Mixed polling results leave it all to play for in the May v Sturgeon battle over Scottish independence

The war of words between Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May might  been expected  to boost Scottish support for  Indyref2 and independence. If so it hasn’t happened yet. The first snapshot of  a Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times coinciding with the SNP spring conference but  before Nicola Surgeon spoke is not immediately  encouraging for her, with NO to independence recording at 56% and YES at 44%. However 44% still thought Scotland would become independent within the next 5-10 years compared with just  26%  believing it would not happen at any point in the next few decades.

This poll follows the   trend  in YouGov’s  UK Polling report . The results are mixed and show that caution is called for. Opinion poll guru Professor John Curtice says of his long term polling survey: “Even if nothing happens, playing the long game points to rising support for independence. Scotland is a very different place from where it was four years ago, but it is also far more eurosceptic.”

This explains  the SNP’s  shift away  this week from aggressive support for the doomed policy of full EU membership  to attacking the Tories for entering the Article 50 negotiations  with a hard Brexit strategy which they and  Remain supporters generally believe could be economically disastrous.

Sturgeon is demanding that Indyref 2 should be held in late 2108 or early 2019 when she claims the  Brexit terms will be clear but the UK would not yet have withdrawn, leaving  a Scotland which had just voted for independence still within the EU and therefore in a better position to join the EU as a separate state relatively quickly. There are two flaws in her case.

First, the negotiations might have crashed  or even if agreement is reached, the terms of new trade deals almost certainly will not been agreed. Scots would therefore not be fully informed of  wbat they were voting for.  In addition a longish transition period of up to 10 years’ continuing free trade with the EU would muddy the waters of the indyref tide.

Secondly by 2018 an SNP government in power for 11 years, will be competing for reputation with a Conservative or Conservative-led government for 8 years. As John Curtice suggests, the SNP’s star may have fallen by then and  by the time of  the Westminster general election due in 2020.

The Scottish Government has a country to run. It is beginning to get somewhat less than a star billing. YouGov reported that almost as many people (42%) now think the Scottish Government is running ‘education and schools’ badly, as think it is doing so well (44%). Approval of the government’s record on schools and education has been in more or less continuous decline since YouGov first began asking this question in the autumn of 2015. Meanwhile on the NHS slightly more people (48%) reckon the Scottish Government is performing badly as think it is doing well (45%). Again these figures too have been moving somewhat in a negative direction over time.

If Theresa May were to be successful in delaying a second independence referendum, not just until after Brexit but also until after the next Scottish Parliament in May 2021, the SNP will need voters to think the party has been doing a good job in running the nation’s public services. Otherwise they might not elect a majority of pro-independence MSPs once again. In that event its chances of holding a second ballot will have disappeared entirely.

 

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London