A DECLINING proportion of people north of the Border class themselves as Scots, with fewer than four-fifths expected to say they are “Scottish” by the time an independence referendum takes place.
Over the past decade there has been a drop to 81.5 per cent from 88.1 per cent in those who describe themselves as white Scottish in ethnic or cultural background, responses to the Scottish Household Survey show.
At the same time there has been a rise of one-third in the number of people who describe themselves as white “other British” or white “English” – a group that now accounts for 11.7 per cent of those living in Scotland.
The trend has fuelled the debate over the outcome of an independence referendum, which the Nationalist Scottish Government is expected to call in 2014 or 2015.
The SNP said the figures showed that support for independence no longer relies on people’s notion of “Scottishness”.
Nationalists claim support for independence is on the rise despite the decline in Scottish ethnicity, with an Ipsos Mori poll in December putting it at a recent high of 38 per cent. However, opponents said greater ethnic integration undermined the case for independence.
SNP campaign director Angus Robertson said: “While a clear majority of people in Scotland continue to think of themselves as Scottish, we are an increasingly multi-cultural society with a small but growing population from other parts of the world and nearly 30,000 more people from the rest of the UK choosing to make Scotland their home over the last four years than have moved the other way.
“We know that people from all backgrounds choose to support independence and a better future for Scotland.
“A recent social attitudes survey shows that a fifth of those who choose to define themselves as British support the Scottish Parliament having the full powers of independence. We are confident that, as more people understand the strength of the social union that would exist between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK, that support will only increase.”
Opponents have pointed out that polling normally puts support for independence at about 30 per cent and in November a TNS-BMRB poll put it at 28 per cent – one of the lowest figures in recent years.
Even the Ipsos Mori poll last month showed that more than half the population – 51 per cent – opposed independence.
Former Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie said the Scottish Household Survey reveal Scotland was becoming more integrated with the rest of the UK and argued that this would undermine the push for separation.
He said: “The growing number of people from the rest of the UK who make their home in Scotland simply demonstrates that we live in an integrated British society which one presumes they would want to sustain.”
But Labour’s Scottish constitution spokeswoman Patricia Ferguson said she did not believe the change in the nation’s ethnicity would affect the referendum result.
She said: “It is a big mistake to think that whether you define yourself as Scottish or British determines how you vote in the referendum.
“I suspect this will have very little impact on the referendum. It’s not a test of how much you love Scotland – everyone here and more do – it is about what’s best for Scotland.”
A referendum on independence has appeared inevitable since the SNP won a historic majority in the Holyrood election last May.
First Minister Alex Salmond says he has the mandate to organise a referendum even though the powers to hold an official one are reserved to Westminster.
The UK Tory/Lib Dem coalition government has said it “will not stand in the way of a referendum” but is understood to be considering a number of options. These include taking control of the referendum because of pressure from prominent Scottish figures in Westminster. If this happens, it is likely to mean a 2013 referendum.
However, the coalition will not take control of the referendum without Labour’s support and Scotland’s biggest party in Westminster appears split on the issue.
The other main alternative appears to be to hand referendum powers to Holyrood but on condition that a vote is held quickly.
Westminster’s Scottish affairs committee, which is being boycotted by the SNP, is carrying out an inquiry into the mechanics of a referendum and the options on major issues such as defence, currency and foreign affairs.
The Scottish Household Survey is taken every year with 750 households interviewed on a broad range of attitudes and is published by the Scottish Government.
The latest survey results were revealed in August, but the downward trend in those classing themselves as Scottish was not highlighted at the time.
Additional figures show that the percentage of “Other White” backgrounds has almost tripled, from 1.1 per cent to 2.9 per cent. The 2009-10 breakdown revealed that a third of these were Polish.
The number of Irish people remained fairly steady, at between 0.7 per cent and 0.9 per cent.
There was a surge in those of Asian background, from 0.1 per cent to 2.13 per cent, while those from black backgrounds remained steady at 0.4 per cent.
There was a rise in “other backgrounds” from 0.2 per cent to 0.5 per cent.