Support for Scottish independence falls to lowest level this year

After an SNP poll put the Yes campaign ahead, a new TNS BRMB survey puts backing for independence at just 25% with 47% opposed.

After being cheered by Monday's (unreliable) SNP/Panelbase poll on Scottish independence, which put the Yes campaign ahead for the first time since August 2011, Scottish nationalists have woken up to the grim news that support for separation has fallen to its lowest level this year.

A new TNS BRMB poll shows that just 25% would vote for independence compared to 47% who would vote against it. The survey is further evidence of why the SNP poll should be treated with scepticism. Those polled were first asked whether they thought Scotland could be "a successful, independent country" and whether they trusted the Scottish government or Westminster to take "the best decisions for Scotland". It's likely that both questions nudged people towards supporting independence in the final question.

Every other poll in the last two years has shown the No campaign ahead by a convincing margin and the TNS BRMB survey and last week's YouGov poll (which put the No camp ahead by 59-29) suggest that trend will continue. 

If there is any consolation for the Yes campaign, it's that 28% of voters are undecided, up from 15% in February, but it would need to win over 79% of them to close the gap with the No camp. At present, even if, as Alex Salmond recently told the NS, "This is the phoney war. This is not the campaign. I went into an election [for the Scottish Parliament] in 2011 20 points behind in the polls and ended up 15 in front. The real game hasn’t even started. We are just clearing the ground", that is looking like a near impossible task. 

Scottish First Minister and SNP First Minister Alex Salmond. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.