Poll Shows Scots Supporting Independence As The U.K. Stumbles Toward Brexit

Adding to the political headaches for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a new poll shows majority support for Scottish independence in Scotland as the United Kingdom stumbles toward Brexit.

Adding to the potential political headaches that newly-installed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing, a new poll finds increased support for Scottish independence even as he guides the United Kingdom toward a break with the European Union, a move that is highly disfavored in Scotland:

Voters in Scotland would vote for independence from the United Kingdom, a new poll has suggested.

The survey by Michael Ashcroft for Holyrood magazine is the first since March 2017 showing support among Scots for breaking up the union.

Of the 1,019 voters polled, 46 percent said they would vote for independence and 43 percent said they would vote against. When those who said they did not know or would not vote are excluded, the result swings to 52 percent versus 48 percent in favour of secession.

The results serve a major boost to Scottish First Minister and Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, but are a blow for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who visited Scotland last week, and Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson.

Sturgeon hailed the “phenomenal” poll, adding: “A broken Westminster system means Scotland is being dragged towards a no deal Brexit, regardless of the heavy price we’ll pay for lost jobs and lower living standards.

“That project is being led by Boris Johnson — a prime minister Scotland didn’t elect and who has no mandate to tear Scotland out of Europe with all the damage that will entail.”

She added: “It would be a democratic outrage for any Tory government to deny that, and this poll shows such an anti-democratic position is completely unsustainable.”

Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU at the 2016 referendum on Brexit, while a POLITICO-Hanbury poll last month found Johnson is toxic among Scottish voters.”

More from The Guardian, which reports that Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned British Prime Minister Boris Johnson against blocking a future independence vote:

Nicola Sturgeon has warned Boris Johnson against blocking a fresh referendum on Scottish independence after a poll found a majority would now vote yes.

The first minister said it would be “undemocratic and unsustainable” for the Conservatives to oppose one after the poll by Lord Ashcroft put the yes vote at 52%, once don’t knows and non-voters were excluded.

The poll, the first since Johnson’s visit to Scotland last week, also found that most Scots want a fresh independence referendum by 2021, once undecideds were excluded. Previous polls had shown only a minority of Scots wanted a second referendum that soon.

In a further blow to pro-UK parties, it also found that a majority (52%) believed the yes campaign was likely to win, including a third of voters who rejected independence in the first referendum in 2014. Only 30% believed Scotland would now vote to remain within the UK after Brexit, and 18% did not know.

This is the first poll since March 2017 to show a narrow majority for independence. Until now, the pro-UK vote has enjoyed a small but consistent lead.

Johnson’s critics and opponents, including senior figures inside the Conservative party and the party leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, have long forecast that his election and his pursuit of a hard Brexit would boost support for independence.

Ashcroft, a former Tory party treasurer, found that 62% of Scots believed Brexit – regardless of whether that was with or without a deal – made independence more likely. That included 38% of Tory voters.

Despite repeated warnings from unionists that leaving the UK would be more economically and financially damaging to Scotland than Brexit, a narrow majority of voters (45%) said staying in the EU was more important than staying in the UK (43%, with 12% don’t knows).
Ashcroft’s data substantiates previous polls predicting that a Johnson premiership would help Sturgeon. However, since Ashcroft does not carry out regular polls on these questions and will not reveal which polling company carries them out for him, it is harder to compare this data accurately with previous polls.

Here’s a tweet from Sturgeon responding to the poll:

This poll comes nearly five years after the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum, in which the votes to remain in the United Kingdom won by nearly an eleven-point margin, which was a far bigger win for remaining in the U.K. than polling has indicated. Since then, polling on the Scottish independence issue has generally fluctuated back and forth but has still generally shown that the majority of Scots supported staying in the union with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. That has been slowly changing, though, ever since the 2016 Brexit Referendum. While the nationwide vote in the referendum gave the win to the decision to leave the European Union by roughly three percentage points. The result was quite different in Scotland, though, where 62% of the country voted to remain in the E.U., joining Northern Ireland, where roughly 55% of voters voted to remain.

