The latest poll on independence by Savanta ComRes shows support for independence on a knive edge.
Chris Hopkins, Political Research Director at Savanta ComRes said: “A 50/50 split on the independence voting intention does represent a bit of shift towards Yes since our last poll in October, but ultimately given the disaster the UK government in Westminster is currently experiencing, one would perhaps expect support for independence to be higher.”
I think that would be the immediate reaction of most people. Looking back at ComRes polls over recent months the tendency has been for No to be in the lead. The average No lead over six preceding polls comes in at 3.3% so there is a case that is indeed a clear improvement in Yes support. The last time ComRes found a 50/50 split was in early April 2021. For most of 2021 ComRes found No in the lead. Only their January 2021 poll and those for August, October and December 2020 gave Yes a clear lead when don’t knows were excluded. Those earlier polls gave YES an average lead of 6.5%.
A quick look at possible correlation with Covid peaks and troughs does not give any clear implications that it is a factor in changes in support for independence. There is in any case a delay factor in major events moving opinion. Having said that Partygate clearly cut through in attitudes towards Boris Johnson with a speed and ferocity that has no real comparator for such a rapid change in public opinion.
Favourability ratings of politicians
This section provides some clear indication of trends on how the major players are viewed.
Nicola Sturgeon remains consistently positive with a +13 rating, unchanged from before. Anas Sarwar with a +1 approval rating squeezes into positive territory. Starmer on -10 improves his position from -21 while Johnson who has never been flavour of the month in Scotland drops by -16 to a record score of -62. A rating that is only matched by Alex Salmond also on -62. Douglas Ross sees a slight drop from -19 to -21 which is barely significant against the background to the Tories’ unpopularity with the broader Scottish electorate.
Rishi Sunak takes a hit dropping 10 points to -19. ComRes did not ask about Liz Truss who is seen as the front runner by the Tory membership and busy branding herself Thatcher Mark2. When it comes to governments the Scottish Government has a +7% rating whilst the UK Government is on -50%.
The favourability tables have a column that caught my eye because some of the figures turned out to be of some significance on a second look. Headed Don’t know or Have not heard of includes some interesting percentages. Anas Sawar scores 12% and clearly needs some work on his recognition factor. Patrick Harvie on 16% and Lorna Slater on 24% also have work to do. Leading the pack on Do not Know or have not Heard of is Alex Cole-Hamilton at 33%. This is a bit of a worry for the Lib Dems when a third of voters do not register his existance. His net favourability rating among those who recognise the name is -15%. All the other politicians are on low single figures which is what would be expected of politicians with a recognisable profile, good or bad.
So what does 50/50 mean for independence?
Just taking a single poll that is showing a shift towards YES provides limited data, yet enough to show a great deal of work needs to be done and that can only be spearheaded by the Scottish government who are working again on preparations ahead of introducing the Independence Referendum Bill, delayed due to the pandemic.
The scale of work needed is underlined by the breakdown in ComRes Table 4. The following breakdowns are for those indicating a high level (6-10) on turnout determination. Don’t knows are excluded.
It may be 50/50 but the underlying data show marked gender differences with 56% of women planning to vote Yes and 56% of men planning to vote No. This is matched by 44% of men supporting Yes and 44% of women supporting No. The gender mirror needs a bit more reflection to remove this distortion. In broad age groupings 16-34 are 70% YES, 35-54 are 59% Yes and 55+ are down to 32% YES.
Breakdown by region shows where Yes need to do more and in some parts a great deal more. In Central region Yes leads by 4% on 52%. In Glasgow, Yes are on 61% and even higher in Highlands and Islands on 65% and take the lead in Lothians with an 8% advantage at 54%. Mid Scotland and Fife gives No a narrow 2% lead on 51%. In the remaining 3 regions No is firmly in the lead with a 16% lead in North East Scotland, a 20% lead in the South of Scotland and a 14% lead in West of Scotland.
It is only right to point out on a survey of this size the regional data comes from sub samples which may be magnifying Yes/No differences at region level. Our conclusion for now is take with a pince of salt. Nothing wrong with a pince of salt in the wound of over optimism. Even if the scale one way or the other may be magnifield that does not alter the identification of regions that need much more work done in advance of Indyref2.
Scotland: Stuck behind the Brexit Iron Curtain
At present there is an unusually high focus on Westminster that is diverting attention. Whether Johnson goes or stays will be decided in weeks and is almost beside the point. The Tory government will remain and continue with policies creating major issues for Scotland and barriers to our ambitions to rejoin the EU.
The resurgence of economic activity in Northern Ireland with strong cross Ireland trade and easy access to the EU through membership of the Single Market and Customs Union underlines the extent of the economic damage inflicted on the rest of the nations of our very unequal union.