Risks to Currency, EU Membership and Public Spending Key to Referendum Vote Choice

15th August 2014

According to new analysis published today (Friday 15th August), there is considerable public interest in the referendum campaign but almost seventy per cent (69.5%) of voters do not believe that either the Yes or No campaigns can predict the consequences of independence.

Many voters are relying on their own research and reaching their decision based on what they consider to be certain key risks, especially currency following a Yes vote, EU membership - whatever the outcome - and the prospects for government spending in the event of a No vote.

The findings of the study, Risk and Attitudes to Constitutional Change, are being presented at the Festival of Politics tomorrow (Saturday 16th August) by lead author Professor Ailsa Henderson of the ESRC Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change in Edinburgh. 

The study found dramatically differing perceptions of certain risks between Yes and No voters. Generally speaking, voters were concerned about the risks of both independence and of remaining in the Union but attached greater weight to those associated with independence than to those relating to continued union. 

The study found that the majority of voters have made up their minds as to how they are either going to vote or the direction in which they are leaning. However, there remains a core of about 5% of voters who are still genuinely undecided between Yes and No, showing no preference one way or the other.

The study shows that Yes supporters are significantly more likely to believe that links with the rest of the UK and Europe will continue (Notes 1). In addition, almost three quarters of Yes supporters believe that the UK government will cut the spending available for Scottish public services if Scotland remains within the UK and slightly over half believe that the UK will subsequently vote itself out of the EU (Notes 2).

No voters are generally more likely to believe that there are greater risks associated with the prospect of independence but less concerned about those suggested if Scotland remains within the Union. Only a quarter of those planning to vote No believe that the UK government would cut spending for public services in the event of a No vote. They are considerably less likely to believe that other unions – currency, freedom of movement, shared institutions such as the BBC – would survive the dissolution of the political union.

Professor Henderson  said:

“The Scottish electorate feels engaged with  the referendum process, with over 92% saying they are very likely or fairly likely to vote. Similarly, eighty per cent of respondents said that they were interested in the referendum campaign.  People feel informed but there is limited confidence in the ability of either campaign to accurately reflect the consequences of the result and levels of actual knowledge are low.

“Voters themselves have markedly different expectations of the outcome of the poll with Yes supporters genuinely concerned about their prospects if Scotland remains in the Union and No voters genuinely fearful of independence. These specific concerns - focussing particularly on the issue of currency following a Yes vote, continuing EU membership in either event, or threats to Scottish public spending after a No vote - are more significant determinants of vote choice than voters’ levels of risk tolerance in everyday life.   Prioritising your Scottish national identity makes you more likely to vote Yes, but national identity is not more important than attitudes to specific risks.

“In contrast to other surveys, our results show there are few appreciable differences in voting trends by gender.  Yes support is greater among men but this is because women are twice as likely (15%) to say that they have not decided than men (8%). Women are not significantly more likely to back the No campaign and the gender gap disappears completely when we control for national identity, attitudes to risk and other attitudes." 

Press Contacts:

1. For further information or to arrange interviews with Professor Henderson, contact Nick Bibby on 07866 053359 or at nbibby@exseed.ed.ac.uk
2. The Full survey can be downloaded here


1. Seventy per cent of Yes voters believe an independent Scotland will be able to keep the pound, as opposed to 15% of no voters. On Europe, 63% of Yes voters believe that Scotland would retain membership of the EU on similar terms, whereas only 8% of No voters feel the same way.

2. Seventy-three percent (73.3%) of Yes voters agreed with the statement “A UK government would cut spending available for Scottish public services” compared to 21.9% of No voters. The suggestion that Scotland would be drawn out of the EU by a UK-wide referendum also divides the two camps with just over a half (50.3%) of Yes voters predicting that outcome compared with under a third (28.3%) of no voters.

3. Professor Henderson is Head of Politics and International Relations at the University of Edinburgh and the research is part of the ESRC’s Future of the UK and Scotland programme to inform the referendum debate. Professor Liam Delaney is Professor of Economics at the University of Stirling and Dr Robert Lineira is based at the ESRC’s Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change at the University of Edinburgh.   

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post by Ailsa Henderson
University of Edinburgh
15th August 2014
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