Scots split on SNP mandate for referendum with independence 'top priority' for just one in 11

Scots are equally split down constitutional lines as to whether the SNP has a mandate for a second independence referendum as voters indicate a preference for a 2022 vote on the issue, an exclusive poll has suggested.

The figures come as just one in 11 Scots state independence is their top priority for the next five years as support for Yes grows slightly following the SNP’s victory at the Holyrood elections.

The survey also shows just under one in three prospective No voters – those saying they would vote no in a second independence referendum – and one in five of all voters voted tactically in May’s elections to stop another party – most likely the SNP – from winning.

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The poll is confirmation of the scale of tactical voting on show during the election, which led to the SNP narrowly losing out on key marginal seats as historic vote shares swung behind the best-placed unionist challenger to a dominant SNP.

Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon on the steps of Bute House in Edinburgh after the SNP won a fourth victory in the Scottish Parliament election.Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon on the steps of Bute House in Edinburgh after the SNP won a fourth victory in the Scottish Parliament election.
Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon on the steps of Bute House in Edinburgh after the SNP won a fourth victory in the Scottish Parliament election.

The survey, undertaken by Savanta ComRes for The Scotsman, interviewed 1,003 adults aged 16 or over between May 11 and 14.

Results for the Holyrood election on May 6 were punctuated by discussions around the potential scale of tactical voting on show in marginal constituencies.

Key battlegrounds on the constituency ballot such as Jackie Baillie’s Dumbarton seat, Jackson Carlaw’s Eastwood seat, and Alexander Burnett’s Aberdeenshire West seats saw huge swings in favour of the incumbent and away from other potential pro-union challengers in the constituency.

All three were held by Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives respectively.

The scale of this tactical voting saw the SNP, despite record turnout, narrowly miss out on winning key seats and has been blamed for the party’s failure to win an overall majority.

One in five (19 per cent) of voters in the Holyrood election said they had voted tactically, with 70 per cent stating they had voted for the party they wanted to see win and a further 9 per cent stating they voted for another reason.

All three of the main pro-union parties saw the biggest gains from this tactical voting, with almost one in three (29 per cent) of those who voted Conservative backing the party tactically.

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Exactly one in three (33 per cent) of those who voted Labour voted tactically, and more than a quarter (27 per cent) of voters who backed the Liberal Democrats voted tactically.

The scale of tactical voting is most notable when these figures are compared to the reasons given for voting SNP.

Just 7 per cent of those who voted for the SNP said they did so tactically.

When broken down by prospective indyref2 voting intentions, 30 per cent of all No voters said they voted tactically versus just 5 per cent of Yes voters.

Despite the overwhelming victory for the SNP in the Holyrood election, support for independence has barely changed, with 43 per cent of Scots saying they would back Yes, 47 per cent stating they would vote No, with 8 per cent of Scots undecided on the issue.

With don’t knows excluded, support for No continues to lead on 53 per cent of the vote with Yes behind on 47 per cent, albeit up one point since the last Savanta ComRes poll prior to the election.

The constitutional divide in Scotland is most starkly seen when Scots are asked whether the SNP have a mandate for a second independence referendum during the next five years, a central tenet of Nicola Sturgeon’s manifesto.

Overall 40 per cent of Scots believe the SNP do have a mandate for indyref2 while exactly the same number of Scots (40 per cent) believe the party does not have a mandate.

A further 19 per cent of Scots said they did not know.

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Some unionist politicians have suggested the fact the SNP failed to win an overall majority at the election on May 6 means Boris Johnson can safely ignore any requests for indyref2, while many pro-independence politicians point to the overall pro-independence majority in Holyrood courtesy of the SNP and the Scottish Greens.

Unsurprisingly, answers to the question of mandates are split down party lines, with 87 per cent of Scottish Conservative voters, 60 per cent of Labour voters, and 70 per cent of Liberal Democrat voters stating they believe the SNP does not have a mandate, with 13 per cent of SNP voters agreeing.

However, more than one in five (22 per cent) of Labour voters and almost one in three (30 per cent) Liberal Democrat voters believe there is a mandate, with 71 per cent of SNP voters and 8 per cent of Conservative voters agreeing.

More than one in ten (11 per cent) prospective No voters also think the SNP has a mandate, while 8 per cent of Yes voters believe one does not exist.

Scots were also asked to pick from a list of years between now and 2026 for when a second independence referendum should take place.

The most popular option, with almost half of Conservative voters choosing this option and chosen by more than a quarter (27 per cent) of Scots, was for there to ‘never’ be another vote.

However, the most popular choice otherwise was 2022, chosen by 17 per cent of Scots, followed by 2023 (12 per cent).

More than half of SNP voters (52 per cent) picked either 2022 or 2023, with 2022 marginally favoured by Nicola Sturgeon’s core vote.

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A further 16 per cent believe the referendum should take place in 2026 or later, with just 6 per cent of Scots believing it should take place later this year.

The year 2024 was chosen by 5 per cent of voters, with 2025 chosen by 7 per cent of Scots, though one in ten said they did not know.

Voters would also like to see the SNP focus on the economy, health, and jobs ahead of independence, the survey suggests.

Scots were asked to pick their biggest priority for the next five years, with the economy (26 per cent) the highest priority for voters.

This was followed by health (16 per cent), jobs (11 per cent) and Scottish independence (9 per cent), with education (8 per cent) and environment (6 per cent) the only other options to receive more than 3 per cent.

The election of another five years of SNP Government is also broadly viewed positively by voters, with almost half (47 per cent) believing it will be good for the people of Scotland versus around a quarter (27 per cent) stating it will be bad for Scots.

Voters are agreed, however, that the re-election of Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister is bad news for Boris Johnson, with 41 per cent of voters stating the SNP’s victory is bad for the UK Government with 16 per cent claiming it is good for the government.

It comes as Ms Sturgeon’s popularity rebounds following a bruising few weeks on the campaign trail.

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Her overall favourability rating had dropped to +14, just three points ahead of Anas Sarwar, ahead of polling day, but now sits on +20 – 11 points ahead of the Scottish Labour leader and well ahead of other rivals.

Mr Johnson’s net favourability is -38, 58 points behind Ms Sturgeon, with Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, 41 points behind on -21 net favourability.

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