Ever since that Brexit vote, pro-independence forces in Scotland have sought to capitalize on the country’s support for continued membership in the European Union as a means to revive support for an independence vote. When the Brexit process began in early 2017, for example, Sturgeon made her first call for another independence vote, citing the vast difference on the E.U membership question between Scotland and England (joined by Wales) as justification for the move. As the Brexit process moved forward, there was at least some hope that the threat of Scottish independence could temper British enthusiasm for the prospect of actually leaving the E.U., a hope that obviously proved to be a false hope.

The current upsurge in support for independence appears to be a combination of the prospect of Brexit happening as soon as October 31st and the rise of Boris Johnson to the top of British politics. In the first respect, polls in Scotland continue to show support for leaving the United Kingdom and appear to show that support for this idea increasing as the reality of Brexit actually happening sank in. Additionally, Johnson has apparently long been an unpopular figure among the Scots so it’s no surprise that support for independence would increase once he became Prime Minister.

Of course, there is a big difference between talking about Scottish independence yet again and actually making it happen. Before that could happen, the British Parliament would have to vote to authorize another referendum and that seems unlikely for the time being. Johnson’s Conservative Party is not at all likely to support such a move since it has taken the position that the issue of Scottish independence was decided once and for all in 2014. The Labour Party has also taken a position against independence, but one wonders if that might change in the wake of another election where Labour might have to rely on the support of the Scottish National Party to gain the votes it needs to form a government. In that regard, it’s worth noting that Sturgeon has recently said that she would not rule out an anti-Tory Parliamentary alliance with Labour. That comment came after what many observers have called an acrimonious meeting with Prime Minister Johnson. Unless and until something like that happens, Scottish independence will remain an aspirational goal that may not come close to being realized any time in the near future.

FILED UNDER: Brexit, United Kingdom, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Jen says:

    Not remotely surprising. The 2014 referendum vote was largely based on the statements coming out of England that the only way Scotland would be able to stay in the EU was if they voted to stay in the UK.

    As you noted, the Scots also voted overwhelmingly Remain in the Brexit vote. That they are now supporting independence is completely in line with what they were sold in 2014, and what they indicated was important to them in the Brexit vote. SNP appears to be getting stronger support.

    Brexit was an incredibly stupid move and this intransigence shown by Tories is unbelievable. I feel badly for anyone getting trampled in this tide of idiocy–especially Scotland.

  2. @Jen:

    Labour isn’t doing much better on Brexit

  3. Kathy says:

    Johnson’s Conservative Party is not at all likely to support such a move since it has taken the position that the issue of Scottish independence was decided once and for all in 2014.

    So it’s one person, one vote, one time?

    Same as for Brexit, right? Leave won, so that’s it. Forever.

    The reason countries have legislatures and leaders is that the world does not, cannot, hold still. Things change all the time, and new laws and policies are needed to adapt to change. Case in point, remaining in a country within the EU is vastly different from remaining in a country intent on leaving the EU.

  4. dmichael says:

    @Doug Mataconis: That’s only because of Corbyn’s stupid “creative ambiguity” strategy on Brexit.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    There are probably half a dozen states that would leave the Union if that were possible. (It’s not: 1865.)

    The Tory’s are almost as bad as Republicans, though with less support for #WhiteTerrorism. Jeremy Corbyn is a dithering nitwit.

    But you know who else I blame? Queen Elizabeth II The one useful thing she could do, the one thing you’d assume a monarch would at least attempt to do, is keep the country united. But nope, not a peep from Betty. She and her moldy, useless family are content to feed the paparazzi and nothing else.

    I know the limitations on her power, I know the traditions that keep her silent, but if you lack the ability even to speak up as your country is harmed and facing dismemberment, WTF good are you? Her namesake would have found a way.

  6. Lounsbury says:

    @dmichael: Stupid and Corbyn go together.
    Any reasonably competent, non Hard Left Soviet sympathizing Labour leader would have toppled the Conservatives.

  7. gVOR08 says:

    This is far too thin a margin to really scare Boris. Even if he gave a shite about anything but his own elevation to PM, which I doubt.

  8. Lounsbury says:

    @michael reynolds: Mate, you don’t understand the system and making a ref to QE1 just shows that.

