Labour should welcome the fall in support for independence

ronnie mcgowanRonnie McGowan says the Labour party should shed its defensive constitutional posture and vigorously promote its much-needed progressive policies.


When a combative Ruth Davidson probed the First Minister in the recent televised leaders’ debate about the timing of a second independence referendum it was a cautious Nicola Sturgeon, with tension etched on her face, who sidestepped the issue, preferring to put the onus squarely onto the shoulders of the people of Scotland. All of a sudden her deft leadership skills were absent.

Long gone, it seems, are the days when a string of good opinion polls would trigger the ensuing fervour; instead Ms Sturgeon made a barely noticeable repositioning of her promise from the “once in a generation opportunity” to hopefully achieving independence within her lifetime, a pretty vacuous ambition. The time scale was now off the scale. There was no finger on the trigger in her response to Davidson, merely a realisation that indyref2 was disappearing faster than a rabbit down a hole.

Her circumspect response was not without good reason. In a recent detailed Scottish Social Attitudes survey Professor John Curtice’s polling think tank put support for independence at 39% in 2015, down from 45% in the actual poll just one year previously. This represents a reduction of 13% of the YES vote. Based on the same 2014 voter turnout that amounts to a fall of support for independence in the region of 215,000 folk; meanwhile the survey also showed 55% still wished to remain within the United Kingdom. This is bad news for those who believe there is an appetite for a second referendum: the surge is in the wrong direction.

In today’s echo chamber politics where sections of the press falsely claim that 39% is the highest ever support for independence, the electorate is already kicking any demand for a second referendum into the long grass. The highly regarded Professor Curtice’s poll shows disillusioned voters deserting the independence cause in droves and sounding the death knell for any campaign; Nicola Sturgeon would never admit this to her supporters for fears of accusations of betrayal. It does, though, explain her retreat in pursuing a second referendum. She already faces ridicule for being a fully paid up member of another Better Together campaign, standing shoulder to shoulder with David Cameron. How the tide turns.

Given the reversal in support for independence it is all the more surprising then that the Labour party continues to get itself tangled up in what looks like unnecessary prevarication; and it is not just the leader Kezia Dugdale who is guilty of this. During a twenty minute speech to the spring conference in Glasgow , deputy leader Alex Rowley name-checked “Scotland” eighty five times while referring only four times to education – thus sending out the wrong message. It really is time to reassert the aspirational social democratic principles that made the Labour Party an effective mass political movement in government and opposition.

Nicola Sturgeon is no social democrat; during that television debate she placed herself firmly alongside the Tories on tax, which just about sums up where she stands, the same old Tory she always was. The SNP will point to recent elections, reminding everyone of how satisfied voters are in the SNP’s performance in government. There is a kernel of truth in that assertion but this hard shell of propaganda conceals what the SNP have been doing in power since 2007 (apart from being propped up by the Tories for four years). They have been cynically living off seven decades of social democratic gains made by the Labour party and the Labour movement.

But time is running out for the SNP – they are like someone who borrows some cash for tokens to feed the electricity meter then sits back in blissful complacency, blindly watching as the credit runs out, knowing that the neighbourly Barnetts will help them out once again – but not for ever.

Ruth Davidson was bold and correct to question the First Minister in the manner she did – the Labour party should shed its defensive constitutional posture, dismiss any talk of a future referendum, and vigorously re-establish and promote those progressive policies that are needed now more than they ever have been.

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9 thoughts on “Labour should welcome the fall in support for independence

  1. It certainly shows that if we’d been given a proper Devomax option it would have won hands down. In the absence of this, many switched to Yes. Certainly, there seems to be a soft, crucial swing vote that really just wants a stronger Scotland, with all the social benefits of our parliament, in the UK as a back stop safety. I’d imagine that’s why Rowley knows it doesn’t win these over by ignoring Scottish national sentiment. You know Scotland is different now; there is a stronger sense of autonomy and Labour either accept that or just hang about until it either wanes (unlikely) or the SNP’S popularity falls (it will eventually). Labour need to keep relevant though. As a young person, they seem like the party of well meaning, old people’s section of society. I don’t know many people who will speak up for them when it used to be all about getting it up the Tories.

