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Wings Over Scotland

Independence falls behind, surges ahead

Posted on August 02, 2012 by

A recent YouGov survey for the Fabian Society has made a few headlines this week, and justfiably so because it’s rather more interesting than the usual ones we get. It covers a wide range of topics, with a particular focus on Labour, resulting in an entertaining but ultimately not very useful headline in the Scotsman. (Though if the poll had asked respondents to select characteristics for the other parties too, our guess is that the SNP would still have come out on top.)

Other places have chosen instead to highlight the outcome of a curiously-worded question about independence, showing a 54-30 lead for the No campaign with 16% still undecided, while Lallands Peat Worrier breaks down some of the demographics to his usual fascinating effect. But it’s a derivative of one of those breakdowns that produces an intriguing result.

The survey shows a significant closing of the gap in Westminster voting intentions between Labour and the SNP, largely at the expense of the Lib Dems. While the difference between the big two at the 2010 UK General Election was a hefty 22%, it’s now down to 14%. The poll also broke down support for independence according to those voting intentions.

But we suspect the referendum, which will be run by the Scottish Government, is an issue likely to be considered by the electorate as (like Holyrood elections) essentially a Scottish issue rather than a UK one. So just for fun, we took the figures by voting intention and applied them instead to the votes cast at the last Holyrood election.

For simplicity, we’ve assumed that when push comes to shove, the supporters of each party who are currently Don’t Knows will follow the party line, which makes almost no difference to the final tallies. They come out as follows:


2011 votes: 890,000
89% YES: 792,000
11% NO: 98,000


2011 votes: 577,000
20% YES: 115,000
80% NO: 462,000


2011 votes: 261,000
7% YES: 18,000
93% NO: 243,000


2011 votes: 131,000
22% YES: 29,000
78% NO: 102,000


YES 954,000
NO 905,000

(We’ve discounted the 87,000 votes of the Greens, because there’s no data in the poll about which way they’ll split and as far as we can tell it’s pretty even, with a narrow Yes majority.)

That’s a wafer-thin 51-49 win for independence, fairly dramatically at odds with the thumping 40-60 defeat (discounting Don’t Knows) actually suggested in the poll. And given the wildly unscientific premise of our calculations it’s not a prediction.

But with trends showing a substantial closing of the Westminster gap between the SNP and Labour, and the surprising revelation that more Labour supporters back independence than SNP voters oppose it (something at odds with every previous survey we’ve seen on the subject), and factoring in a bit of wiggle room as compensation for YouGov’s very odd formulation of the question, we have a feeling they’re a bit closer to reality than the headline figures.

(Remember, these numbers are based on the current Westminster voting intentions, so they already include most of the effect of disgruntled Lib Dems moving to other parties, which the 2010 General Election ones don’t.)

We’re not calling it psephology. It’s just something to think about.


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11 to “Independence falls behind, surges ahead”

  1. John Lyons says:

    A Scottish Labour spokesman added: “We knew when we lost the Scottish Parliament elections in 2011 that people wanted us to change. That’s why in the past year, we’ve seen real change in our party that’s helped us get closer to people and communities across the country.”


    Did I miss something?

    Firstly, you should have known you got it wrong in 2007. Secondly what exactly have you changed? Apart from leader Nothing. And finally getting closer to “The peepul!” isn’t anything to boast about!

    I can’t help thinking Labour and the Union are both finished.

  2. scottish_skier says:

    I hope people don’t actually take Yougov online panel surveys seriously with respect to Scotland.

    Their Y/N and Devo Max polls have been at odds with all the proper pollsters (who primarily use random telephone methods rather than asking politically active people who’ve signed up to be surveyed as Yougov do) since 2007. Something went very wrong with their weighting methods following the SNP win at that time.
    As I understand it, this is in a large part because they weight according to Westminster party affinity/past voting. This works well in England, but not in Scotland where a large proportion of the electorate votes tactically. This tactical factor became very important post 2007. There is also no weighting by region nor comprehensive demographic weighting.
    Yougov is a really a like a straw poll of people who like being polled and perfect if you are a unionist wanting a N to be the answer. Expect them to use Yougov – ‘the tesco value of polls’ – from now right up to 2014. It is certainly in the interests of independence supporters that they do.
    For 2012, figures are like this:
    Y = 41%
    N = 45%
    Like the idea but unsure = 14%
    Which is not much different and well within error for the period 1998-2012
    Y = 42%
    N = 44%
    Like the idea but unsure = 14%
    Both of which favour a Y given that unsures like the idea and so tend in majority to Y on the day.
    Long term I foresee only 2 outcomes:
    1.     Independence in response to the prospect of another Tory UK government; possibly with a majority
    2.     Devo Max under a UK Labour government
    Just like 1997 all over again; polls then showed a guaranteed Y to independence. This situation is likely to occur again when it becomes clear to the electorate that Devo Max is a pipe dream.

    Note I am currently attending poll addicts anonymous. I think I have every poll since 1997.

  3. Doug Daniel says:

    scottish_skier – I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t take YouGov polls seriously. I’ve been told I should withdraw a similar comment I made on LPW’s post by the same member of the internet police that demanded RevStu take one of his posts down a few weeks ago.

