Scottish Independence Losing In The Polls

If recent polling is to be believed, the bid for Scottish independence is going to go down in flames.

Scotland and UK flags

In just over a month, Scots will head to the polls to vote on a referendum on the question of whether they wish to remain part of the United Kingdom, or bring to an end a union that began with King James VI of Scotland’s acesscion to the thrones of England and Ireland more than 300 years ago. As Chris Lawrence noted in a a post about two weeks ago, there are still analysts who project that a “yes” vote could end up being victorious. As Walter Russell Mead notes, though, there seems to be some evidence that Scots are turning decisively against independence:

The dream of Scottish independence is beginning to fade away; that at least is what the latest poll shows. 57 percent of Scots say they will vote against independence.  Analysts think the doubts about the Scottish National Party’s plans to stick with the British pound are driving voters away from the independence camp. The SNP says an independent Scotland can keep using the pound with or without London’s approval, but over time the skeptics seem to be winning the debate.

And speaking of debates, the latest poll shows that a solid majority of viewers thought that anti-independence spokesman Alistair Darling crushed Alex Salmond, the SNP’s chief and Scotland’s current premier. Darling hammered Salmon over the currency question, and viewers seemed to find Salmond’s answers unconvincing. Issues of currency union and bank regulation are particularly salient in Europe these days, given the horrendous consequences of bank crises in countries like Ireland and Greece where national authorities didn’t control their currencies. It’s difficult to see how Scotland’s large financial service industry could prosper without strong backing from the UK Treasury — backing that would likely not be available if Scotland were using the British pound without London’s support. Taxpayers in the rest of the UK would not be willing to bail out Scottish banks if the Scots leave the Union, and without that implicit support it is hard to see how Scotland’s financial sector could prosper.

Additionally, and perhaps indicative of just why the referendum has never actually had majority support in the pollsThe Independent reports on a study that suggests that the movement for Scottish independence has led more people in Scotland to identify themselves as part of the United Kingdom rather than Scottish:

The prospect of Scotland leaving the UK has led to a marked decline in the number of people describing themselves as Scottish, according to research published today.

In a blow to the campaign for independence, the annual Scottish Social Attitudes survey shows that over the last three years a sense of Britishness has been rekindled among Scots.

When asked to choose one single national identity, the number of people who answered “Scottish” has fallen from 75 per cent in the 2011 survey to 65 per cent now. Those who said they regarded themselves as British increased from 15 per cent to 23 per cent over the same period.

Asked to rank their Scottishness against their Britishness, only 26 per cent said they were “more Scottish than British”, the lowest figure since the survey was first completed in 1992, when it stood at 40 per cent. The most popular answer was “equally Scottish and British”, with 32 per cent saying this description best fitted them.

A report published alongside the survey suggested that the Scottish independence referendum, due to be held on 18 September, may already have had an effect on national identity. An existing trend for people to say they were British as well as Scottish “continued further when people began to be faced with the prospect that Scotland might actually leave the United Kingdom”, it said.

John Curtice, Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde and co-director of the Scottish Social Attitudes survey, said the referendum may have rekindled a “residual sense of Britishness” in some Scots. “A prospect that actually there’s going to be a referendum in which Scotland could vote to leave the UK has perhaps helped at the margins to stimulate some people to say: ‘I am primarily Scottish, but I’d like to be British as well’,” he said.

The research also highlighted the increasing gender divide on the issue. Only 27 per cent of women now support independence, compared with 39 per cent of men – a gap which has doubled in the space of a year.

Overall, the number of people intending to vote yes has increased from 36 per cent in 2013 to 39 per cent now, once undecided voters are excluded. Yes Scotland pointed out that this meant support for independence was at its highest level since 2005.

“Two other polls in the past week have shown support for yes as high as 47 per cent – including the snap poll conducted after last week’s debate, which also showed support for independence slightly higher among women, at 48 per cent,” a spokesman said.

However, the research also found that since the Edinburgh Agreement of 2012, when a referendum on independence was agreed by the Scottish and Westminster governments, the proportion of voters who think leaving the UK would be damaging for Scotland’s economy has risen from 34 per cent to 44 per cent.

The Better Together campaign said this showed the need for Alex Salmond to inform voters of his “Plan B” if an independent Scotland was unable to enter a currency union on the pound with the rest of the UK. The First Minister has said the country would continue to use the pound “come what may”, as it was internationally tradeable.

Viewing the matter objectively, the idea of Scottish independence has always seemed just a little bit silly. Countless studies have made it clear that an independent Scotland would almost immediately become an economic basket case outside the United Kingdom. Contrary to the reassurances of those who advocate it, it is by no means certain that an independent Scotland would be granted membership in either the European Union or NATO, for example. This means that, for at least some period of time Scotland would in many ways be on its own in the world. It could, no doubt, rely upon its energy reserves as a source of revenue at least in the beginning, but it’s not at all clear how the ownership of those reserves would be resolved in any potential dispute between Scotland and the suddenly smaller United Kingdom would be resolved. At the very least, though, it seems clear that Scotland would become an economic basket case not dissimilar from some of the worst nations in the EuroZone. Furthermore, given the fact that Scotland has been given significant autonomy over its own affairs in recent decades, it’s difficult to see what advantages independence would bring, except of course to the politicians who would suddenly find themselves leading a nation rather than being just another voice in Parliament down in London. For ordinary Scots, though, absent some over inflated sense of national pride, there doesn’t seem to be any rational reason to support independence.

