Friday, 8 May 2009

The SNP's polling paradox

The results of a poll published in today's Times are likely to make discouraging reading for Scottish nationalists. The central conclusion of the poll - conducted to mark the tenth anniversary of devolution - is that the proportion of Scots supporting independence has fallen from a third at the time of the SNP's 2007 election victory to a fifth today.

Of course, support for the SNP administration is still riding high or, indeed, even increasing, so why this apparent paradox? Perhaps the most obvious explanation will be self-evident from this morning's media, which juxtaposes the ongoing and increasing scandal regarding the expenses of Westminster MPs - and members of the Labour Government's cabinet in particular - with the results of the Times poll, but with the UK's current dominant political issue overwhelming the coverage of the opinion of Scots on the issue of independence.

To that extent the disillusionment with Westminster in general and with Gordon Brown's government in particular explains the SNP's buoyant support at Holyrood - there is arguably no huge enthusiasm for the Scottish Government, and it perhaps hasn't set the heather alight, but on the other hand it's not done anything particularly unpalatable either.

Thus nationalists point to the popularity of the SNP administration overturning the usual lack of mid-term popularity for incumbent governments as demonstrating a consolidation of their cause, but a more likely rationale is the unpopularity of Labour in London being reflected in Holyrood polling, together with the relatively anodyne and conservative nature - born to a large extent of minority government necessity and its limited powers - of Alex Salmond's administration.

On the other hand, the limited impact of the SNP government also helps rationalise the decline of support for independence; the public like the unadventurous nature of the current devolution settlement and the limited ability of Holyrood administrations to take risks, thus despite cynicism regarding Westminster and the Union, independence for Scotland is still seen as too much of a shot in the dark. The economic crisis is likely to have underlined this thinking, with question marks over an independent Scotland's ability to recapitalise the banks, for example, taking precedence over the UK's role in creating the mess in the first place.

Of course, this simplifies the myriad factors shaping the dynamic, but the poll results perhaps reflect the inherent caution of ordinary Scottish people - they are patriotic and see this reflected in devolution, while an SNP government demonstrates disillusionment with new Labour and keeps Westminster in its place. On the other hand, like a teenager leaving home for the first time they continue to return home for a decent meal, to get their washing done and for a hand out from the 'bank of mum and dad', and see no reason to cut the apron strings completely.

Of course, nationalists will claim that the teenager will eventually grow up and fly the nest completely, but perhaps the Scottish people are more Timothy Lumsden than teenage tearaway.


Indy said...

It is neither paradoxical nor disappointing. If two thirds of Scots wanted to stay where we are constitutionally that would be disappointing. Very disappointing. But the poll shows two thirds of Scots either want more autonomy for Scotland or full independence.

What is perhaps paradoxical is that it tends to be unionists who adopt the big bang theory of independence – that there will be one defining moment when it happens.

I don’t know a single nationalist who believes that. As someone once said it is a process not an event.

Wardog said...

"One in four Scots asked believe that Holyrood already has adequate powers.
while by almost two to one, the Scots polled prefer the option of Holyrood having more powers compared with outright independence."

The poll didn't spefic which powers but I doubt people mean just broadcasting control....

This is great news for the SNP, mid recession and mid term (only 2 years into an SNP Government), the tide is turning towards full fiscal independence.

I suspect that if you delve a little deeper, the angst over the Times indpednence question has more to do with Labour scare story's than anything else.

passports/border guards, £5000 tax bills..... the list is endless and reprinted ad infinitum by the press.

A remarkable poll indeed.

Stuart Winton said...

Indy, yes, you repeat the Nicola Sturgeon 'two thirds want at least more autonomy' spin on the poll, but that's not inconsistent with what I said.

The central conclusion of the poll is that support for independence has declined significantly, and the support for more autonomy - nothing new about that - reflects what I said in the post.

You could be right about the longer-term, but most of what I said was about the shorter-term dynamic.

Of course the process of devolution and independence is a fluid one and ebbs and flows, but I think there's as many unionists who recognise that it's a continuum rather than an all or nothing event - Donald Dewar being the most obvious, but of course his preference was to call a halt at a particular point, the location of which on the continuum we'll of course never know - but isn't one characteristic of the nationalist fundamentalism wing that they tend towards an all or nothing ethos?

Stuart Winton said...


"The poll didn't spefic which powers but I doubt people mean just broadcasting control...."

Well I think this is perhaps consistent with wanting to put more distance between Scotland and Westminster, but quite what it means in practical terms I don't know. It perhaps reflects a gut feeling rather than giving the matter a lot of thought, but then that's perhaps a general shortcoming of opinion polls.

"This is great news for the SNP, mid recession and mid term (only 2 years into an SNP Government), the tide is turning towards full fiscal independence."

But was full fiscal independence specifically mentioned, or is your interpretation just wishful thinking?

And as I said in the post, the mid-recession/mid-term factors are more likely to benefit the SNP because of the Labour/London factor rather than reflect the usual paradigm of a slump in mid-term/recession support, but this is more anti-Labour rather than pro-SNP IMO.

"passports/border guards, £5000 tax bills..... the list is endless and reprinted ad infinitum by the press."

Well I haven't seen those mentioned for a while, and did anyone ever afford them much credence anyway?

You should give the Scottish people a bit more credit for common sense ;0)