Nicola Sturgeon may have made a fatal mistake by calling a referendum on Scottish independence too soon and linking the issue to membership of the EU, a major analysis of voters’ views has concluded.
Although it found that support for independence has reached its highest level since the Scottish Parliament was created in 1999, the results of the Scottish Social Attitudes survey also suggest that the SNP may find it difficult to win the forthcoming referendum.
The study, carried out by the independent ScotCen Social Research group, shows that Scotland still has high levels of euroscepticism – meaning that a significant number of voters may decide not to back independence if it means rejoining the EU.
When she announced her plans for indyref2 earlier this week, Ms Sturgeon said it would give Scottish voters the chance to “secure our relationship with Europe” in the wake of the Brexit vote.
The ScotCen study also found that as young people are much more likely to support independence, warning that Ms Sturgeon may have been better waiting until Scotland’s shifting demographics secured her a stronger majority in favour of leaving the UK.
The survey, authored by the respected pollster Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University, found a very large age gap in support for independence, with 72 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds backing the idea compared with just 26 per cent of people aged 65 and over.
It also put support for independence at around 46 per cent – the highest level recorded by ScotCen at any time since 1999 and double the 23 per cent figure of five years ago.
A eurosceptic nation?
However, scepticism about the EU is also at its highest level since 1999, with more than two thirds of Scots (67 per cent) either backing Brexit or favouring a reduction in the amount of powers wielded by the bloc.
“There is a risk that linking independence closely to the idea of staying in the EU could alienate some of those who currently back leaving the UK”Prof John Curtice
Professor Curtice said although the nationalist movement in Scotland had “never been stronger electorally”, Ms Sturgeon may have been better waiting until growing support for independence put the result beyond doubt.
“The commitment to the EU of many of those who voted to Remain does not appear to be strong enough that they are likely to be persuaded by the outcome of the EU referendum to change their preference for staying in the UK,” he added.
“Meanwhile, there is a risk that linking independence closely to the idea of staying in the EU could alienate some of those who currently back leaving the UK.
“Nicola Sturgeon might have been wiser to have stayed her hand, for on current trends there is a real possibility that demographic change will help produce a majority for independence in the not too distant future anyway.”
Responding to the findings, SNP MSP Bruce Crawford said it showed that “the SNP’s record of strong, effective government in Scotland has led more and more people to put their trust in Holyrood to have more powers”.
Scottish Labour’s Westminster spokesman Ian Murray said: “Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t have answers on Europe, and this report makes clear that Scotland’s attitudes towards this is much more complex than the SNP would admit.”
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