Exclusive poll: Scotland close to backing independence

New Statesman/ICD poll shows that 44 per cent support independence, with 45 per cent opposed.

"'Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?" That's the question that Alex Salmond intends to put to Scottish voters in autumn 2014. But how many are on the First Minister's side?

An exclusive New Statesman/ICD poll has some encouraging news for the SNP leader. Asked if Scotland should become an independent country, 45 per cent of Scottish voters say no and 44 per cent say yes, a higher level of support for independence than previously indicated by polls.

In total, 38 per cent of British voters say that Scotland should secede from the UK, with 34 per cent opposed. Just 20 per cent of UK voters believe that Scotland would be better off if it became independent, compared with 52 per cent who believe it would be worse off. Conversely, 36 per cent of UK voters believe that England would benefit if Scotland left the UK, compared with 34 per cent who believe it would suffer.


The survey also confirrms that a majority of voters support full fiscal autonomy or "devolution max" for Scotland, an option that Salmond has insisted should be included on the ballot paper. Asked if Scotland should be given full control over its tax and spending, 51 per cent say yes and just 32 per cent say no, with 17 per cent undecided.

Voters are divided on whether the Scottish government or the UK government should determine the wording and timing of the referendum. Forty one per cent of UK voters say that Westminster should, while 34 per cent say that Holyrood should. However, encouragingly for Salmond, an overwhelming majority of Scottish voters (72 per cent) say that his government should have control over the referendum.


The survey also found strong support for an English parliament. Asked if they support the establishment of a separate body with similar powers to those currently held by the Scottish parliament, 45 per cent of English voters say yes, with 20 per cent opposed and 35 per cent undecided.


This exclusive poll for the New Statesman was carried out by ICD Research, powered by ID Factor, from 21-22 January 2012 and is based on a sample of 1,000 UK responses, of which 85 were Scottish.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.