Brexit Day Polls Show Increased Support for Yes

Brexit day was greeted north of the border with as many as three polls of how people would vote in another independence referendum – one from YouGov, one from Survation, and one from Panelbase. Between them they appeared to confirm the already substantial evidence that the pursuit of Brexit is undermining popular support for the Union.

Once those saying don’t know were left aside, Survation suggested that support for Yes and No was evenly divided with 50% backing each, while both YouGov (51% Yes) and Panelbase (52%) both put Yes narrowly ahead. It was the first time that three polls in a row had put support for independence at 50% or above since polling that was conducted in the immediate wake of the EU referendum in 2016.

Each reading represented at least a modest increase in support for Yes since the same company had last addressed the issue. Survation last did so on the eve of last year’s general election and put Yes on 49%. Both Panelbase and YouGov asked indyref2 vote intention about a week or so before the election, and suggested that Yes support was running at 47% and 44% respectively.

Meanwhile, at 51% the average level of support for Yes compares with 48% in all five polls that were conducted during the election campaign and 49% in the seven polls undertaken between April and October 2018. In short, it looks as though that in the immediate wake of the election and the subsequent implementation of Brexit there has been a small swing in favour of independence – which, given where Yes stood in the polls beforehand may now mean that there is a small majority in favour of Scotland leaving the UK.

A crucial feature of the increase in support for independence in last year’s polls was that all of it occurred among those who voted Remain – thereby strongly suggesting that it was being occasioned by the pursuit of Brexit. The results of the latest polls suggest that that pattern may now have extended even a little further. In YouGov’s case, at 28% support for Yes among those who voted Leave was a point down on the average reading that the company had obtained in the three polls it conducted last year. In contrast, the 56% support registered among those who backed Remain was a point up. Meanwhile, Survation recorded a two-point fall in support for Yes (from 35% to 33%) among Leave voters since its poll last December, but a three-point increase (from 53% to 56%) among Remain supporters. However, Panelbase’s tabulations of their latest poll do not report a breakdown by how people voted in 2016.

More striking was detailed analysis that YouGov provided of where individual voters stand now as compared with how they voted in 2014. This clearly shows how Brexit has reshaped the character of support for Yes. The company reported that just over one in five (21%) of those who voted No in 2014 and Remain in 2016 now say that they would vote Yes. In contrast, hardly anyone who voted No and then Leave has changed their stance on independence.  Meanwhile, as many as three in ten (30%) of those who voted Yes and Leave now say they would vote No (whereas very few of those who voted Yes and Remain have changed their minds). So, voters have moved in both directions on the constitutional question in the wake of Brexit – the problem for unionists is that the pool of people who voted Yes and Leave (11%) is much smaller than the group that voted No and Remain (29%).

YouGov’s poll also provided fresh evidence on attitudes towards the timing of another referendum. It suggests that neither the Scottish nor the UK government enjoys majority support for the stance that they are taking on the issue. In line with previous polls by Ipsos MORI, YouGov’s poll suggested that a majority are opposed to holding a referendum this year. At the same time, however, it also suggested – in contrast to previous readings from the company – that a majority are willing to contemplate a referendum within five years. That, of course, is a much shorter time period than a ‘generation’.

However, in truth, the answers to questions about the timing of another independence referendum should be treated with caution. The question of when a referendum should be held is intimately tied to how people would vote in any such ballot. Most Yes voters would like another referendum to take place this year, while most No voters are opposed. However, with 80% of them opposed to the idea, No voters are more united in their opposition than Yes voters are in their support (57% back the idea). But if the polls continue to suggest that Yes are now ahead in the polls – of which of course there is no guarantee – then maybe the apparent reticence among Yes voters about holding a referendum soon will begin to disappear?

John Curtice

About the author

John Curtice is Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, Senior Research Fellow at ScotCen, and Chief Commentator on the What Scotland Thinks website.