Referendum campaign is letting down voters, says Scottish Social Attitudes survey

22nd January 2014

New results from ScotCen Social Research’s annual Scottish Social Attitudes survey, released toay, suggest that many of the prominent debates in the campaign, such as on Europe, the pound, and welfare, are having little or no impact on whether voters will vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. What matters are voters’ views about the likely economic consequences of independence as opposed to staying in the Union.

Conducted between June and October 2013, ScotCen’s survey finds that: 

  • 52% would support independence, and only 30% oppose it if they thought they would be £500 a year better off.
  • Conversely, only 15% would support independence and 72% would be opposed if they thought they would be £500 a year worse off.
  • 71% of those who think Scotland’s economy would be ‘better’ under independence say they ‘will’ or ‘think they are most likely’ to vote Yes. In contrast, 86% of those who think the economy would be ‘worse’ are inclined to vote No.

Such big differences indicate that voters’ perceptions of the economic consequences of independence are central to which way they are inclined to vote. However the survey also reveals that neither side has as yet succeeded in convincing a majority of the merits of their economic case.

  • While only 9% agree with the Yes campaign that they personally would be better off under independence, a minority of 29% accept the No argument that they would be worse off. Most feel it would not make any difference (52%) or that they don’t know (10%).
  • While just 30% think that Scotland’s economy would be better under independence, a similar number - 34% - believe it would be worse.

In contrast, many of the other arguments and questions that are featuring prominently in the referendum debate, such as on Europe, currency and welfare, seem to make little difference to the way in which most voters are inclined to vote. These are issues on which Yes and No voters largely agree.

  • 67% of Yes voters say that an independent Scotland should be a member of the EU, but so also do 70% of No voters.
  • 39% of those No supporters who would like to keep the pound are doubtful that an independent Scotland would be allowed to do so, but so too are 33% of Yes voters.
  • 68% of Yes voters would like to see more spending on people with disabilities, but so also do 58% of No supporters.

Voters remain unsure and uncertain

As a result of the apparent failure of the campaigns to focus on what matters most to voters, many remain unsure and uncertain about what independence would mean.

  • 64% say they are ‘unsure’ what would happen if Scotland became independent, a six point increase on 2012. Only 30% (down 4 points) say they are ‘sure’.
  • Only 22% feel they know ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ about independence, while 37% say they do not know very much or anything at all.

The survey also suggests that there have only been small – and inconsistent – changes in the level of support for independence during the last twelve months, leaving the referendum race looking largely unchanged.

  • Although at 29% support for Scotland becoming ‘independent, separate from the rest of the UK’ is up six points on the record low of 23% recorded in 2012, it is still three points below the level in 2011.
  • Meanwhile, at 31% the proportion who say that ‘The Scottish Parliament should make all the decisions for Scotland’ is down 4 points on last year.
  • When asked how they ‘will’ or ‘think they are most likely’ to vote in response to the question that will appear on the referendum ballot paper (‘Should Scotland be an independent country’), 30% of respondents said ‘Yes’, 54%, ‘No’.

A third option?

It seems that for some voters at least, deciding how to vote has been made more difficult by the absence on the ballot paper of a third option - a more powerful Scottish Parliament within the UK. Those voters - 38% of all Scots - who have yet to decide for sure which way they will vote, are particularly sympathetic to the idea of having a more powerful Scottish Parliament within the UK.

  • 42% of these ‘waverers’ say the Scottish Parliament should make all decisions for Scotland with the sole exception of defence and foreign affairs - ten points higher (32%) than amongst Scots as whole.
  • 60% of ‘waverers’ feel voters should be able to do more than just vote Yes or No to independence – compared with 51% of all Scots.

Professor John Curtice, Research Consultant at ScotCen Social Research, commented:

‘The referendum campaign is at risk of short-changing the people of Scotland. So far it appears to have done little to help them be clear and confident about the decision they have to make. Many of the issues that preoccupy those campaigning for and against independence are apparently of peripheral interest to voters.  Voters want to hear about the economic and financial consequences of the choice that they make, and it is on the outcome of that debate that the result of the referendum is likely to turn.’

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Coree Brown Swan's picture
University of Edinburgh
22nd January 2014
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