  9. Jen says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I know that Labour isn’t doing any better.

    But Conservatives own this, lock, stock & barrel. Cameron is the one that called for this stupid, irresponsible, catastrophic vote–with a simple majority.

    From him, one after another, Conservatives own this. If it results in the breakup of the UK, they own that too.

  10. grumpy realist says:

    Half of the commentators over at the Torygraph are jumping up and down clapping their hands with glee at the prospect of Scotland leaving. They hate the Scots, they hate the Irish, they hate the French, and they want the EU to fragment and disappear. And they’re blaming the EU for not giving them exactly what they wanted in “a deal” and whining about how unfair and disrespectful the EU has been to them.

    (“Disrespectful” == not doing what I want. Talk about a gaggle of spoiled brats….)

  11. Joe says:

    I am trying to imagine a hard border with Scotland, rebuilding Hadrian’s wall.

  12. michael reynolds says:

    Oh, I understand it. What I don’t understand is WTF the point of a monarchy is if they can’t act as a calming influence in bad times and can’t step outside their box when necessary.

    I have no dog in that fight not being a Brit, but I have British friends who range from virulently republican to staunchly monarchist. The latter used to reassure me that the Queen is a force for stability. Well, she’s not, is she? She can’t summon up the courage her father did in keeping the royals in London during the Blitz. That wasn’t interference in Parliamentary government, but it was a hell of a statement.

  13. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “…this intransigence shown by Tories is unbelievable. ”

    I don’t find any particular reason to believe that the right wing anywhere else in the world is that much different than the right wing here. While we’d like to believe that our Western Civ. soulmates across the sea are more reflective and thoughtful, there seems to be no particular evidence for that proposition.

  14. David S. says:

    @michael reynolds: I’m confused; you want the Queen to quash the independence movement and support Johnson? Because I don’t see a “stability” position to take here besides disbanding Parliament and stamping out the Brexiteers, which is kinda the definition of interference.

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    And what rough Brexit, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

  16. Gustopher says:

    @David S.: She could, if so inclined, gently suggest a second referendum before just crashing out of the EU.

    Suggesting an appeal to the people is a lot less confrontational than disbanding parliament.

  17. Kathy says:


    I’m sure I don’t understand the British monarchy, but to me it seems the queen and her family fill only a ceremonial role, even if they meet with heads of state on official state visits.

    That’s not nothing, other countries have ceremonial posts, but it’s something one can do without.

  18. Kathy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I don’t find any particular reason to believe that the right wing anywhere else in the world is that much different than the right wing here.

    There are a few differences. For instance, they claimed Brexit would allow more money to be spent on their single-payer healthcare system (the NHS). They did not argue it would enable them to shut it down.

  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kathy: Republicans have long claimed that tax cuts will increase revenue while claiming they are THE protectors of Social Security and Medicare. I really don’t see much difference between the Tory bait and switch and the GOP bait and switch.

  20. michael reynolds says:

    @Lounsbury: @David S.:
    I’ve given it some thought and I’ve taken the liberty of writing a first draft for her majesty.

    “Dear subjects.” (I assume that’s how she starts out.) “What the holy fck is the matter with you people? Some posh pig-fucker sets up a referendum on national suicide and 52% of you twats think, sure, let’s try that? So it’s screw Europe, let’s count on trade deals with the good old Americans, our pals. But there’s a twist. You know the pig I was referencing earlier, the one that fellated David Cameron.? Well, guess what? That pig is now president of the United States. Who could have?

    Look, we’re a medium-sized country that’s managed for decades to punch well above its weight because we still have that colonialist swagger, the Beatles, membership in one of the great free(ish) markets and Americans think our accents sound smart. Yes, even Scouse accents. I know!

    But you fckin people couldn’t let a good thing be, could you? Too much peace and stability, is that it? You decide to leave the EU because, what was it? Yeah, you don’t really know, do you? Well, listen up you cnts, when you start to cost me parts of my country, you’re messing with the wrong old lady. Do you have any idea how many Scots my ancestors had to slaughter to add ‘and Scotland’ to the nameplate? We’ll never take your freedom? Took your intestines, though, didn’t we? Foot by foot. But I digress.

