ALMOST half of Scots believe the country will vote for independence within the next decade, according to a new study on voter attitudes ahead of May’s general election.
The survey of more than 7,000 voters across the UK by a team of researchers from the University of Edinburgh found that 15 per cent of Scots think the country will become independent within five years and 32 per cent believe it will happen within ten. Overall, more than two- thirds of Scots believe the country will eventually vote for independence.
The study, which asked people what they thought would happen in the future rather than what they wanted, suggests that the momentum built around last year’s referendum is continuing.
Just three in ten voters said they thought Scotland would never become independent. Significantly, 59 per cent of those surveyed in England, 54 per cent in Wales and 59 per cent in Northern Ireland think a split is inevitable.
The SNP hailed the findings as evidence that a “fantastic spirit of engagement” continues following last year’s referendum. The university researchers questioned people on a range of constitutional issues that may influence voters in May’s poll, including likelihood to vote and whether ordinary people can change policy.
Only a quarter of Scots believe ordinary people are able to influence how the UK is run.
Nationalist leaders seized on the findings last night claiming the SNP is poised to make sweeping gains on 7 May.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “The Scottish Government continues to believe independence is the best option for Scotland, and the survey finds most Scots think this is where the constitutional journey will take us.”
The high level of political engagement around the referendum looks to have had a lasting legacy, with 76 per cent of Scots who took part saying they will vote in May’s election. This compares to 63 per cent of those surveyed in England, 64 per cent in Wales and 55 per cent in Northern Ireland.
There is also a stark contrast among young people across the UK with 65 per cent of 18- and 19-year-olds in Scotland saying they will vote, compared to just 34 per cent in England.
In Scotland the status of the Scottish Parliament appears to have strengthened, with 57 per cent believing it influences how the UK is governed. In Wales 42 per cent of respondents said the Welsh Assembly had influence and 28 per cent in Northern Ireland said the same of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson hailed the findings as evidence that a “fantastic spirit of engagement” continues following last year’s referendum, when the Yes side won 45 per cent of the vote compared to the No side’s 55 per cent.
Mr Robertson said: “This research showing that people in Scotland are highly motivated to vote in this coming election is a positive legacy of the referendum and Scotland’s experience of being able to choose our own future.
“It is also positive that the role of the Scottish Parliament has strengthened, with nearly 60 per cent of people believing it influences how the UK is governed.
“Now people are determined to use their vote to elect MPs who will put their interests first – which is why poll after poll has shown the SNP riding high.”
The survey also found that high levels of dissatisfaction with the UK’s current constitutional arrangements and the distribution of public spending within the Union.
In England, 43 per cent believe their country receives less government spending than it is due while the figure is 44 per cent in Scotland, 37 per cent in Northern Ireland and 68 per cent in Wales.
A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said fears about the end of the Union were being heightened by the prospect of a pact at Westminster between Labour and the SNP in the event of a hung parliament.
The spokesman said: “With Labour flirting with the SNP in the hope it gets them into government, and the Lib Dems dead in the water, it’s no surprise people fear the constitutional question isn’t yet over.”
A Scottish Labour spokesman, claimed the findings reflected disillusionment with politics, stating: “This poll shows that people are frustrated with the way that politics works, and they want to have a bigger say in how our country is run.
“Making our country work for working people is the best way to bring all parts of it together again.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “The positive legacy of the referendum is an engaged electorate and big new powers for the Scottish Parliament delivered through the Smith Commission process.
“This was an historic agreement at the end of a historic year for Scotland.”
The respondents who took part in the commission talks said their emphasis was on creating a good political solution in a tight timescale, but that “they may have underestimated the public appetite for continued constitutional discussion”, according to the study.
Dr Jan Eichhorn, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Science, said: “People across the UK show an appetite for discussions about how the country should be governed.
“However, it is worrying to see how little people think they can actually make a difference.”
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