There were no surprises in our latest Panelbase poll with regard to the independence question, at least not in terms of the headline figures – in line with a flurry of recent polls they came out at Yes 46% No 54%, with 2016’s Brexit vote seemingly having caused almost equal numbers of people to change sides since 2014.
But as readers will know, we usually like to probe a little bit deeper into the thoughts of our respondents than other media do, so we asked a few more questions on the subject. And the results of that were just plain weird.
Firstly, for the sake of comparison we asked a question that Panelbase samples have been asked for over a year and a half. And what it’s found every time is that when presented with four options for Scotland’s relationship with the UK and Europe, the single most popular choice is an independent Scotland inside the EU.
As we suggested last month, the option described by Kezia Dugdale as being the choice of the “vast majority” of Scots – being inside both the UK and the EU – has now slipped to THIRD place, five points down from 2015. Only the extreme-isolationist position of being outside both the UK and the EU is less popular.
But we wondered what would happen if you confronted respondents with the reality that Dugdale’s choice is simply no longer an option at all – Scots CANNOT remain in the EU if they stay in the UK, because the UK is leaving the EU and taking us with it. So we cut the options to three, and this happened:
Support for independence inside the EU rose by six points, but most of the people who wanted to stay in both the UK and the EU – 16% – plumped for the UK when they could only have one of the two unions.
Alert readers will have noticed, however, that independence now has a combined 48% to the UK’s 43%. The Yes camp’s problem is that its vote is split over Europe.
None of which is perhaps very surprising, because the correlation between voting No and voting Leave is a pretty strong one. A clear majority of Remain voters (ironically enough, 55% to 45%) back independence, but Leavers are No by just over two to one.
It’s quite plain (were it ever in doubt) that No is essentially a British-nationalist position, and the hopes of the Yes movement that Brexit would tip the scales among left-wing internationalist Scots have been somewhat overly optimistic.
However much people might wish otherwise, the independence debate boils down to a contest between two nationalisms – an outward-looking, civic Scottish one that wants to be part of Europe and the world, and an inward-looking, imperial British one that’s belligerently hostile to foreigners – and currently the British one is still on top, crucially assisted by the small minority of Yes voters who actually ARE the narrow nationalists that the entire Yes side was painted as during the indyref.
Any dispute about that assertion was pretty comprehensively shattered by the next questions we asked. Firstly we inquired about Labour’s electoral prospects:
No great shocks there. Just 15% of voters think there’s any realistic possibility of the party winning the 2020 UK election, and even fewer – 13% – believe it’s got any hope of winning at Holyrood in 2021. Even among the rump who voted Scottish Labour at the general election just nine months ago, only a quarter think it’s got any chance of winning either election. (25% and 24% respectively, to be precise.)
But when we asked how the prospect of permanent Tory government affected people’s views on independence, something really peculiar happened.
The thought of eternal Tory rule at Westminster made Labour voters 5% LESS likely to vote for independence (28% down to 23%), but made Tory voters MORE likely to – from 11% up to 14%, with the number of Don’t Knows also jumping from 2% to 7%.
Now, in truth we weren’t exactly staggered to uncover the latent British nationalism in some Scottish Labour voters, who regularly tell us they’d rather be ruled by Tories for decades or even centuries so long as it was under a Union Jack rather than a Saltire.
(Also, since they have no hope of being in power at Holyrood again and they actually hate the SNP more than they hate the Tories, it’s logical from their perspective.)
But we’ve been scratching our heads for the last 24 hours trying to make sense of the increased Tory support for independence in the event of a permanently Tory UK, and we’ve got nothing. Any suggestions gratefully received.
And don’t think that’s an end to the oddness. Stay tuned, folks.