Why it is hard to see much hope for Salmond and his political dream

Commentary on our independence poll for The Times by Sir Robert Worcester and Mark Diffley

The prospect of a ‘Yes’ vote in next year’s referendum appears to be disappearing, as those who are certain to vote and have made up their minds now say they are against independence by about two to one. There are still nearly 500 days until the vote, and it’s true that ‘a week is a long time in politics’, according to former Prime Minister Harold Wilson. But when there is such a gap and it’s running in the wrong direction, it’s hard to see much hope for Alex Salmond’s realisation of his dream. A third of Scots who tell us they will vote and have definitely made up their minds, say Scotland should be an independent country while two-thirds disagree. This two to one opposition to Scotland becoming an independent country represents a five-per cent swing in favour of support for staying in the UK since our last poll in February. Of those in the 18-24 age group, half are supportive of independence, compared to just 27% of those aged 55 or over. Young people are significantly less likely than older people to turn out and vote on the day of the referendum, so the value of this advantage to nationalists is diminished. As a rule, ‘grey’ votes are four times as powerful as the youth vote, as there are twice as many of them, and they are twice as likely to vote. Once again, support for independence among women lags far behind support among men. A little under a quarter, 23%, of committed female voters now support independence, down by five points since February, suggesting that the higher campaign profile of Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has yet to persuade more women to back the nationalist cause. And there is nothing to suggest that those who remain uncertain whether to vote and undecided about which way to vote in the referendum are leaning heavily towards supporting independence. Among those who tell us that they are not certain to vote and who have not definitely decided how they will vote, 16% would support independence while 33% wish to remain in the UK. These last few weeks have been difficult for the ‘Yes’ campaign as the UK government has stepped up its efforts to persuade Scots to vote ‘No’ in 2014. In particular the debate around the currency options in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote was widely seen as being beneficial for the ‘No’ campaign. And the recent debate around state pension provision in an independent Scotland may also have had some negative consequences on public opinion as far as the nationalists are concerned. So, where now for the two campaigns? An historical perspective on previous campaigns highlights the challenges faced by Yes Scotland. Nationalists often cite the remarkable turnaround in the SNP’s fortunes before the Holyrood election of 2011 as evidence that their dream of independence remains achievable. However, the poll leads enjoyed by Labour in advance of that election were far less than those enjoyed by the ‘No’ camp in our new poll. And there is nothing to suggest that the nationalists will have the advantages of an ineffectual and discredited opposition which the SNP benefited from in 2011. Still, remember that at the time of the 1975 EEC referendum, Gallup found that by 55% to 45% the British public intended to vote ‘out’, not ‘in’, and six months later the referendum vote was 67% to 33% in favour of staying in. But then all the major national newspapers, the trade unions and big business were in favour of a yes vote; it’s not like that in Scotland today, and therefore opinion is less likely to swing in favour of independence.

So, while we are still a long way out from the vote and events may change opinion, it is clear that nationalists face a serious challenge in the months ahead. And there will need to be an unprecedented change in public mood for their dream of independence to be realised.

This article was originally published in The Times

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