Most voters in Scotland doubtless thought that the last fortnight of Christmas and New Year holidays provided a rare opportunity to escape from the routine of every day life. If so, their perspective was not shared by the apparatchiks working in the Yes and the No campaigns. They both regarded the holiday season as an opportunity to drip feed us with the results of polls conducted just before Christmas, in the hope of filling the relative news vacuum with (from their perspective) positive news stories.
The Better Together campaign’s results came from a Scotland wide poll conducted by YouGov between 17th and 19th December. On the other side the findings came not from the official Yes campaign, but from the SNP, which funded two separate polls. One was of voters in Scotland, the other of people resident in the rest of the UK. Both were conducted by Panelbase between 13th and 20th December.
Much of this polling focused on the tactics rather the substance of the referendum campaign. For example, Better Together advised us that 56% of people in Scotland felt that the £800,000 of “taxpayers’ money” (allegedly) being spent on publicising the Scottish Government’s proposals for independence was a ‘bad use of public money’, and that 50% feel the Scottish Government is spending ‘too much public money’ on independence and the referendum. Given that, at present, a majority of voters are opposed to independence, such findings hardly come as a surprise.
Meanwhile the SNP’s polls advised us that voters on both sides of the border would rather like to see David Cameron take part in a televised referendum debate with Alex Salmond. Indeed enthusiasm for this idea was only a little less evident in the rest of the UK (56% in favour) than north of the border (63%). But then why should anyone not overly concerned with the minutiae of the two sides’ campaigning tactics actually be opposed to the prospect of such a spectacle? True, the finding did help point out the apparent inconsistency of Mr Cameron’s stance that the independence debate is one for Scotland alone to have while, for example, including in his New Year message a reference to his hope for a No vote in September. In the end though, such subtleties may well pass most voters by.
The SNP’s concern with the character of the No campaign has not been confined to Mr Cameron’s role. It has also extended to the absence to date of any prospectus for Scotland’s future within the Union. So having reminded voters that the Scottish Government had published its ‘guide’ to independence, its Scottish poll also asked voters whether there should be a similar prospectus from the No side. We learnt this morning that as many as 70% say there should.
Again one might ask why any ordinary voter should disagree with this proposal? But ironically the poll was given rather more force by Better Together’s own latest offering this morning. Curiously, rather than ask people how they propose to vote in response to the question that will appear on the referendum ballot paper, the No campaign opted to tread on the potentially sensitive territory of more devolution within the framework of the UK. With 32% in favour, ‘devolution inside the UK, but with more powers for the Scottish Parliament’ proved marginally the most popular option, while 30% backed ‘Scotland becoming an independent country’ and 29% ‘devolution inside the UK as Scotland has now’.
Perhaps someone thought that addressing the issue that way would help produce a particularly low level of support for independence (which arguably it did). However in so doing the No camp reminded us of the division amongst its supporters about giving the Scottish Parliament more powers, thereby lending some apparent credibility to the suggestions from the Yes camp that in the absence of a prospectus from the unionist side, it cannot be presumed that a No vote would necessarily be followed by more devolution.
Meanwhile we might note that the level of support for the three options of independence, more devolution and the status quo in this poll is almost exactly in line with the average recorded across a dozen or so previous polls that have asked people to make that choice (worded in various ways) at some point during the last three years. Once again it seems that public opinioon on the constitutional issue is remarkably stable.
Perhaps rather more successful tactically for the Better Together campaign was a further finding from its own poll that suggested that 64% of people in Scotland feel the Scottish Government should use the powers they already have to deliver better childcare, while only 22% feel the country has to become independent before better childcare can be delivered. It should be said that while the question noted that ‘Alex Salmond is already responsible for provision of childcare’ it did not mention the SNP argument that to fund its proposed programme it needs access to the increased tax revenues that it believes universal early years provision would produce. Still, perhaps from the Yes side’s perspective it might be thought unfortunate that many voters have apparently not firmly grasped the link between independence and the policy proposal that is meant to be iconic of the better Scotland a Yes vote would bring.
Meanwhile, the SNP’s poll in the rest of the UK included a couple of questions that asked people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland whether, given the existence of the Common Travel Area, they thought there should be ‘freedom of movement with no passport controls’ between an independent Scotland and England, and whether, given Scotland and the rest of the UK are major trading partners, an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK, ‘should continue using the pound in an agreed sterling area’.
In both cases respondents were given two chances to say ‘Yes’ – either ‘Yes, definitely’ or ‘Yes, I think so’- and two to say ‘No’ (viz. ‘No, I don’t think so’ and ‘Definitely not’). The SNP trumpeted the fact that 75% said Yes to no passport controls, and 71% to Scotland continuing to use the pound. Others might have noted that only around half (55% in the case of passport controls and 46% in the case of the currency) said ‘Yes definitely’ to both propositions. The UK government might consequently conclude that is not at undue risk of offending English sensibilities by raising possible objections to a common border and currency.
Finally, the SNP also published new figures on voting intention – but on that see this separate blog.