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Has Brexit Changed Attitudes Towards Scottish Independence?

07 June 2018 | Tags: Scottish Independence, British Social Attitudes, Scotland, Politics, Brexit

More Scots think independence would improve the country’s economy and make Scotland a more significant global actor than did at the time of the 2014 Independence referendum - but the EU referendum has not brought about an increase in support for independence.

Meanwhile, Brexit has created a new divide in the pattern of support for the SNP and for independence.

A chapter from this year’s British Social Attitudes survey, carried out by the National Centre for Social Research and written by Sir John Curtice and Ian Montagu, shows that 41% of Scots now believe the economy would be made better by leaving the UK, compared with 26% of people in 2014.  The data also reveals 49% of Scots think the country’s voice would be made stronger in the world, compared with 33% of Scots in 2014.   

The new research shows some emerging alignment between people’s views on independence and on the EU. Report authors categorised voters into two camps based on their responses to the survey questions – 37% of Scots are Europhiles (who think Britain should retain or enhance its relationship with the EU) and 58% are Eurosceptics (who would like Britain to leave the EU or to reduce its powers). 

Traditionally, what people think about the EU has not made any difference to their chances of backing Scottish independence. But now, support for independence has become intertwined with attitudes towards the EU.

  • In 2015 support for independence was similar among Europhiles (39%) and Eurosceptics (41%).
  • But now Europhiles (56%) are more likely to back independence than Eurosceptics (40%).

This new division cost the SNP support in the 2017 election:

  • Support for the SNP largely held up among Europhiles, slipping only slightly from 49% in 2015 to 47% in 2017.
  • But it fell markedly among Eurosceptics from 51% to 36%.

The chapter also shows that the Brexit divide played a role too in the Conservative revival north of the border. Support for the party increased by 14 percentage points (to 28%) among Eurosceptics, but by only 4 points (to 12%) among Europhiles.

Sir John Curtice, Senior Research Fellow at the National Centre for Social Research, said: “Nicola Sturgeon anticipated that Brexit would increase support for independence. Instead, Brexit has made both independence and the SNP relatively less popular among those Scots who are not very enthusiastic about the EU, even if they did vote to Remain.

“So far this has been a tendency to presume that the fall in SNP support in the 2017 election simply represented a rejection of the party’s plans for a second independence referendum. Our research suggests that it was also occasioned by a dislike of its pro-EU stance among some of former SNP voters.

“Meanwhile, far from simply winning votes as a result of her opposition to a second independence referendum, Ruth Davidson appears to have profited from a swing among Leave voters. That leaves Ms Davidson with an electorate whose views on Europe are in many cases strikingly different from her own.”

 

Notes to editors:

For more information contact Luca Tiratelli on luca.tiratelli@natcen.ac.uk or on 0207 549 7062 / 07786151593.

The National Centre for Social Research, Britain’s largest independent social research organisation, aims to promote a better-informed society through high quality social research (www.natcen.ac.uk).

The 2017 Scottish Social Attitudes survey consisted of 1234 interviews with a representative, random sample of adults aged 16 and over in Scotland. Interviewing was carried out between July 2017 and February 2018. Addresses are randomly selected and visited by one of ScotCen’s interviewers. After selecting one adult at the address (again at random), the interviewer carries out a 43-minute long interview.

This chapter is part of NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey report, 2018. The full survey report will be launched in July.