Europe

Scottish independence polls: How public mood shifted since devolution

IndyRef2: Sturgeon says ‘let the people of Scotland decide’

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A quarter of a century ago, just under three-quarters of Scots backed the creation of a Scottish Parliament in a referendum. Since then, the nation’s devolved powers have increased, as has support for independence among its people. Almost eight years after the first referendum, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has put forth plans to hold a second in 2023, as the latest polling suggests those in favour of maintaining the Union have a narrow two percent lead.

In the midst of the cost-of-living crisis in June, as 83 percent of Scots reported being dissatisfied with then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Scottish people were evenly split 50-50 on the question of independence, according to Ipsos.

The latest polling by Panelbase shows support for Scottish independence is at 49 percent, with 51 percent in favour of preserving the Union, when adjusting for undecided voters.

As the Scottish government tussles with Westminster over their right to hold another referendum, on the 25th anniversary of Scots voting in favour of establishing a Scottish Parliament Express.co.uk took a look at the history of the independence movement.

 

As the Seventies drew to a close, support for Scottish independence was polling at little more than 10 percent.

However, under Margaret Thatcher, whose Government introduced the deeply unpopular poll tax a year early in Scotland, support surged to 40 percent.

After levelling at around 30 percent in the mid-Nineties, plans for devolution introduced by Tony Blair saw the idea gain momentum once again – the ‘Yes’ side surpassing 40 percent in the polls for the first time in 1997.

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In a referendum held on September 11, 1997, 74.3 percent of Scots backed the creation of a Scottish Parliament.

To the secondary question of whether this parliament ought to have tax-varying powers, 63.5 percent of voters declared themselves in favour. 

The first elections were held under two years later, and the first meeting of the Scottish Parliament took place on May 12, 1999.

On July 1 1999, the Scottish Parliament was officially opened by Her Majesty The Queen and received full law-making powers. 

Initially meeting in the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh, in 2004 the body moved into the new Scottish Parliament Building in Holyrood.

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With the Scottish Parliament awarded the power to legislate over devolved matters such as agriculture, housing, health and social services, calls for independence waned during the first decade of the new millennium.

By the time Gordon Brown, himself Scottish, became Prime Minister in 2007, support for independence had fallen back to 24 percent – its lowest level in over two decades.

However, in the years that followed support for Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party (SNP) swelled, the pro-independence party winning an outright majority in Holyrood in 2011 with a manifesto commitment to hold a referendum.

The referendum was eventually held on September 18, 2014, and resulted in 55.3 percent of Scottish voters opposing plans for an independent Scotland and 44.7 percent voting in favour.

The 84.6 percent turnout was the highest recorded for an election or referendum in the UK since 1910.

Despite the defeat for the independence campaign, support continued to rise, especially in the wake of the 2016 Brexit referendum in which Scotland voted 62 percent to remain within the EU.

Soon after Mr Johnson became Prime Minister in July 2019, support for Scottish independence surpassed 50 percent for the first time in history.

The devolved government took responsibility for the handling of the coronavirus pandemic in Scotland, and by November 2020 support for the Yes campaign peaked at 56 percent.

In January 2021, the SNP stated that if pro-independence parties were to win in the May Scottish parliamentary elections, the devolved government would introduce a bill for a second independence referendum. 

After forming a coalition government with the Scottish Greens – also in favour of independence – in June 2022 Ms Sturgeon announced her plan to hold another referendum, stylised as IndyRef2, on October 19, 2023.

Embroiled in a legal battle with Westminster, which maintains the Scottish Parliament doesn’t have the power to pass such legislation, on Wednesday the SNP was invited to make its case to the Supreme Court.

Incoming British Prime Minister Liz Truss – who described herself as a “child of the union” during her Tory leadership campaign after spending part of her childhood in Paisley – has repeatedly stated she would not allow another referendum.

Speaking at the Perth hustings in August, Ms Truss said: “At the time of the 2014 referendum, it was agreed by the SNP that it was a once-in-a-generation referendum.

“I believe in politicians keeping their promises, and Nicola Sturgeon should keep her promise. What she should do, rather than agitating for another referendum, is dealing with the very real issues in Scotland.”

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