Scottish independence: Poll shows record support, but it's not in the bag – Ian Swanson

Reversal of referendum figures gives symbolic satisfaction

The Yes campaign was delighted with the change of opinion since 2014 shown in the poll
The Yes campaign was delighted with the change of opinion since 2014 shown in the poll

YES campaigners are thrilled with the poll last week which not only put them in the lead again, but also revealed a reversal of the referendum figures so the 55-45 split is now in favour of independence rather than against it*.

The turnaround has a symbolic satisfaction for the SNP and its allies after the disappointment of 2014 and is especially welcome after years when the polls hardly shifted.

The Panelbase survey commissioned by Business for Scotland confirms the pro-independence majority found in a string of recent polls and puts support for an independent Scotland at an all-time high, prompting claims that the writing is on the wall for the Union.

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But there are also voices of caution. Veteran Nationalist MSP and former minister Alex Neil, who has announced he is standing down at next year’s election, says he is optimistic about Scotland’s long-term future and describes unionists as “weak and leaderless”.

But he warns: “Victory for the independence movement is not yet in the bag, there is a lot more work to do to achieve our goal.”

‘Show not tell’

It may seem ironic that the surge in support for independence has come during the Covid pandemic when all the attention has been on coronavirus rather than the constitution.

But Nicola Sturgeon, who has repeatedly insisted the virus is her sole focus, told the Andrew Marr Show last month: “Maybe there is a bit of a lesson in there about show not tell.”

And the First Minister has indeed impressed with her handling of the crisis. Scotland has made many of the same mistakes as south of the border but Ms Sturgeon has throughout treated the pandemic with a seriousness which Boris Johnson seems unable to muster.

And Mr Johnson’s own performance during the crisis may well be one of the strongest factors in sending support for independence soaring.

However, despite the record figure in favour of Scotland going its own way, another poll last week found a majority of Scots do not put independence top of their priorities.

The YouGov survey for the Scottish Fabians showed only 36 per cent considered independence “one of the most important issues facing the country” and 52 per cent said it “distracts” from other issues.

Currency, pensions and Europe

Independence is expected to be the dominant issue in next year’s elections for the Scottish Parliament, with the SNP pledging a fresh referendum – though Boris Johnson insists he will not agree to that.

But six years on from the last one, some of the issues which prevented people from voting Yes have still not been resolved.

There was uncertainty over the currency, people were worried about the future of their pensions and Scotland’s position in relation to Europe was uncertain.

Clearly Brexit and the economic effects of Covid have changed the situation, but unless the SNP and the Yes campaign can provide convincing answers on these kinds of issue the risk is No will win again.

The chance to escape from Boris Johnson’s agenda and assert Scotland’s own priorities is attractive to many voters. But before taking the plunge they will want to know the hard facts – positive and negative – so they can take a balanced view when they make their decision.

In many ways it could be argued the independence case is now stronger than ever, but it would be a mistake for Yes supporters to assume the polls are proof the battle has been won.

*We are happy to clarify that the Panelbase poll referenced above did not reflect the 7% of respondents who were undecided. With the 'don't know' respondents included in the results, 51% favoured independence and 42% opposed it. This article was first published on August 24, 2020, an initial footnote was added on November 26, and a final update was made on January 10

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