ALEX Salmond is within reach of victory in the independence referendum, according to an exclusive poll showing that support for the cause has grown dramatically by five percentage points over the last four months.
The largest swing towards a Yes vote recorded so far in the campaign is revealed today in an ICM survey for Scotland on Sunday, which has found that support for independence has grown from 32 per cent to 37 per cent since September.
The surge in those backing Yes was accompanied by a corresponding drop in No support by five percentage points from 49 per cent in September to 44 per cent currently.
The poll also found that when the 19 per cent who said they didn’t know how they would vote were excluded, support for Yes is at 46 per cent compared with 54 per cent who said they would vote No.
There was more good news for Yes Scotland, when the “don’t knows” were pressed further on their views on independence. When they disclosed how they were “most likely” to vote, the results were factored into the equation and the pollsters found that support for independence stood at 47 per cent compared with 53 per cent in favour of No.
The figures represent the largest backing for Yes to be recorded in an independently-commissioned survey and are the first clear sign that support for breaking up the UK is growing after months of stagnating polls.
Were the progress recorded over the last four months to be replicated in the eight months remaining until the September 18 referendum, the first minister could succeed in his dream of creating an independent Scotland.
The poll of more than 1,000 over-16s was conducted by ICM for Scotland on Sunday between Tuesday and Friday.
Last night, the Yes campaign suggested that the launch of the Scottish Government’s white paper offering a blueprint for independence in November has resulted in a game-changing bounce for independence.
Blair Jenkins, chief executive of Yes Scotland, said: “A potential Yes vote of 47 per cent at this stage is an excellent place to be with eight months to go. It demonstrates very clearly that we are getting our message across and that momentum is very much on our side.
“The poll represents a very significant swing to Yes and shows that we need just over a 3 per cent swing to take the lead. It is particularly encouraging that there is a five-point increase in support from women and a four-point rise in the number of people who believe independence will be good for the economy is also a welcome shift in our favour.
“We know that the more people learn about the benefits of independence the more likely they are to vote Yes.
“People are now also carefully weighing up the consequences and costs of a No vote and, as a result, support for Yes increases. The referendum is about two choices. One is sticking with a Westminster system that isn’t working for Scotland. The other is a unique opportunity to make decisions that match our own needs and priorities, to better use our vast wealth and resources for the benefit of all people in Scotland and to build a fairer country of which we can all be proud.”
A spokesman for Better Together, the pro-Union campaign, said: “Despite Alex Salmond spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, the majority of people in Scotland don’t want to trade the strength and security of the UK for the risk and uncertainty of independence. We will campaign tirelessly between now and September to convince those who have yet to make up their mind that we are stronger and better together. This poll is a message that there can be no complacency from those who support Scotland remaining in the UK.”
Plans to increase childcare provision for working mothers were at the heart of the white paper, a move that was seen as a bid to make independence more attractive to women.
The SNP’s failure to win over women has long been seen as an Achilles’ heel of the party, yet today’s poll shows that female support has grown significantly. The percentage of women prepared to vote Yes has grown from 28 per cent in September to 33 per cent.
The economy also emerged as a key issue and is another area in which Yes Scotland makes progress.
In September, 31 per cent of those polled by ICM thought that independence would benefit the economy. Today that figure has increased to 35 per cent.
The percentage of people who felt that independence would be bad for the economy has also decreased, from 48 per cent to 42 per cent.
The SNP has argued that independence would offer the chance to create a more equal society in Scotland.
According to the poll, the proportion of people who believe that there would be less inequality in an independent Scotland has increased from 27 per cent to 31 per cent.
Those who believed that there would be more inequality rose slightly from 20 per cent to 21 per cent. Those who thought independence would make no difference to inequality fell from 34 per cent to 31 per cent.
Better Together has made much of the uncertainty over pensions that it claims would result from the dismantling of the UK. But the poll revealed that the percentage of people who believe that they would have a higher pension in an independent Scotland has increased from 16 per cent to 20 per cent.
A recurring criticism of the Better Together campaign has been that it is failing to set out a positive vision of what would happen to Scotland in the event of a No vote.
Labour and the Conservatives have established commissions to look at whether the Scottish Parliament should be given more powers within the UK. Both parties are due to publish their findings in the spring.
The poll found that the percentage of those who were resisting constitutional change remained constant on 28 per cent. Whereas those who believed Holyrood should become responsible for taxation and welfare increased from 59 per cent to 64 per cent.
John Curtice: Best news on voting intentions the Yes campaign has ever had
TODAY’S ICM poll is the best polling news the Yes side has had yet in the referendum campaign.
Once the Don’t Knows are excluded, 46 per cent think they will vote Yes in September; 54 per cent No.
This is the highest Yes tally in any independently commissioned poll so far. It represents a six-point swing to Yes since last September, the biggest yet in a campaign in which the polls have been remarkably stable. True, there is one word of caution. The swing is entirely confined to those aged 44 and under. All pollsters, including ICM, find it more difficult to get younger voters to answer their questions. Consequently, their estimates of how such voters will behave are more likely to change randomly from one poll to the next.
Even so, there are signs the swing is underpinned by something real. And in line with the message from the Scottish Social Attitudes survey last week, what emerges is that the answer to “What will determine the eventual outcome in September?” is simply: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
In September only 31 per cent thought independence would be good for the economy, while 48 per cent reckoned it would be bad. Now 35 per cent reckon independence would be beneficial while 42 per cent feel it would be deleterious. That represents a five-point swing towards a more optimistic view.
Meanwhile, people’s perceptions are clearly fundamental to their decision whether to vote Yes or No.
No less than 88 per cent of those who think the economy would be better under independence expect to vote Yes, while 87 per cent of those who reckon it would be worse belong to the No camp.
None of the other perceptions tracked by ICM has either shifted as much or obviously matters so much.
True, the proportion who think there would be less inequality in an independent Scotland – one of the Yes side’s key claims – has increased by four points from 27 per cent to 31 per cent. But the proportion who believe it would be more unequal has edged up a point too, to 21 per cent. That means on this issue the swing is just 1.5 per cent.
At the same time, only 63 per cent of those who believe there would be less inequality in an independent Scotland think they will vote Yes, while 63 per cent of those who feel there would be more inequality are inclined to vote No. Both figures are lower than the equivalent ones for the economy.
Meanwhile, the proportion who think pensions would be higher under independence is up four points from 16 per cent to 20 per cent. The proportion who believe they would be lower is down two points to 23 per cent – a swing of three points.
But having a rosy view of the prospects for pensions is an even less powerful recruiting sergeant for the Yes side. Only 58 per cent of those who reckon pensions would be higher think they will vote Yes – though 75 per cent of those who think they would be lower anticipate voting No.
The lesson for the Yes side is clear. Their hopes of winning the referendum rest on their ability to win the economic debate. They may now be a little closer to doing so.
• John Curtice is Professor of Politics, Strathclyde University