It’s been a long time coming, but in the shape of Monday’s opinion poll showing a majority for yes, we finally have confirmation of the recent slew of anecdotal reports about previous no voters turning to independence. Once don’t knows are removed, 52% of those polled would vote yes to independence. A majority also support holding an independence referendum within the next two years. This phenomenal poll, showing that Scotland’s reponse to Boris Johnson and Brexit is to move towards independence, changes the political landscape. No longer can the Tories and the Lib Dems claim that Scotland doesn’t want another referendum. No longer can they pretend to speak for a silent majority that exists purely in their own imaginations.
Naturally this political earthquake was the lead item on the BBC Scotland news … Oh wait. Probably BBC Scotland is reluctant to report on the poll because fieldwork took place before the British Government opened its new hub in Edinburgh that was named after the Queen. Because a spanking new propaganda office in Edinburgh stuffed with Tory advisors and spin doctors sticking union flags on things will have a massive effect on Scottish public opinion and make us overlook Brexit and Boris Johnson. Yeah. That’ll be it. That’s the reason why this poll was reported on Danish TV before it was reported by Scotland’s national broadcaster.
This poll, carried out by the Conservative peer Michael Ashcroft, blows away the only policy that the Scottish Conservatives have had since 2014. It confirms that most people in Scotland do want another independence referendum within the next two years, and that most would vote yes to independence. This is a landmark moment for the independence movement. It means that we will enter an official independence campaign with the support of the majority. The tide has returned, and it’s running higher than ever before.
However what is possibly an even more significant finding from this poll is that 52% believe that when there is another independence referendum, that it will produce a majority for independence. Only 30% believe that Scotland will vote against independence, with 18% either not knowing or refusing to answer. Once the don’t knows and won’t says are removed, that means that 63.5% of people in Scotland, almost two thirds of the country, expect Scotland to become independent following the next independence referendum. It means that many of those who are going into this campaign with the intention of voting no are also entering it in the expectation that they’re going to lose. A significant tranch of those voters will be susceptible to persuasion to change their minds and vote yes.
In what may be even better news for independence supporters, there are reports that this poll doesn’t include 16 and 17 year old, or EU citizens, both groups which would be able to vote in an independence referendum but which are ineligible for voting in UK General Elections. It is known from previous polling that a large majority of young voters support independence. There is reason to believe that EU citizens living in Scotland have been rethinking their previous opposition to independence, since in 2014 they were told that an independence vote meant that Scotland would leave the EU. Now an independence vote represents a route back into the EU, so EU citizens will be far more likely to back independence than they previously were. We should not over-estimate the numbers of 16 and 17 year olds and EU citizens in the Scottish population, however if those groups had been included in this the poll, as they would be included in the franchise for an independence referendum, then support for yes would have been a couple of percentage points higher.
Another key finding is that 40% of Labour voters in Scotland now support independence. Even though the Labour vote has been in freefall for the past few years, that’s still a significant bloc of the population. Crucially it’s the support of those Labour voters which takes backing for independence over the line and turns it into a majority. The finding that so many Labour voters now want independence has important ramifications both for the Labour party in Scotland, and for the wider Scottish independence movement.
Labour in Scotland will now have to think carefully about its anti-independence messaging, as being seen to be aggressively pro-UK risks them alienating a large segment of their remaining support. The finding may encourage some prominent Labour supporters of independence to come out of the closet and make a public declaration of their support for independence. Were that to happen it would provide a huge boost for independence as it would make it far more difficult for opponents of independence to portray the Yes movement as a purely SNP cause. It would likely cause some of the undecideds or don’t knows to come off the fence and support independence.
For independence supporters the finding that so many Labour voters back independence means that we must always remember that support for independence does not necessarily equate to support for the SNP. Indeed, independence is likely to produce a renaissance for a truly Scottish Labour party. That means that in our own messaging we must ensure that we are making arguments that can appeal to Labour voters too. We must not make the mistake of writing off Labour supporters as unionists.
This finding also has ramifications for the SNP. The party leadership has signalled that its main focus in an early General Election will be avoiding Brexit – assuming that is that there is a GE before Brexit happens and that the Commons can forestall a no deal crashing out. This finding provides evidence that the SNP should make independence front and foremost in its campaign, as independence is now the only realistic way out of Brexit. A strong emphasis on independence is a message which is clearly going to be attractive to Labour voters, especially if the Labour party itself is continuing to sit on the fence on Brexit. The party leadership needs to be bolder about making the case for independence, and for pressing the British Government for a referendum.
We cannot take anything for granted. This growth in support for independence has not come about primarily because people are being persuaded by a positive case for independence. It’s happening because they are frustrated, disenchanted, and in despair at the British state, at Brexit, and at Boris Johnson. They look upon Westminster, they imagine a future in a Brexit Britain, and they see little that’s attractive. For those of us who are already independence supporters and campaigners, that means that we must redouble our efforts to make a positive and compelling case for independence, in order to ensure that those people who are now considering supporting independence become as convinced by its merits as we already are. This poll doesn’t mean that we have less work to do, it means that we have more work to do. We have better work to do. Let’s get working. The wind is in our sails, that means we must make our ship watertight.
My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
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