    Stu – not entirely sure about your methodology of mixing up Westminster voting intentions with actual Holyrood results, but I like the result anyway! I actually think the most important voters are going to be the ones who have been staying away from elections, because I expect both sides to get significantly more than 1,000,000 votes. I predict a substantial turnout, and I suspect people who have been turned off by the political process in recent years are unlikely to vote for the status quo…

  4. scottish_skier says:

    For Westminster VI, using all other polls bar yougov Scotland, I have (Holyrood in brackets):

    SNP = 43% (46%)
    Lab = 33% (31%)
    Con = 16% (12%)
    Lib = 6% (6%)

    The funny thing is, Yougov’ recent 43% for Labour at Westminster does not agree with their own UK-wide polls which have the SNP on ~43% (have a look not at the cross-breaks, but the expected share for the SNP of the total – e.g. regular 4/8.4*100 = 47%, 3/8.4*100 = 36%. They group PC with PC but I’ve found their share of the electorate is far too small to make any difference). When you look at Yougov UK this way, you see the same as in ICM, MORI etc expected shares. However, cross-breaks in the latter tend to agree with what they put as total share whereas in Yougov they do not.

    Aye, avoid Yougov unless you are a poll geek!   


  5. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    “not entirely sure about your methodology of mixing up Westminster voting intentions with actual Holyrood results”

    I wouldn’t even dignify it with the term “methodology”, really. Like I said, it was just something to ponder.

  6. douglas clark says:

    I think it is interesting.
    There is no particular reason that a voter, not a party member, not really that interested in politics usually, should see this whole referendum thing as a party political football.
    I would imagine that, this summer will see the high water mark of the ‘no’ campaign. It strikes me that, if we are to win this thing, we have to go for the hearts and minds of Labour voters, not their hierarchy: who are lost to us – and to themselves.
    There is a pretty rich tradition within the labour movement in favour of independence. It is being fairly effectively suppressed at the moment. At a political level.
    I think, over the next couple of years, folk should talk to labour voters who are friends, or work colleagues or relations even, with a view to giving them an empowerment that their leadership sadly fails to deliver.
    It might seem obvious to us, but disliking Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon is not what this referendum is about. Voting ‘no’ to independence for that reason would be cutting off your nose to spite your face. For them, the Labour voter, the question ought to be whether an independent Scotland has a greater or lesser chance of applying socialist policies. That discussion would take the debate away from the apparatchiks of the Labour Party and return it to where it really matters, with the people.
    At the very least, the ‘yes’ campaign should be encouraging labour voters to ask whether or not the leaders of the ‘no’ campaign care a jot about them. For, as far as I can see, there is no evidence whatsoever that they do.

  7. Braco says:

    I agree with Douglas Clark. How can non party politicos project, what without a party superstructure, sounds like revolution? I know my strength can only be my consistant non party support of independence, but how can I deploy this effectively? I am asking for advice. I want to plan for the campaign and can’t help but believe that an informal grouping of non party indy supporters would be a great resource and source of essential support and encouragement. I am also keen to draw roots out (but not away from) the blogisphere. Maybe a regular once a month drink in a geographically reachable pub? I want to talk and argue politics of the future in a secure drunken reality. Does anyone feel the same?
    P.S. To Doug Daniel, I apologise. I have never commented before and was as disgusted by the tone that came across as you must have been, sorry.

  8. Marcia says:

    A good few years (decades) ago when I went round the doors I would get the same comment, ‘I would like Scotland to be Independent but it will never happen’. ‘I’d vote for you but you will never win many seats’ How times have changed. For some Labour voters in the early sixties, they would take a sort of pity on you and almost pat you on the head. ‘there, there’ sort of soothing comfort and even offer you a cup of tea. Once we started winning seats, the same people almost spat at you. How dare we threaten them and deprive them of their perceived right. The electorate no longer have those hang ups. The SNP can win and Labour can no longer assume seats will be totally safe bar one or two.

    The referendum won’t be and should not be an SNP campaign but a Yes all party and non-party campaign.   

    There is a sizeable vote that do vote Labour and will vote Yes, there is now since 1997 a sizable section of the public who now don’t vote. From canvassing these people over the years quite a number have stated they would vote Yes in a referendum. We just need to get these people to get up and into the voting booths come referendum day and change from would to will.  It can be done.  

  9. Jeannie says:

    I’m amazed at times that so many people I speak to can’t seem to tell the difference between voting for constitutional change in a referendum and voting for a particular political party in a normal election.
      Recently, I’ve heard a few people say they won’t vote “yes” because they don’t like Alex Salmond.  They seem to find it hard to distinguish between voting for a party and voting on an issue.
    As it happens, I like Alex Salmond – but it’s clear to me that voting for independence is not the same thing as voting for the SNP.  And even if it were, Alex may be many things, but he’s not actually immortal.

  10. Betsy says:


    The Yes scotland campaign which non partisan is looking for people to start local groups and some have already been set up. It might be worth getting in touch with them

    If that’s a bit more formal than you were looking for, you could always organise a get together in a pub to chat indy over a drink or two and promote it using Gumtree, Facebook, Twitter and friendly blogs.

    If you are doing anything keep us updated.            

  11. mutterings says:

    Braco, there is in independent independence campaign, “Independence for Scotland”, which was set up months ago. Independent but big enough to be effective. The first event they are organizing is the Independence March and Rally on 22 Sep 2012. In the run-up to this event, they are touring Scotland to raise awareness for the March. For example this Saturday.

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