Since Sep 2104, there have been 50 opinion polls measuring Scotland’s appetite for independence. There have been fluctuations in favour of Yes such as after the 2015 General Election and in the weeks following the European Referendum but overall they have shown a steady lead for No with an average of approx. 5%.
However the findings of these polls are always published with undecideds factored out. In the final week of the Scottish referendum opinion polls averaged 48%-52%, Yes vs No . However when undecideds are included the figures are 44%-48%, Yes vs No with 8% undecideds.
On polling day 93% of the undecideds went across to support remaining in the UK with No triumphing by 55.3% to 44.7%. The polls published immediately after the referendum again showed support for Yes vs No to be neck and neck.
Therefore during the referendum campaign opinion polling overestimated support for Scottish independence by a materially significant margin. There is no reason to think the reason for this overestimation has diminished.
Risk, uncertainty and scepticism of the credibility of the Yes campaign’s plans would have factored into the decision of 93% of undecideds choosing to back the status quo. If there is a second Scottish referendum the consequences of separatism that voters will face will be far more disruptive, expensive and potentially damaging than that offered at the first with the prospect of a new untested currency, huge cuts to public spending followed by a commitment to joining the Euro to consider.
Scots are a cautious electorate and in 3 referendums over the past 6 years have overwhelmingly voted for the status quo on each occasion. It is reasonable to think that a dodgy prospectus for independence in any second referendum, and pledging to take an independent Scotland into the EU while Spain and France are loudly threatening to veto Scotland’s entry is a dodgy prospectus, will cause undecideds to experience the same or greater trepidation than they felt during 2014.
In light of this and to try and factor in voting behaviour on polling day I have weighted each opinion poll since the 2014 referendum by assigning 93% of the undecideds to No and 7% of them to Yes. If status quo bias is factored in like this the results demonstrate that there has been only one poll since Sep 2014 which has had Yes in the lead, in August 2015.
The post-2014 referendum polls now have an average result of 45-55, Yes vs No with an accelerating downtrend towards No. In particular the six months since the EU Referendum should be causing panic at SNP HQ. No has seen their lead increase from 0.8% in the immediate aftermath of the June vote to over 20% by the year end.
This is not what Nicola Sturgeon and her coterie of advisors believed would happen. They really did believe the EU referendum would be a game changer in swaying support for independence. Scots emotional resonance towards the EU is minimal compared to that towards the UK and it is not credible in the slightest to claim that the EU is more important to Scotland political, economically, culturally, socially or historically than the UK.
The SNP have decided to mutate their permanent campaign for independence into one of Scotland in the UK vs Scotland in the EU and by doing so they have permanently disadvantaged their own cause. It really is a supremely dreadful strategic error and is the principal reason why I believe the SNP will lose any second Scottish referendum.
Nicola Sturgeon has spent the past seven months firing up her troops with a promise of one final push yet all the data is suggesting that she is even further away from her goal than before the EU referendum.