Today brings word of the first full-scale Scottish poll to be wholly conducted since Nicola Sturgeon fired the starting-gun for a second independence referendum. It's a Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times, and although the datasets have yet to appear, it looks as if the question about the timing of the referendum used identical wording to the last Panelbase poll for the same client a few weeks ago. As I noted at the time, that wording is extremely poor. Respondents are asked to choose between a referendum in "the next year or two", a referendum "in about two years", or no referendum "in the next few years". The latter timescale implies a period of longer than two years, which means that people who want a referendum in three years' time (2020 has, after all, been mentioned as a possible compromise date) do not have an option that represents their views - they're effectively forced to choose an option they don't really believe in. However, within those inadequate confines, there is a roughly even split between those who say they want a referendum within two years, and those who say they don't want one within the next few years - exactly as there was in the last poll.
The combined support for the two 'within two years' options is 50%, while support for 'not within the next few years' is 51%. The apparent incompatibilty of those numbers is caused by the effect of rounding. That suggests support for an early referendum on the raw numbers is fractionally below 50%, perhaps similar to the 49.4% recorded in the last poll - but that would, of course, be well within the standard 3% margin of error, meaning it's impossible to know whether the true figure is a little above 50%, or a little below.
In spite of the continuation of the basic 50/50 split, this isn't a no change poll by any means - there has been considerable movement within the half of the sample that wants an early referendum, with a sharp 5% increase in support for the 'hardline' option of a referendum "in the next year or two" while Brexit negotiations are still ongoing. That figure now stands at 32%. There has been a corresponding 5% drop in support (to 18%) for the more 'moderate' option of a referendum "in about two years", after negotiations have been completed. Ironically, the latter option is closest to Nicola Sturgeon's own stated plans, so almost a third of the population actually feel that she is not moving quite fast enough. You probably won't hear about that on the mainstream media, though.
I don't pay the Murdoch Levy, so in the absence of the Panelbase datasets I'm not sure whether respondents were also asked whether Theresa May should grant a Section 30 order allowing the referendum to take place on the same basis as the 2014 vote. However, there is a Britain-wide ComRes poll out today which asked whether respondents agreed or disagreed with the following statement -
Theresa May should insist that any second Scottish referendum on independence takes place only once Britain has completed the process of leaving the EU.
The results among the Scottish subsample (excluding Don't Knows) were...
Agree : 48%
Disagree : 52%
Subsample results cannot be regarded as reliable, of course, but as it happens those numbers are bang in line with the most recent full-scale Scottish YouGov poll (conducted mostly before Nicola Sturgeon's referendum announcement), which found that 52% of the public think the London government should agree to a referendum if Sturgeon asks for one.
Panelbase also asked a voting intention question on independence itself...
Should Scotland be an independent country?
Yes 44% (-2)
No 56% (+2)
Some unionists are beside themselves with excitement at that result, taking it as proof that the YouGov poll showing Yes 43%, No 57% wasn't such an outlier after all. Well...up to a point, Lord Copper. It's true that we now have a first non-YouGov poll since autumn 2014 to show the Yes vote slightly lower than the 45% actually achieved in Indyref 1. It's also true that YouGov no longer looks like an extreme outlier, but it is still very much at the No-friendly far end of the spectrum. YouGov's inexplicable refusal to include 16 and 17 year olds in their sample may in itself explain the difference between their findings and Panelbase's.
As far as Panelbase are concerned, there were signs even before today's poll that they might be starting to slot into the No-friendly zone - the previous poll from the firm had Yes stuck on 46%, even though polls from Ipsos-Mori and BMG at around the same time showed Yes surging to 48-50%.
Of the last seven polls conducted by all firms, three (two from BMG and one from Ipsos-Mori) have shown an unusually high Yes vote, two (one from Panelbase and one from Survation) have shown a figure within the familiar range of recent times, and two (one from YouGov and today's from Panelbase) have shown an unusually low Yes vote. It would be totally irrational to conclude on the basis of that evidence that there has definitely been a drop in the Yes vote - the opposite may have happened, or there may well have been no change at all.
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SCOT GOES POP POLL OF POLLS
Should Scotland be an independent country?
Yes 46.4% (-0.4)
No 53.6% (+0.4)
(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each firm that has reported at least once within the last three months. The firms included in the current sample are Panelbase, BMG, Ipsos-Mori, YouGov and Survation.)