There has been much seizing upon by the Better Together campaign of the Mail on Sunday’s poll results, published yesterday.
Not only do the survey findings suggest that support for independence is slipping, but also that opinion on the issue of the referendum question or questions is hardening. Only 27% support independence, with 13% undecided and 60% now opposed. At the same time, the poll suggests a slight majority now favours a single question referendum (53%) with 41% wanting a devo plus or max option on the ballot paper.
But a different poll conducted by Com Res for the Independent on Sunday, albeit with a much smaller sample size for Scotland*, shows a slightly different position. That poll conducted over roughly the same time period shows 31% in favour of independence with 20% undecided and 49% against. Whichever poll you prefer, they both do confirm the trend of support for independence slipping rather than growing.
This ComRes poll, however, is interesting because of what it suggests about the nations and regions of the UK. Simply put, Scotland thinks differently, politically from England and Wales.
A number of attitudinal statements were put to participants on political issues. First, they were asked to rank each of the UK party leaders. Only 16% of Scottish respondents think David Cameron is turning out to be a good Prime Minister, compared to 28% of English and Welsh; meanwhile, 28% of Scots think Ed Miliband a good Labour leader with 25% of English and Welsh respondents thinking likewise. Reassuringly, Nick Clegg is held in equal disdain across the nations (19% to 20%). These findings suggest that the Tories’ doldrums in Scotland continue but if Labour think this cause for celebration, more sobering is the finding – across the UK – that only 53% of its own voters (people who voted Labour at the last general election) think Miliband is a good leader.
The poll also asked if respondents might prefer a Labour/Lib Dem coalition in government. A curious finding this, with 35% of English and Welsh respondents agreeing and less than a third of Scots doing so. A slightly larger number of don’t knows might explain this one. Or it might just be that the Lib Dem brand is so toxic now in Scotland that it would taint Labour as much as the Tories. Which even I concede is an interesting interpretation.
When it is suggested that being in coalition with the Conservatives has shown the Liberal Democrats to be a credible party of government, only 12% of Scots agree with nearly one in five of English and Welsh respondents agreeing. Perhaps the most eye-catching difference is recorded against the statement “David Cameron was right to abandon the attempt to make changes to the House of Lords”. While 30% agree from England and Wales, only 19% from Scotland do so, implying, perhaps, that there is a bigger appetite for reform north of the border.
A number of other attitudinal statements were posited: the general economic condition of the country (sic) will improve over the next 12 months – while 1 in 4 from England and Wales agrees, this slips to 1 in 5 from Scotland; while over half from England and Wales think the Olympics will probably boost the economy, only 42% from Scotland do so; and somewhat spiking the celebrations, a very low base from both samples think the Olympics will result in more of their family taking part in more sport – 16% and 14%.
But there is one other Olympics-related attitudinal statement which makes for fascinating reading, in the context of the constitutional debate. It would appear that Better Together are launching a campaign blitz this weekend, getting out into communities to sign up supporters. Much of the anti-independence camp’s messaging in recent weeks has aimed to capitalise on supposedly pro-British sentiment generated by the Olympics. Indeed, the Mail on Sunday suggests that fewer people now support independence because of the success of Team GB.
This poll suggests otherwise.
When asked if the London 2012 Olympics have made you more proud of Britain, 72% – nearly three quarters – of respondents from England and Wales agreed. But only 55% of Scottish respondents did likewise. This is a significant difference of opinion, the most significant across the whole survey.
And yes, while a majority of Scots are more proud of Britain because of the Olympics, it points up a gap in British fervour. The figures against are also harder, with over a third (35%) of Scots disagreeing with the notion, compared to only one in five of English and Welsh respondents.
This finding suggests that Scots do see things differently and that it will take more than some outstanding sporting achievements to make Scots feel more British. It also suggests that there is little correlation between the Brit fest served up recently and voting intention in the referendum, as the SNP has claimed. And it should give the Unionists pause for thought before setting out to appropriate the performance of TeamGB and its members as political filler for their referendum campaign. Unlike them, it would appear that Scots can distinguish from sharing in success from making a big political decision: whatever is going on with support for independence, the Olympics and British sporting success has had only marginal impact.
Given that there appears to have been little Olympic bounce among Scots immediately after the games, even that marginal impact of British related euphoria might wane. The London Olympics might well be giving pro-Unionist campaigners a temporary, small-scale filip, but they would be unwise to build a long term campaign strategy around it.