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Talk of independence is doing SNP few favours

Published:29 November 2009
Fieldwork:19-23 November 2009
Theme:Scotland
Source:Ipsos MORI Scotland

Labour has made up some ground from its poor showing in polling during the summer, but the SNP maintains a strong position in terms of support for both Scottish and Westminster elections. This in spite of, rather than because of, its policy on independence for Scotland. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats continue to drift.

These are among the key themes emerging from the latest political poll in Scotland, conducted by Ipsos MORI.

Among those certain to vote in an immediate general election (the best measure of likely turnout), both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have lost ground since August (down 3 and 2 points respectively), while Labour has gained 5 points. This progress is not enough to overcome the two point lead that the SNP holds, sustaining a position that we had never seen before in our General Election polling until this summer.

Table 1: Voting intention for a Westminster General Election


Jan-Mar 2005*  Election 2005   Jan-Mar 2006* Apr-June 2006   August 2009  November 2009
   %  %  %  %
Conservative  21 16   19  17 18 15
Labour  43 40  44  36  27 32
Liberal Democrats   18 23  17  17  14 12
SNP  13 18   16  24  33 34
Other  5 3  4  6  8 6
 
            
 Base (certain to vote + name party)  434  526 520   571 576
* face-to-face surveys

It is less unusual to see the nationalists holding a lead over Labour in the voting intention for the Scottish Parliament (constituency vote), and while Labour progress since the summer has narrowed the gap, the SNP currently sits in a stronger position than it had at the last elections, in 2007. Meanwhile, there is no sign of a Cameron bounce for the Conservative party, who slip to the lowest level of support we have measured in Scotland (12%), and the Liberal Democrats too have fallen to the same low.

Table 2: Voting intention for the Constituency element of a Scottish Parliament Election

  Election 2003 Jan-Mar 2005*  Apr-June 2005*  Aug-Sept 2005*  Jan-Mar 2006* Apr-June 2006* Election 2007  August 2009  November 2009
  %  % %  %  % %  %
Conservative 17 16 13 16  14  15 17 15 12
Labour 35  36 40 40  38  28 32  25 32
Liberal Democrats  15  21 21 17  17  19 16  15 12
SNP 24  20 22  21  24  30 33  38 36
SSP 6 4 1 3 4 1 * 1 2
Greens 0 2 1 1 1 4 * 3 3
Other  3 1 2 2  2  3 2  3 3
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 Base (certain to vote + name party) -  436 500 544  491 444  -  533 546
* face-to-face surveys

It is, perhaps, not surprising to find that a clear majority of Scots would prefer to see a Labour government result from the next General Election. What is interesting though is that 73% of Liberal Democrat supporters would prefer to see Labour victorious over the Conservatives, as do 58% of SNP supporters. A quarter (23%) of the latter would prefer to see a Conservative government in Westminster. With the possibility (perhaps remote) that the Liberal Democrats may be king makers following the election, it is intriguing to see the stance of the party’s supporters.

The UK General Election next year is likely to result in either a Conservative or Labour government in Westminster. Regardless of how you intend to vote, which do you think would be best for Scotland, a Conservative government in Westminster, or a Labour Government? 
   %
 Conservative Government 24
Labour Government    61
Both the same (DO NOT READ OUT)   7
Don’t know    8

As with his party, Gordon Brown has seen some improvement in his position among the Scottish electorate. Four in ten (41%) now say they are satisfied with his performance as Prime Minister, while half (49%) is dissatisfied. This represents a three point swing in his favour since August this year, and is substantially more positive than his position among the public across Britain as a whole.

David Cameron, on the other hand, has seen his standing slip since August, and is clearly less favourably viewed in Scotland than across Britain as a whole. And in spite of his party sustaining a strong position since August, people are substantially more likely to be dissatisfied with Alex Salmond than they were in the summer (up six points to 43% dissatisfied) and less likely to be satisfied (down eight points to 47%). He can, however, console himself that he is the only one of the three leaders we asked about that has more satisfied with his performance, than dissatisfied.

