In the wake of Boris Johnson’s visit to Edinburgh last week I polled Scots to measure support for a second independence referendum and to gauge opinion on independence itself. I found a small majority in favour of a new vote – and the first lead for an independent Scotland for more than two years.
I found 47% agreeing that there should be another referendum on Scottish independence within the next two years (First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has demanded a new vote by 2021), with 45% disagreeing.
While more than nine in ten Conservatives oppose a referendum, a return to the polls is favoured by more than one third of 2017 Labour voters, more than half of EU Remain voters, and by more than one in five of those who voted No to independence in 2014.
Asked how they would vote in such a contest, 46% said they would vote Yes to independence, and 43% No. Excluding those who say they don’t know or wouldn’t vote, this amounts to a lead of 52% to 48% for an independent Scotland. This is the first lead for independence in a published poll since an Ipsos MORI survey in March 2017, and the biggest lead since a spate of polls in June 2016, shortly after the UK voted to leave the EU.
One third of Labour voters, a majority of EU Remain voters and 18% of those who voted No to independence last time round said they would vote Yes. Again, more than nine in ten Tories said they would vote No, as did just over one in ten of those who backed independence in 2014. A majority of voters up to the age of 49 said they would vote Yes, including 62% of those aged 18 to 24.
Overall, a majority of Scots thought that if a second referendum were to be held, the result this time would be an independent Scotland. Only three in ten – including just two thirds of Conservatives and fewer than half of 2014 No voters – thought Scotland would vote to remain part of the UK. A further 18% said they didn’t know.
More than six in ten Scots – including 38% of 2017 Conservatives and two thirds of Labour voters – said they think Brexit makes it more likely that Scotland will become independent in the foreseeable future. Indeed, more than half of 2014 No voters think this is the case, with 32% of them saying it makes independence much more likely.
Just over half – including a majority of Labour voters, nearly one in five Tories and two thirds of EU remain voters – say Brexit strengthens the case for Scotland to become independent.
Nearly half (46%) of all Scots agree with Nicola Sturgeon’s claim that a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for Scotland, including half of Labour voters and nearly one in five Tories. A further three in ten (including most Conservatives) think the risks have been exaggerated but there would be some difficulties.
Asked what their preferred Brexit outcome would be, most 2017 Conservative voters backed Boris Johnson’s position that the UK should leave the EU on 31 October, with or without a deal – though one in five said they would be prepared to wait longer than October for a better deal, and nearly a quarter said they wanted to remain in the EU. Remaining is the most popular outcome, though favoured by only half of all Scots.
Scottish voters are closely divided as to whether – if it were not possible to do both – it would be more important for Scotland to remain part of the UK, or to remain in the EU. While 43% would prioritise the Union, 45% would prioritise the EU. While Conservatives and SNP voters were leaned heavily as one would expect, Labour voters were split: 46% would choose the UK, 40% would choose the EU, and 14% say they don’t know.
More than half of Scots said there should be a second referendum on EU membership, including 69% of SNP voters, more than half of Labour voters and one in five Conservatives. Should this take place, 67% of those giving an opinion said they would vote to remain.
As for Boris Johnson’s first week as Prime Minister, while nearly half of Scots said they expected him to do badly, a quarter of those said he had done better than they had anticipated.
While only just over one third of 2017 Conservatives they expected him to do well and he had, a further one in four said they had had low expectations but been pleasantly surprised.
Compared to other politicians, Boris Johnson ranks relatively low among Scottish voters – though still above Nigel Farage, Jeremy Corbyn, and Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard. He scores well below Ruth Davidson, both among Scots as a whole and, to a lesser degree, 2017 Conservatives.
Asked which of the two most likely candidate would make the better Prime Minister, 29% of Scots named Boris Johnson, 23% said Jeremy Corbyn, and nearly half said they didn’t know. Fewer than four in ten 2017 Labour voters said they thought Corbyn would make the best PM.
Despite this, when forced to choose, Scots said they would prefer a Labour government with Corbyn as PM to a Johnson-led Conservative government by 57% to 43%. A quarter of Labour voters said they would prefer the latter, as did the same proportion of SNP voters – perhaps calculating that this circumstance held out the best prospect of independence for Scotland.
Those who voted SNP in 2017 are the most likely to say they will stick with their party in a new general election. They put their mean likelihood of turning out for the party at 88/100, compared to Conservatives’ 71/100 chance of voting Tory again; 2017 Labour voters put their chance of voting the same way in a new election at just 56/100. Some Tories were tempted by the Brexit Party (their mean likelihood of voting this way being 35/100), and some by the Lib Dems (26/100). The SNP, the Lib Dems and the Greens all held some appeal for Labour voters. In terms of overall mean likelihood to vote for the party, both Labour and the Tories ranked behind the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Greens, whose score was boosted by an average likelihood of 55/100 among 18-24 year-olds.
1,019 adults in Scotland were interviewed online between 30 July and 2 August 2019.