that Scotland might vote one way and the UK the other, thereby perhaps triggering a second independence referendum, is a real one. In the meantime, however, perhaps the crucial question facing the SNP is not, as this and other recent polling has seemed to presume, whether the SNP might lose votes by promising to hold a second referendum but rather whether it could lose out from a failure to make a clear commitment to having a second ballot.
Not that there is any strong reason at present for the SNP to be concerned about losing votes. True, today’s poll suggests that support for the party in next May’s Scottish Parliament election has dropped by three points (to 53% on the constituency vote and 42% on the list) since the beginning of July. However, yesterday’s Panelbase poll suggested support for the SNP was simply holding firm (at 52% on the constituency vote – down just a point and 48% on the list – unchanged). Meanwhile a second instalment of Saturday’s YouGov poll published in today’s Times puts the SNP (at 51% and 45%) up two points on both ballots as compared with just before May’s general election. At the same time the suggestion that there is a big gap between the level of SNP support on the constituency vote and that on the list vote could well be a consequence of the fact that the question Survation uses to ascertain list vote emphasises the idea that it is a ‘second’ (and thus perhaps a ‘second preference’) vote.
Moreover, there is little sign at present that the SNP are vulnerable next May because of their record in office. On both health and education more than twice as many are satisfied with the SNP’s record in office than are dissatisfied. Perhaps not least of the reasons is that according to YouGov as many as 70% think that Labour is proving to be an ineffective opposition. Only on policing is the SNP’s record regarded as rather less than impressive, with slightly more (37%) dissatisfied than satisfied (32%). But it seems unlikely that, on its own at least, that this issue will sway many votes in the next few months.
Meanwhile it seems that on the basis of voters’ first impressions at least, the election of Jeremy Corbyn as UK Labour leader will not do much to change the state of the Holyrood race. While 14% of SNP supporters say they are more likely to vote Labour as a result, 18% say they are less likely to do so. The equivalent figures for Labour supporters (18% and 15% respectively) are much the same. So far at least, most voters (55%) are simply saying it will not make any difference. Doubtless most voters will want to see something of what Mr Corbyn says and does as leader before making up their minds.
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.