 

Brown Cameron  Salmond
 Satisfied  Dissatisfied  Satisfied  Dissatisfied  Satisfied  Dissatisfied
  
   %  %  %  %  %
 Scotland  20-31 August  38  52  40  42  55  37
 Scotland  19-23 November  41  49 36  47  47  43
   Change  3  -3  -4  5  -8 6 
   
             
 Great Britain  13-15 November  34  59  48  35  N/A N/A 

While the political classes will be talking of Calman and a possible referendum to initiate independence, other issues dominate the lives of the people of Scotland. Unemployment is most commonly seen as a major issue facing Scotland, followed closely by the general issue of the economic troubles. There has been no change in this order of priority since August, and the other commonly mentioned issues (health and education) retain their prominent positions. Meanwhile, one in six (18%) raise independence or the constitutional settlement as being among the major issues facing Scotland. While it is perhaps not surprising that the issue is relatively prominent in the minds of SNP supporters (28% mention it), it is interesting that Conservative supporters are similarly concerned about it (26%).

There are some intriguing differences from the concerns of the British public as a whole. Scots are much more likely to mention unemployment as an issue, while across Britain as a whole it is ‘the economy’ that is mentioned more frequently. Perhaps more interestingly, immigration is a dominant issue in the minds of the British, but rarely mentioned in Scotland. Crime and law and order are also more prominent in Britain than Scotland, while we are more likely to be concerned about education. And, perhaps reflecting the fact that it is our government in Westminster that sent us to war, few mention terrorism, defence and war as major issues facing Scotland, in comparison with our research across Britain, where it is one of the most prominent concerns.
 What do you see as the most/other important issues facing Scotland (Britain) today? Scotland   Scotland  GB 
   August 2009 November 2009   November 2009
   %
Unemployment/factory closure/lack of industry 44  42  27 
Economy/economic situation/'credit crisis’/crunch  36  37 49
National Health Service/Hospitals/ Health care  23  24 20
Education/schools  26  24 12 
Scottish Independence/constitution/Devolution  16  18 *
Crime/law & order/violence/ vandalism/anti-social (yob) behaviour  17  15 24
Environment/climate change/global warming/pollution  10  11 8
Immigration/immigrants (race relations)  8  8 33
Housing  8  8 5
Drug abuse  5  6 3
Transport/public transport  5  6 2
Terrorism/war in Iraq/Afghanistan/foreign affairs/Defence  5  5 25

A referendum on Scotland’s constitutions future is a popular option, but not yet. Just a quarter consider it a priority to be held ‘as soon as possible’, half the proportion who would like to see one at some stage, but not for a few years. Even among SNP supporters, fewer would like a referendum soon (40%) than would like it delayed (52%). As one might expect, those not wanting a referendum at all are drawn largely from the other parties – 30% of Conservatives hold the view, 25% of Labour and 27% of Liberal Democrats. Just 5% of SNP supporters say they do not want a referendum on independence.

The Scottish Government has proposed a referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future. Which of the following statements comes closest to your own view about the referendum?
 
 %
 I believe a referendum should be held as soon as possible 25
I believe a referendum should be held in a few years time but it is not a priority at the moment   50
I do not believe there should be a referendum on this issue  20
Other (DO NOT READ OUT) *
Don’t know (DO NOT READ OUT)   5

One in five Scots say that they would vote for independence in a referendum (20%). Substantially more would either prefer the status quo (32%) or greater powers for the Parliament (46%). Important to this division of opinion is the stance of SNP supporters. They are divided between wanting more powers for the Parliament (43%) and wanting full independence (49%). None of the other parties has significant numbers supporting the independence option (the highest being Labour, at 8%).

Which of the following statements, if any, comes closest to your own view?
 
 %
Scotland should remain part of the UK with the same devolved powers it has at present 32
Scotland should remain part of the UK with increased powers  46
Scotland should become a fully independent country, separate from the rest of the UK  20
Some other view (DO NOT READ OUT) 2

Perhaps most intriguing are the views of those who would like a referendum as soon as possible. Although more likely to be enthusiasts for independence (42%), many want to see a continuing Parliament, but with greater powers (37%).

Technical Note:

  • All reports on this research should source Ipsos MORI Scotland 
  • Results are based on a survey of 1,009 adults aged 18+ in Scotland, conducted by telephone between 19th November and 23rd November 2009.
  • Data are weighted by age, sex and working status using census data, and tenure using SHS 2007-2008 data.
  • An asterisk (*) indicates a percentage of less than 0.5% but greater than 0. 
  • Where results do not sum to 100, this may be due to multiple responses or computer rounding 
  • We have included some comparisons with the findings of a recent study of the public across Great Britain where these highlight interesting contrasts
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