When we say there's a mandate to hold a second independence referendum, we're generally (not always, but generally) referring to the SNP's victory in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, which took place before the EU referendum, and in which the manifesto pledge was conditional on there being a material change of circumstances, such as Scotland being dragged out of the EU against its will. Unionist parties, and in particular the Tories, have raised a number of hair-splitting objections to the notion that Scotland's democratic will is being disregarded in a way that would make the indyref mandate valid. For example, they point out that the 62% of the Scottish public who voted Remain were voting for the United Kingdom to continue as a member state of the EU, and were not strictly speaking expressing a view on whether they would want Scotland to stay in if the rest of the UK came out. This of course carries the wildly implausible implication that Scotland was only ever pro-EU due to the superb quality of representation we received in Brussels from London ministers, but nevertheless that's what they say. It's also suggested that now that Brexit is a fact on the ground, rejoining the EU is a very different proposition from remaining within it, and that there's no way of knowing whether Scottish voters would really want to rejoin. So even if Brexit was a breach of Scottish democratic wishes in 2016, that's no longer the case because Scotland supposedly might want to "move on" and make the best of it.
Opinion polls haven't often been much use in clearing away these technical (or perhaps I should say imaginative) objections, because polls showing an enormous pro-EU majority in Scotland were mostly conducted before Brexit Day at the end of January, and generally framed the choice as "Remain" v "Leave", rather than "Rejoin" v "Don't Rejoin". A lot of them also asked about the UK's status within Europe rather than Scotland's. And those that did mention Scotland usually tied the issue to independence, which is a cop-out in another sense because there are ways in which Scotland could be part of the EU from within Brexit Britain. The Tory government (and indeed Labour and the Liberal Democrats) are not remotely interested in exploring that option, but that doesn't mean it isn't possible in theory. There are three component parts of the state of Denmark (Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Denmark proper) and only one of them is part of the EU.
To get to the heart of the democratic issue that makes the case for Indyref2, the final question in this blog's crowdfunded Panelbase poll is a simple six-word query...
Should Scotland rejoin the European Union?
(Panelbase poll for Scot Goes Pop, 1st-5th June 2020. Headline figures exclude Don't Knows. If Don't Knows are included, the result is Yes 52%, No 35%, DK 14%.)
That won't be a surprise to anyone, but nevertheless it does lay to rest some of the sophistry. Even though "rejoin" may imply a degree of upheaval to a potentially weary electorate that "remain" doesn't, a 60-40 advantage is well outside the poll's margin of error, which makes it definitive: Scotland does want to be part of the EU in a post-Brexit world, and the casus belli for a second indyref is completely intact.
60-40 is of course just slightly below the 62-38 recorded on referendum day in 2016, and along with concerns about further upheaval, my guess is that the difference can be partly explained by a small percentage of hardline anti-indy voters worrying that by giving a pro-EU response they'd be indirectly giving the green light to independence. Among people who actually voted against independence six years ago, there's a plurality against Scotland rejoining the EU, although it's fairly narrow (47% to 41%).
The pandemic has temporarily got Labour and the Liberal Democrats off the hook of explaining to Scottish voters how it is possible to be "pro-UK, pro-EU" now that Brexit has happened. We know what they will say - it'll be that remaining part of Britain is by far the most important thing, and if that's incompatible with EU membership, well that's a shame, but so be it. That could leave them facing a problem with their own voters, who emphatically want Scotland to rejoin the EU -
2019 Labour voters:
2019 Liberal Democrat voters:
A few people have asked me if I have any information on the 8% of pro-independence voters from the 2014 indyref who now want to stay in the UK. There's no way from the Panelbase datasets of pinpointing exactly who they are or what motivates them, but one clue is that 87 respondents in the poll (roughly 8% or 9% of the total sample) are Yes voters from 2014 who do not want Scotland to rejoin the EU. By contrast, only 53 respondents (around 5% of the sample) are currently minded to vote for independence while still wanting Scotland to stay outside the EU. The difference between those two figures may well imply the existence of a segment of voters who are in principle sympathetic to independence, but who would vote against it because they regard Brexit as a bigger priority.
But remember that there's a pro-independence majority in this poll, and that's come about because a significant number of Remain voters have become converts to independence. There's a danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater if we dilute our pitch on the EU in pursuit of the smaller number of Brexiteers we've lost in the other direction.
* * *
You can read my piece in The National about last night's poll results HERE.