This is the first of three articles to appear on three consecutive days. The others will describe what I’ve enjoyed about Scotland in the year since the referendum and what I have not. As I write, I have not decided which order they should appear in.
Let’s start with one incontrovertible fact about Scottish political opinion since the 2014 independence referendum.
As evidenced by the UK-wide general election in May, a mere eight months after the referendum, the SNP – the only political party capable of delivering the goal of those who want independence – scored a great victory. To win 56 out of 59 seats was unprecedented. It reduced the three unionist parties to one seat apiece. That cannot be taken away from them.
But behind that victory lie statistics that tell us something rather different about Scottish opinion on independence as measured by the referendum and general election:
Compiled from a number of sources
Put simply opinion is remarkably similar as measured by the behaviour of the electorate when given the chance to vote directly for independence or for the one party that could deliver it. It implies that only a minority, of less than 40%, both want independence and can be bothered to turn out to vote for it or the nearest approximation (the SNP) they can get to it.
A compendium of post-referendum opinion polls maintained by Professor John Curtice on the What Scotland thinks website tells a similar story.
(You can click on the table to enlarge it. The various notes on it refer to things you can do with the data on What Scotland thinks)
Of course, politicians use the results of opinion polls in public to boost their own position and the SNP hailed the result you see fourth from the right in this table (a poll published by Ipsos-Mori for STV on 2 September). It showed that 53% of respondents said they would vote Yes ‘if a referendum were held tomorrow.’ It was also the first poll in the 22 held since November 2014 in which more than 50% declared for independence. Like all these polls it comes with a margin of error, probably around 3% points, although I could not find an estimate of error published for that particular poll. There have also been three polls since then that show support for independence dipping below 50%, where it otherwise remained throughout the period.
The important conclusion from all these polls is not the minutiae of individual percentages or the volatility week to week. It is the overall trend. And that is clear – support for both Yes and No has remained relatively stable since November 2014 with No just ahead most of the time.
Given all these facts, and taking away any political posturing, how likely is it that the SNP would push, seriously, for a referendum in the short term? I doubt it very much. Which makes some of the commentary around the subject, and not only from the separatist side, both unrealistic and very frustrating for this unreconstructed unionist. That feeling may feature in parts 2 or 3 of this short series of articles.