Perhaps the polling is wrong, of course. Maybe there’s more support for independence than they are indicating. We’ll find out on September 18th, but right now it looks as though the United Kingdom will end up staying united after all.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. grumpy realist says:

    Typical behavior for a lot of referenda like this. The separatists are making all the noise, so they look strong. As it gets closer to the actual vote, people stop manifesting the “protest vote” mentality and start thinking: “hey, what will really happen….?”

    Like a fight between spouses. It’s one thing to say “I’m going to leave you!” It’s another thing to actually pack the suitcase, rent an apartment, talk to the lawyer, show up in front of the judge, and in fact move out….

    As I’ve said before, one reason the separatists in Quebec have never really gotten traction is because everyone knows that if Quebec secedes, the next day the First People do the same, taking the hydroelectric dam with them….

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    @grumpy realist: I agree. It would be a bit like Mississippi or Arkansas seceding. They are the states most dependent on the Federal Government..

  3. There is a massive gap between what Scotland recieves in government spending vs. what it pays in taxes. As long at it is receiving what amounts to massive subsidies from England, it’s unlikely the general population is going to want to go it alone.

  4. CSK says:

    When I was but a wee lass, there were a lot of monarchists in the SNP, many of whom were agitating for the restoration of the Stuarts to the throne of Scotland. The current heir is His Royal Highness Franz, Duke of Bavaria, who apparently wants nothing to do with it.

    He would be Francis II, King of Scots.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Does sort of sound like Mississippi seceding, doesn’t it?

  6. stonetools says:

    But, but, what about cruel Edward Longshanks? And William Wallace? Bannockburn? And Bonnie Prince Charles? And Outlander? And Robert Burns? And Scotland the Brave?
    Did you know English nobles once had the right to deflower Scottish maidens? What’s that you say? “Braveheart” isn’t historical? Say it ain’t so!

  7. argon says:

    Sounds a bit like the Quebec referendum of years gone by. Independence is fun to use as a bargaining chip in negotiations but when the bluff is called…

  8. Slugger says:

    What about the North Sea oil? I have read that claiming the North Sea oil revenues would put Scotland on an economic footing similar to Norway. Norway has a population in the same ballpark as Scotland and has a huge oil derived social fund of around $900 billion. Norway has its own currency. Scotland could tie its currency to the pound, euro, dollar, or go its own way. I would be happy to carry banknotes with pictures of Bobbie Burns, Adam Smith, or James Watt backed by convertibility into oil or Isle of Islay single malts.

  9. Steve Hynd says:

    Scotland represent 8.4 per cent of the UK’s total population and generates 9.9% of the UK total tax take but gets only 9.3% of that tax back as spending. It is not the welfare queen of the UK as many Americans believe (thanks to the London media and London government, which have always refused to factor in Scotland’s share of oil revenue when publishing their statistics). Really, if Scotland was such a liability why would London be trying so hard to keep it? There are in fact no “countless studies” as Doug would have it. There are at most three or four, all by conservative think tanks or the UK government and just as many, albeit less publicized ones, that say the opposite – that Scotland would have a more vibrant economy than the rump UK.

    High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email ft************* to buy additional rights.

    Among the blizzard of contention and spin that surrounds the independence debate, some points of broad consensus are clear. Nationalists argue that being part of the UK has held Scotland back, while their opponents contend that the union has been central to its economic success. But the leading players on both sides accept that Scotland has all the ingredients to be a viable nation state.
    If its geographic share of UK oil and gas output is taken into account, Scotland’s GDP per head is bigger than that of France. Even excluding the North Sea’s hydrocarbon bounty, per capita GDP is higher than that of Italy. Oil, whisky and a broad range of manufactured goods mean an independent Scotland would be one of the world’s top 35 exporters.

    Furthermore, most UK-based polling has neglected to poll 16 and 17 year olds, who will be allowed to vote in the referendum and are considered more likely to vote for independence.

    The latest poll has the “No” vote at it’s lowest margin ever, and the polling trend is closing. It will be a close vote.

  10. george says:


    Sounds a bit like the Quebec referendum of years gone by. Independence is fun to use as a bargaining chip in negotiations but when the bluff is called…

    Some of is being promised your cake and being able to eat it too. In the case of Quebec, the separatist leaders promised they’d be able to keep their Canadian citizenship and vote in Canadian elections after separating (something that no leader in any other part of Canada would contemplate offering, since 95% of the population in those other parts would be strongly against it). As well, they were promised an equal partner relationship with Canada (again a non-starter, especially in the west which is richer and has a bigger population than Quebec). Some of it was funny; they told the people who worked for Revenue Canada in Quebec that the rest of Canada would still send their tax forms to Quebec for processing after separation. I wonder if anyone actually believed them.

    If they actually were able to get those conditions they’d have been silly not to go for it – its all win. But not quite enough Quebecois thought there was anything but an infinitesimal chance of getting those to win the referendum (it was very close). Since then, its become clearer that separation means just that – separation (no shared citizenship etc), and its cooled interest somewhat.

    On the plus side for the separatists, those who want a separate state (and there’s nothing inherently wrong in that) do so knowing they will be cutting off ties with Canada; if they can sell that, they really will have a separate state.

    I suspect something similar is going on in Scotland; separatist retaining all the benefits of being in the UK is different than true separatism, and people don’t really believe they’ll be able to have their cake and eat it too.