    So here’s the deal: you can hold a second referendum or I will disband the royal family, destroying our Jolly Olde England tourist industry, which, after all the banks leave will be all we’ve got left. Well, that and TV shows involving Inspectors..

    Look, don’t make me chop heads. Because I goddam well will do it. Don’t push me, I’m not just the oldest Kardashian, I am the freaking queen. The queen of England and Scotland, motherfckers. Wales, too, but well. . . . Phillip? Beer me. This is thirsty work.”

    Something along those lines. I look forward to your notes.

  21. Richard Gardner says:

    Let Scotland pay back everything with interest from when they were bailed out by England ~1700 for the failed Darien (Panama) Scheme

  22. Jon Davies says:

    It’s certainly food for thought. It may create a problem of expectations for Nicola Sturgeon as independence supports are keen for her to call another poll now. She knows if she calls it at the wrong time and loses it again then the independence dream is dead for her lifetime (not just another 5 years). She knows that one fickle poll does not make a referendum victory.

    A complicating factor if Brexit does go ahead is that a good slug of SNP supporters (circa 30% last time I looked) do not want an independent Scotland to rejoin the EU i.e. they truly want to be independent.

  23. JohnSF says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Are you available for an emergency appointment as Queen Regent?
    I like your style 🙂

    Seriously though, Lounsbury’s right; if H.M. even thought about such an intervention, the Privy Council and the Household would do everything short of a straitjacket to prevent it; politically toxic way understates it.

    Especially as I’ve seen plenty of Brexit ultras in the past attacking the Queen for giving Royal Assent to EU related treaties and Acts.
    The only format for the Monarch to speak would be in Privy Council; and usually, Privy Council is the one area of UK governance that is never publicised.

    Brexit ultra headbangery is relevant to Scottish independence too; lots of Leavers are at base English nationalist right-populists, who take little prodding to show their scorn for Scotland and Northern Ireland (and Wales, likely, if it ever encroached on their political dementia).

    Another strain of Leavers are a weird type of Tory libertarian “Singapore on Thames” merchants for whom the Monarchy and the Union are an anachronism compared to their dreams of a country reshaped to serve as damp North Atlantic domicile for a Randian global financial elite.

    Both types, and their deluded followers, would willingly burn the country down to enable their rule over its ashes.

  24. JohnSF says:

    Certainly the Leavers (both Conservatives and UKIP/BP) used the NHS, and leveraged other social/economic issues in their campaign.
    It’s definitely an issue for some of their supporters; and the “populist” strain of the leaderships may either believe it, or at least be see it as a price worth paying to consolidate support (e.g. May, Timothy, Cummings, Johnson).

    Certainly being seen as anti-NHS is the third rail of British politics: touch it and die.

    However, at lower levels quite a few “Kipper-libertarians” and some Tory ultras have made clear that the replacement of present NHS with, at least, generalised commercial service provision to public contractors, and “supplementary” personal insurance, are part of their long term “state shrinking” ideas.

  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    Both types, and their deluded followers, would willingly burn the country down to enable their rule over its ashes.

    Not surprised. It seems to be a theme on the right these days.

  26. JohnSF says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Seems to be a theme in UK and USA at any rate.
    Here’s Tom Peck in The Independent on this, in an article on Dominic Cummings which is both cynically funny and makes a serious point:

    Because human history is in absolutely no way littered with self-appointed geniuses, with their big ideas on how to solve the world’s ills, who are so very obviously right that it doesn’t matter what they have to break to get there. In the end, they always take you to the promised land, these people, so there’s definitely no reason to panic.

    What is the Conservative Party for, after all, what is Conservatism, if it’s not to smash everything to bits and rebuild it in accordance with the 25,000 word blog posts of some wide-eyed zealot?

  27. grumpy realist says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I’d call them nihilists but at least nihilists had a sense of seriousness. These guys are nothing more than 8chan commentators who are blowing things up for the lulz. And there’s always a getaway airplane and a Swiss bank account somewhere if things get dicey–or so they think. They may be surprised.

    You can’t rerun revolutions, guys. Once real bodies start falling you don’t get to say “oopsie, didn’t mean that to happen.” This isn’t a video game you can log out of and then restart.