Only a minority of Scots now support union according to new poll

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by Alex Porter{jcomments on}

A new opinion poll conducted by TNS shows that less than half of Scots now support Scotland remaining inside the union.

The poll, conducted over St Andrews Day and surveying a large sample of almost 1000 people, shows that only 44% of those questioned are against the Scottish Parliament “having the powers and responsibilities to enable independence”.

Whilst those in favour of Scotland taking the path to independence was still slightly behind at 40% the poll showed that the gap had narrowed significantly as the recent trend towards independence continues.

The most worrying aspect of the poll for supporters of the union is that a full 16 percent of respondents “didn’t know” and suggests that a clear majority of the population are now either in favour of independence or are prepared to consider the option.

The poll, conducted for the SNP, follows findings by the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey which shows that support for Scottish independence rises to almost half (45 per cent) if taxes were to go down by £500 – with 62 per cent also saying that the Scottish Parliament should take the most important decisions about welfare benefits, while 57 per cent say the same about taxes.

Together with this survey the TNS poll shows the unionist case that Scots view the constitution as irrelevant to the UK economic crisis is not convincing the electorate. Recent calls by business leaders and world-renowned economists such as Andrew Hughes-Hallet (Prof. of Economics: George Mason University, Washington DC) for economic independence are resonating with the Scottish electorate which faces austerity cuts at a time when the Scottish national accounts (GERS) show a surplus.

Mounting pressure on the unionist parties’ stance came this week from the publication of Scotland’s prestigious Council of Economic Advisors’s (CEA) third annual report. It concludes that the Calman Commission, set up by a unionist party coalition of Labour, Tory and LibDems which forms the basis of Westminster’s Scotland Bill “does not go nearly far enough” and that the Scottish parliament needs “full financial responsibility” with “control of the major tax levers” which represents Scotland’s “best chance” to maximise its economic potential.

With the Holyrood campaign now a mere few months off, party strategist will vie over the key issue of economic competence. While Labour are still blamed for the parlous state of the UK’s public finances, the SNP have successfully established their policy of economic independence for Scotland in the minds of the electorate.

With the Calman Commission proposals facing increasing forensic criticism, accused of being “dangerously flawed” and “unworkable” by economic experts and business leaders, Labour and their Calman coalition allies will be under pressure to explain why they want to deny the significantly increased powers to the Scottish parliament voters believe will improve the economic prospects of the nation.

Referendum

The TNS poll findings also will fuel further calls for a referendum on independence to be held. In poll after poll a large majority of Scots have been shown to favour holding a referendum on independence whether they are for the proposal or against it. However a unionist party coalition of Labour, Tory and LibDems has manoeuvred to deny this democratic right to Scots. They have opposed attempts in the Scottish Parliament at bringing forward legislation to hold such a referendum – one of the SNP government’s key manifesto pledges.

Adding insult to injury the UK government has decided to hold a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) system which, furthermore, is to be held on the day of the Scottish and Welsh parliamentary elections. The system is not proportional and the plebiscite will distract attention away from the election campaigns for Scots and Welsh voters to decide which parties they want to form their next respective governments.

This curious situation where a widely sought referendum on independence is denied to Scots whereas a referendum on the AV system, which few support, is held will raise questions over the democratic conduct and legitimacy of the UK government. Only a small minority of the Scottish electorate voted for the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties who at the UK general election were ranked third and fourth place in Scotland behind Labour and the SNP.

Indeed, this democratic inconsistency has lead to the campaign by the Bella Caledonia outlet which calls on Scots to spoil their AV referendum ballot paper by writing the word ‘Independence’ across it. Scottish and indeed English citizens have never been consulted on whether they endorsed the suspension of their independent parliaments, leading some on both sides of the border to describe the union as a “forced marriage”. The denial of a referendum on independence will only harden that perspective.