Ian Montagu: SNP backing for EU may make difference in polls

While polls of voting intentions across the UK as whole continue to suggest the result of the EU referendum hangs in the balance, equivalent polls of how people propose to vote in Scotland put Remain well ahead.

Scotland Stronger In Europe campaigners.e Picture: Steven Taylor / J P License

NatCen’s Poll of Polls has had both sides fluctuating around 50 per cent for some time.

The last half-dozen polls in Scotland however put Remain on 67 per cent and Leave on 33 per cent, with the latest estimate from TNS indicating that support for Remain amongst Scots may be as high as 71 per cent.

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It has been suggested that a key explanation for this difference may lie in the relative strength of party cues north and south of the Border.

Although Scotcen’s Scottish Social Attitudes surveys demonstrated similar levels of Euroscepticism both in Scotland and across the UK, voters in Scotland are faced with a dominant and largely united SNP that has made membership of the EU a central tenet of its vision for an independent Scotland.

In contrast, voters south of the Border are faced with a Conservative party that is publicly split on the issue, and a Labour party that, according to the opinion polls, has found it difficult to convey its pro-Remain position to the electorate.

But do SNP voters share their party’s apparently unwavering enthusiasm for EU membership?

Looking under the bonnet of the six most recent Scottish polls, we find that an average of 67 per cent of those who voted SNP in the 2015 general election support remaining in the EU, while 33 per cent say they intend to vote Leave.

These figures mirror exactly those for Scotland as a whole, suggesting that although SNP voters are more in favour of staying in the EU than leaving, they remain nonetheless divided.

Support for Remain amongst Scottish Labour supporters in these polls stands at 73 per cent – six percentage points higher than amongst SNP voters. As for Conservative voters in Scotland, the polls suggest that whilst the balance of support lies marginally with Remain at 57 per cent.

During the past few months First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has frequently reaffirmed her belief that if Scotland were taken out of the EU against its ‘democratically expressed wishes’ as a result of a majority vote to leave across the rest of 
Britain, this may constitute the requisite material change in circumstances to make a second referendum on Scottish independence ‘probably unstoppable’.

Ian Montagu, Researcher at ScotCen Social Research.