While polls of voting intentions across the UK as whole continue to suggest the result of the EU referendum hangs in the balance, equivalent polls of how people propose to vote in Scotland put Remain well ahead. NatCen’s Poll of Polls (a running average of the six most recent polls conducted across Britain as a whole) has had both sides fluctuating around 50% for some time. The last half-dozen polls in Scotland however put Remain on 67%, Leave on 33%, with the latest estimate from TNS indicating that support for Remain amongst Scots may be as high as 71%.
It has been suggested that a key explanation for this difference may lie in the relative strength of party cues north and south of the border. Although NatCen’s 2015 British and Scottish Social Attitudes surveys demonstrated similar levels of Euroscepticism both in Scotland and across the UK, voters in Scotland are faced with a dominant and largely united SNP that has made membership of the EU a central tenet of its vision for an independent Scotland. In contrast, voters south of the border are faced with a Conservative party that is publicly split on the issue, and a Labour party that, according to the opinion polls, has found it difficult to convey its pro-Remain position to the electorate.
But do SNP voters share their party’s apparently unwavering enthusiasm for EU membership? Looking under the bonnet of the six most recent Scottish polls, we find that an average of 67% of those who voted SNP in the 2015 general election support remaining in the EU, while 33% say they intend to vote Leave. These figures mirror exactly those for Scotland as a whole, suggesting that although SNP voters are more in favour of staying in the EU than leaving, they remain nonetheless a divided section of the electorate. Indeed, despite the apparent lack of clarity of the message being sent by senior Labour figures on Europe, support for Remain amongst Scottish Labour supporters in these polls stands at 73% – six percentage points higher than amongst SNP voters. As for Conservative voters in Scotland, the polls suggest that whilst the balance of support lies marginally with Remain at 57%, the issue appears to be a divisive one just as it is for Tories across the rest of the UK.
During the past few months Nicola Sturgeon has frequently reaffirmed her belief that if Scotland were taken out of the EU against its ‘democratically expressed wishes’ as a result of a majority vote to leave across the rest of Britain, this may constitute the requisite material change in circumstances to make a second referendum on Scottish independence ‘probably unstoppable’. Despite appearing somewhat more reticent on the issue during recent televised debates, it will no doubt be a tempting prospect for the First Minister to frame such an occurrence as confirmation that voters agree with the SNP’s belief that Scotland belongs in Europe. However it seems that a significant minority of her party’s supporters do not share this vision. Whatever the outcome, the polls suggest that this referendum has resulted in substantial party political divides both north and south of the border.
A version of this blog was published in The Scotsman