  2. The Scottish Social Attitudes survey is fascinating. It’s most recent results don’t favour Ronnie’s interpretation, however.
    This IS the biggest % for independence ever to show.
    So why is it less than the indyref vote? Dig into the SSA survey and it’s easy to find.
    Like every poll I have seen over the years, Scots want Holyrood to have control over most things.
    In fact the biggest minority in the survey wants Holyrood to control everything. Next up is that Holyrood should control everything except foreign affairs and defence. These two constitute a big majority.
    So how does this relate to the Indy vote? I suspect a good number of those who want a much more self governing Parliament in Scotland, recognise this won’t come through Westminster volunteering to give up its hegemony over Scotland.
    So Ronny, you can do what Labour did for decades in Scotland, and forget constitutional politics. It’s how you got to where you are now, after all.

    1. Thank you Gavin for your contribution. Yes it is a fascinating report and I for one would have liked to see much more of the mathematical/statistical tools used to gather the information – I’m sure it was robust.We have what we have and this is what the report found,…

      [quote] “However, when asked explicitly whether they would prefer Scotland to be independent and ‘separate from the UK’ or whether they would prefer Scotland to ‘remain part of the UK’ while having its own parliament, just 39% opt for independence. In contrast 49% back devolution (and another 6% would like to remain in the UK without a devolved parliament)” [unquote].

      So there we have it 39% in favour of independence in a survey is less than 45% in an actual poll. What I find quite interesting in Curtice’s methodology is the 39% is made up of two figures, 26% and 13% so the 39% is a sum of two distinct percentages, both wanting independence, granted – but he does not add the two percentages 49% and 6% which refer to those wishing to remain in the UK – I took the liberty of adding those two figures (55%) in the article. I don’t know why the report did not add the 49% and the 6% together but instead put the 6% in a bracket stuck on at the end! I’m sure the authors of the report could adequately justify that.

      A couple of your comments do puzzle me though. You say “the biggest minority in the survey” then you follow this by adding in the next sentence “next up”. I’m not sure what you mean by next up from the biggest minority – is it something bigger than the biggest? Is that a tiny majority? Can you point me in the direction of the figures in the survey that make this clear?

    1. I would hardly think the survey’s assertions, or authors, for that matter would disagree that 45% is greater than 39%. However what is quite striking about the page you reference is the,unusual for a survey of this kind, caveat introduced by the authors – “just 39%”. The focus must be on the word “just”. I could interpret that to mean 38.5001% rounded to 39% which in terms of the vote in September 2014 could amount to a rounding error of 18,103 votes a not unsubstantial amount in a straight Yes/No plebiscite.
      The word “just” may also be an expression of disappointment/surprise given that a year earlier the actual vote was 45%.
      What is indisputable from the survey is Voting intention 2015 YES 39% NO 55% compared to Votes in 2014 YES 45% NO 55% – showing a fall in support for independence while support to stay within the UK remains static.

  3. Hi Ronnie. Sorry if my broadbrush isn’t clear enough.
    My comment as to the ” biggest minority” is extrapolated from a graph. That biggest minority is about 40%( without going back to the site).
    “Next up” was the next lower line on the graph at about 30%.
    The 39% you quote is the LARGEST share, for independence, the survey has ever recorded.
    If you take the 49% along with the 6% as you do, then you do get 55%. But I see that as a spectrum where preferences would range from direct Rule from Westminster to more powers even than federalism. It’s those at that end that boost the independence % share of the referendum vote.
    As I speculated, they are people who don’t see THEIR constitutional wishes ever being met by the Westminster Parties.
    I am one of them. I have gone from being a Labour member to federalism to wanting what Keir Hardie wanted—Home Rule.

    1. Hi Gavin,

      your comment “extrapolated from a graph”. Where can I find this graph?

  4. I’m not sure I understand the conclusions you draw, “Labour should welcome the fall in support for independence”. You compare the latest Scottish Social Attitudes Survey at 39% with the Indy vote at 45%. Should you not be comparing like for like instead of apples and oranges?

    The latest Scottish Social Attitudes Survey says in it’s report that it’s polling for Indy is now at the highest it’s ever seen.

    QUOTE: “The 39% support for independence is four points higher than recorded in any previous SSA survey, a clear indication of how the independence referendum boosted support for leaving the UK.”

    1. Your comment reinforces the echo chamber approach to voting intentions and voters – but if you are content to live in a world of surveys whilst ignoring the facts then it will be difficult to convince you that 45% [actual] is greater than 39% [virtual].But even the survey’s 39% needs to be treated with some caution as it is made up of two variables and unless there is a further analysis of these two variables it would not be unreasonable to hypothesise that support for an independent Scotland may be be running at 26% and as you are an enthusiast for surveys you may have to accept this lower figure even although it doesn’t match your own perceptions and wishes.

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