We’re coming to the end of the results of this blog’s crowdfunded Panelbase poll, but in my opinion we’ve saved the most significant result for last. It won’t attract the headlines in the London media that the main independence numbers did on Tuesday, but it’s the one that gets to the heart of the SNP’s internal debate over strategy, and the method by which we’re actually going to make independence happen in the real world. The most obvious way of breaking through the current wall of Westminster intransigence is to legislate for an independence referendum without a Section 30 order, and then wait to see if the UK government challenge the law in court. Nicola Sturgeon very carefully didn’t rule that option out in her Brexit Day speech, but she expressed misgivings about it. Her public doubts related to the possibility that the courts might rule against the Scottish Government, but I strongly suspect that she’s also concerned about scaring the horses and driving away soft Yes and soft No voters by acting in a way that might be perceived as too rash or confrontational. If that is her worry, this poll result should provide a massive dose of reassurance.
There are differing legal opinions on whether the Scottish Parliament currently has the power to hold a consultative referendum on independence without Westminster’s permission. If the UK government continues to refuse to give permission, do you think the Scottish Parliament should legislate to hold a referendum and then allow the courts to decide whether it can take place?
With Don’t Knows excluded, approximately 56% of respondents think a referendum should be called without a Section 30 order, and only 44% disagree. If those numbers sound familiar, it’s because a couple of the other favourable results in this poll have had exactly the same margin. Of course it won’t be precisely the same respondents giving positive and negative replies in each case, but there’s bound to be a considerable amount of overlap, which suggests to me that the vast bulk of those who are resistant to ‘go-it-alone’ legislation are the people who are irreconcilable to independence or to a referendum anyway. There’s practically no evidence in the poll that the current pro-Yes majority would be threatened by bold action – a mere 4% of people who would currently vote Yes, and 9% of people who voted SNP in December, don’t think the Scottish Parliament should act without a Section 30. Once again, the rump Labour vote is the most fascinating part of the sample – a healthy 44% of respondents who voted Labour in the general election think Holyrood should go ahead and legislate, and 47% do not.
When I first saw the headline numbers, it did occur to me that the majority may have come about due to a sizeable number of anti-independence Tory voters saying to themselves “go to court, then, and let’s get it settled”. But that’s not the case at all – only 5% of Tory voters answered Yes to this question. The majority very much seems to be based on people who are sympathetic to either independence, or a referendum, or both.
I also asked one other question in the poll. I was curious to discover whether people thought at the time of the 2014 independence referendum that they’d be able to vote on the subject again in future, and it turns out a significant minority thought they would.
Casting your mind back to the day of the 2014 independence referendum, what was your impression at the time of whether Scotland would be able to hold another independence referendum in the future?
I was under the impression that it would be possible to hold another independence referendum if the Scottish people voted for a party with a manifesto commitment to hold a referendum: 39%
I was under the impression that Scotland wouldn’t be allowed to hold another referendum, regardless of how the Scottish people voted in future elections: 47%
It’s important to stress that the question didn’t ask whether Alex Salmond or anyone else had “promised” there wouldn’t be another referendum – merely whether another referendum had seemed possible. Around 17% of respondents who actually voted Yes in 2014, and 19% of respondents who voted SNP in December, thought that another indyref wouldn’t be “allowed” irrespective of election results, which suggests to me that some of these are people who simply had a realistic (and appropriately cynical) assessment of the UK’s government’s regard for democratic principles.
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You can read articles I've written for The National and the Sunday National about this poll HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.