Scots Keen on Further Devolution, Sceptical about the Economic Benefits of Independence. SNP Retain a Narrowing Lead over Labour in Scotland.
Our latest Scottish voting intention indicates a narrowing lead for the SNP, which now stands at +3 points over Labour. Nonetheless, in the context of Sturgeon’s resignation, the probe into the party’s finances, and her subsequent arrest by Police Scotland, the party’s lead has not decreased as much as some would expect, currently at +3 (down -4 from +7 from our poll conducted on behalf of True North between 27th April – 3rd May), with the SNP at 37% and Labour at 34%. As we show later, instead of a direct flow of voters from the SNP to Labour, the narrowing lead is a result of Labour gaining support across all parties.
With support for independence currently holding up at 47% (-1 from our last poll in May), we find an interesting dynamic among attitudes towards independence and devolution – while further devolution remains popular among voters across a range of policy areas, Scots remain unconvinced whether Scotland’s economy and the cost of living crisis would be better if the country were to become independent. Labour’s stance on devolution in the run up to the next election could be a deciding factor for voters in Scotland.
In a hypothetical General Election, the SNP are still expected to be the largest party in Scotland, with a vote share of 37%, down -1 point since May. Labour is close second with 34% (+2), while the Conservatives are down to 17 points (-1). The Liberal Democrats remain unchanged at 9%.
This picture is largely mirrored in the constituency vote in a Scottish Parliament election, with the SNP remaining at 38%, and Labour (33%) making a +3-point gain from the Conservatives (16%).
In the regional vote, Labour (29%) is closing in on the SNP (30%) with a +3-point gain, while the Conservatives are down -2 points to 18%, and the Lib Dems are up +2 points to now 9%. The Green Party remains unchanged at 10%.
Historically, this is the lowest vote share we have recorded for the SNP to date since October 2020 in both the Westminster and Holyrood constituency votes. This, to some extent, is expected given the events that put the SNP on the front pages of newspapers in the last two months. Though, given the overall -6 point decrease in the party’s Westminster vote share since Sturgeon’s resignation, we can see an indication of a gradual decrease in support, rather than a drastic move away from the party.
When we look at these results in the context of our UK tracker on party identification published last week, this decrease seems unsurprising when we consider the strength of attachment voters have to their closest party. While for all other party supporters, more than 7 in 10 feel strong attachment to their respective party (6-10 on an 11-point scale), less than half (45%) of SNP supporters feel high levels of attachment.
While this would suggest higher levels of volatility among SNP supporters, when we look at where each of the parties is currently gaining and losing votes compared to past voting patterns in the 2019 General Election and 2021 Scottish Parliament election, it is clear that Labour’s gains are the lowest among 2019 SNP voters (16%). Instead, 1 in 4 (25%) of 2019 Lib Dem voters in Scotland are now likely to vote for Labour, as well as 1 in 5 2019 Conservative voters.
However, once we put this into absolute terms and compare those gains to the total vote share of each party in 2019 and transfers from Labour to other parties, Labour would win more actual votes from the Conservatives than the SNP, with the lowest number of voters coming from previous Lib Dem supporters (with the assumption that turnout remains the same). This furthers the narrative that while Labour is gradually closing in on the SNP’s lead, they are making the largest gains from the Conservatives, which follows a UK-wide trend in polling.
Notwithstanding the above, it should be worrying for the SNP that the largest unionist party in Scotland is now only 3 points behind in polling. Current independence positions lean towards remaining in the UK, with this month’s poll showing No at 53% (+1) and Yes at 47% (-1) showing no significant movements on the issue despite the gradual decrease in the SNP’s lead.
To understand what drives current attitudes on independence, we asked respondents which Parliament – Westminster or Holyrood – they would prefer to have power over certain areas of policy.
On the question of which parliament should have power over employment law, most preferred the Scottish Parliament either strongly or somewhat – 41%, whereas 33% preferred the Westminster Parliament. However, 22% were undecided, and 5% told us they didn’t know. Unsurprisingly, support for the Scottish Parliament having power in this area was strongest among 2019 SNP voters (70%) and weakest among 2019 Conservative voters (13%). 28% of 2019 Labour voters favoured the Scottish Parliament, while 42% favoured the Westminster Parliament.
Asking which parliament they preferred to have power over energy security and cost of living policies told a very similar story. 42% favoured the Scottish Parliament, while 34% preferred the Westminster Parliament in regards to energy security. While 46% preferred the Scottish Parliament, 33% preferred Westminster for powers over cost of living policies. Thus, while it seems that Scots generally prefer the Scottish Parliament to have power over those three policy areas and seem broadly confident in devolution, this does not necessarily translate to readiness for independence.
Particularly on the issue of Scotland’s economy in general, and the cost of living as a more personal issue, 44% of respondents believe that if Scotland were to become an independent country, it would make the economy worse off, compared to 35% who believe it would be better off, while 12% believe it would not make any difference. On the cost of living, 43% expressed that it would be worse if Scotland became an independent country, while 31% believe that it would be made better, and 18% believe it would make no difference.
All of this is to say that despite most Scots generally preferring the Scottish Parliament having power over those three important policy areas in the context of devolution, there remains a strong level of unease about whether being a totally independent country would improve the Scottish economy as a whole or help the cost of living crisis. This contributes to the narrative that while more Scots are in favour of further devolution than those against, more believe that in an independent Scotland’s economy and cost of living crisis would be worse than it would be in a union.
Overall, the data presented here paints a nuanced picture of the Scottish political landscape. The SNP continues to lead, albeit with a reducing margin, but despite the events of the past two months, the observed decline seems lower than what some would expect. This suggests a good level of resilience within their voter base, a characteristic that might be tested in the face of further controversies. Labour’s gains, on the other hand, are spread across all parties, indicating a broad-based appeal rather than a direct draw from disillusioned SNP supporters. The SNP’s narrowing lead and Labour’s gains from other parties, however, underline the shifting dynamics at play.
With regards to the Scottish independence question, the general sentiment seems to be one of caution. The polling reflects a populace largely in favour of further devolution but apprehensive about outright independence. The predominant economic concerns about independence underscore the need for any pro-independence discourse to address these fears comprehensively. It is evident that the economic ramifications of independence remain a crucial factor in shaping the voters’ stance, which the SNP might need to address more convincingly.
As Scotland moves forward, it will be intriguing to see how these dynamics play out, particularly in the context of voter loyalty, party strategies, and evolving perceptions of devolution and independence. Perhaps this picture will become clearer as we move closer to a General Election, and parties become clearer on their stances on salient issues. Until then, voters are likely to grapple with the balance between economic stability, devolution aspirations, and independence anxieties.
Get the data
Survation conducted an online poll of 2,026 adults aged 16+ in Scotland on their voting intentions. Fieldwork was conducted between 23rd 28th June 2023. Tables are available here.
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