Boris Johnson and Brexit putting Nicola Sturgeon and independence on front foot – Professor John Curtice

For much of the last two years, the SNP has seemed to have been on the defensive about Brexit, writes Professor John Curtice.

Independence supporters, seen here marching in Glasgow, will be buoyed by a new poll showing a 52-48 majority in favour of leaving the UK. (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Independence supporters, seen here marching in Glasgow, will be buoyed by a new poll showing a 52-48 majority in favour of leaving the UK. (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Scotland might be heading for the EU exit door even though it had voted by almost two to one in favour of remaining, but it seemed that voters were not persuaded that this was sufficient grounds for revisiting the independence debate.

Polls consistently suggested that most did not want a second independence referendum any time soon, and that if there were such a ballot voters would reject the idea by more or less the same 55 to 45 per cent margin that they did in 2014. That seemed to be confirmed by the loss by the SNP of 21 seats in the 2017 UK general election.

But has the tide now turned? For that seems to be the message from new polling from Lord Ashcroft.

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Poll: Majority of Scots now in favour of independence

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It uncovers a gulf between the views of Scots and the hard Brexit policy being pursued by the new UK Government under Boris Johnson.

Scotland is now two to one in favour of remaining in the EU. Nearly a half think that leaving without a deal would be ‘disastrous’ while only a quarter believe that the UK should leave the EU on 31 October come what may.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson himself trails Nicola Sturgeon badly in the popularity stakes – and especially so among those who voted Remain.

All of which seems to have helped change some voters’ minds about independence.

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Lord Ashcroft’s poll suggests there is now a narrow majority – of 52 to 48 per cent – in favour of independence. This is the first time a poll has put Yes in the lead since the 2017 UK election

There is also an equally narrow majority – of 47 to 45 per cent – in favour of holding a second independence referendum in the next two years.

Of course, not much weight should be put on a single poll. It might simply be an outlier.

However, it is part of wider trend in the polls which registered a modest increase in support for independence even before Boris Johnson became Prime Minister and the prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit came firmly into view.

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The most recent developments in the Brexit debate may now have simply pushed that trend, which is especially apparent among Remain voters, a little further – such that Nicola Sturgeon may now find herself back at last on the front foot.

John Curtice is Professor of Politics, Strathclyde University, and Senior Research Fellow, ScotCen Social Research and ‘The UK in a Changing Europe’.