As the marathon campaign marks one year to go on Wednesday this week, the new ICM/Scotsman poll finds that 47 per cent of voters say they will support independence next September if they can be assured it would make them £500 a year better off.
Only 37 per cent say they would oppose independence in those circumstances, with a further 16 per cent saying they don’t know. The poll findings are a shot in the arm for the pro-independence camp, and will give it hope that a focused push on the economy can persuade hesitant Scottish voters to leave the UK.
But the survey also reveals the scale of that task, with less than a third of voters currently saying they believe independence will be good for the economy. Nearly a half – 48 per cent – say they think it will be bad for growth.
‘Support for Holyrood middle-ground option’
And if that scepticism persists or deepens, the poll finds, the pro-independence campaign is set for a devastating defeat, snuffing out any hope the SNP might harbour of bringing the issue back to the people again. The survey is the second half of ICM’s poll for The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday. It shows that, excluding don’t knows, independence is likely to be rejected at present by a margin of 60-40. The poll also found strong support for a middle-ground option, in which Holyrood becomes primarily responsible for welfare and tax, but stays within the UK. A total of 59 per cent of people want Holyrood to become responsible for most welfare and tax decisions.
The survey also shows that one in ten No voters may be swayed to vote Yes if they conclude those powers are unlikely to head north.
But the detail of today’s poll reveals the central importance of the economy to next year’s decision, and shows that whichever campaign wins that battle is likely to emerge victorious, with questions over the currency, pensions and family income central to the outcome.
That is revealed in questions asked by ICM in which people were asked to assume independence would make them £500 better or worse off. Under the latter scenario, only 18 per cent of voters say they will support independence, with 66 per cent saying they will say no. Such a result would represent a crushing loss for Alex Salmond and the pro-independence cause.
However, the better-off scenario shows support up to 47 per cent, fully 29 points higher.
When people were asked to assume independence would make no difference, they opted to remain with the status quo. In this scenario, 39 per cent said they would support independence, compared to 44 per cent who will oppose it.
‘Genuine economic reason’
That suggests Mr Salmond and his campaign will only win next year if they can persuade people of a genuine economic reason to do so.
SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon welcomed the poll results last night. She said: “This is a welcome finding, underlining that people in Scotland know we’ve got what it takes to be an independent country. Scotland generates 9.9 per cent of UK tax revenues and gets 9.3 per cent of spending in return, and the most recent Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland report showed that Scotland’s finances are stronger than the UK’s as a whole to the tune of £4.4 billion – which equates to £824 per person. We are extremely confident, therefore, of demonstrating that we can build a more successful economy and fairer society with the powers of an independent Scotland.”
A spokesman for the pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign said: “An opportunity to create a more prosperous and, at the same time, a fairer Scotland is what lies at the heart of the campaign for a Yes vote. Scotland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and we already know that in budget terms we are stronger than the UK as a whole.
“So we have no doubt that people will be better off after a Yes vote. There is also a growing realisation that we have a chance to build a country in which everybody benefits.”
Martin Boon of ICM said: “The referendum arguments will, quite simply, be won and lost on perceptions for Scotland’s future economic performance, and how it impacts on household budgets.”
The Better Together campaign and the Unionist parties said the SNP had failed to boost support for a Yes vote despite more than two years in power.
Better Together: ‘A real battle on our hands’
A Better Together spokesperson said: “This poll, like every other poll that has been published in the past few weeks, shows that those of us who believe that we are better together with the rest of the UK, have a real battle on our hands.
“The majority of Scots understand that it makes sense to pool and share our resources across the UK. What is interesting about this poll is that people can see the constant stream of ridiculous false promises from the nationalists for what they are.
“Alex Salmond is putting his own place in history ahead of the best interests of Scotland. There is no promise too outlandish he won’t make in order to get people to vote for him.”
Scottish Labour said: “The SNP’s campaign to date has been detail light, so it’s hard to see how they would show Scots that independence could make them better off.”
A Scottish Tories said: “There is a long way to go in this campaign and we are taking nothing for granted.”