By a Newsnet reporter
Claims that there are more people in Scotland who wish to see nuclear weapons remain on the Clyde in the event of independence, than wish them to be removed have been challenged by a leading anti-nuclear organisation after it said Scots were asked about submarines and not weapons.
John Ainslie, Coordinator of Scottish CND has questioned the results of the Social Attitudes survey which claimed to show that 41% of people in Scotland believed Trident nuclear submarines should continue to be based at Faslane on the Clyde after independence, while 37% said they should not.
In an article published by the ‘Ban The Bomb’ website, Mr Ainslie said: “Opinion polls, including the Social Attitudes Study, show that more Scots oppose British nuclear weapons than support them and that opposition in Scotland is stronger than in England and Wales.
“Our street work and the many meetings we have taken part in across the confirms this.
“The latest study is wrong to conclude that people here want Trident to stay while those South of the border want it to move, if Scotland is independent. People in Scotland were asked a different question, in a different context, from those in the rest of the UK and this has distorted the results.”
Answers given in surveys can vary depending on the way in which questions are worded.
Asked, “Are you in favour or against Britain having its own nuclear weapons” Scots respondents gave an opposite view to that of their counterparts in England and Wales. In England and Wales 43% were in favour and 36% were against. In Scotland only 37% were in favour, while 46% were against. The result was consistent with similar questions from previous polls.
However on the issue of where Trident should be located, Scottish respondents were asked a different question which asked not about ‘nuclear weapons’ but about the ‘nuclear weapons submarines’.
The survey asked those in Scotland, “If Scotland becomes independent, Britain’s nuclear weapons submarines should continue to be based here”. Of those who gave a view, 41% agreed and 37% disagreed.
In England and Wales, people were instead asked, “At the moment, Britain’s nuclear weapons submarines are based in Scotland. Regardless of whether you support or oppose Britain having nuclear weapons, if Scotland became an independent country, separate from the rest of the UK, should Britain’s nuclear weapons remain in Scotland or should they be moved to somewhere else in Britain?”
The lengthy question resulted in 26% saying nuclear weapons should remain in Scotland, while 63% said they should “definitely” or “probably” be moved elsewhere.
Anti-nuclear weapons organisation challenged the claims made by those in charge of the survey, including Professor John Curtice, that the results suggested people in Scotland were happier than their southern neighbours for Trident to remain on the Clyde if Scots voted yes.
They said: “The inclusion of the word ‘continue’ and the reference to ‘nuclear weapon submarines’ rather than ‘nuclear weapons’ in the Scottish question is likely to result in a higher degree of acceptance.
“The more detailed wording in the England/Wales question is more likely to result in a greater call for the weapons to be moved. The context in which the questions were asked should also be taken into account.
They added: “The survey was wrong to ask two different questions to those living in Scotland and the rest of the UK, and it is wrong to make a conclusion by comparing the two results. The basis question on British nuclear weapons, which was asked to both sections of the population is a better guide and it reaffirms that Scots are opposed to nuclear weapons.”
The presentation of their results by the British Social Attitudes survey team was used by many pro-Union media outlets including the BBC, in order to suggest Scots were happy to have Trident remain after independence.
Flagship news programme Reporting Scotland claimed the survey had asked about ‘Trident being based on the Clyde’, despite the term ‘Trident’ never appearing on the published survey question. The BBC, which has now adopted a more pro-Union stance in its coverage of the referendum, told viewers that people had expressed an opinion specifically on Trident being on the Clyde.
On its website, the BBC reported Professor John Curtice as saying the “On Trident … we asked people in Scotland, “do you think that the United Kingdom should be required to remove its weapons in an independent Scotland,”. This is apparently different to the official question as revealed on the British Social Attitudes own website.
Newsnet Scotland has asked Professor Curtice to clarify why the wording he gave to the BBC, which uses the word ‘weapons’ is different from the wording on the official survey published on the organisation’s website, which uses the phrase ‘nuclear weapons submarines’.