What would make the Scots change their mind about independence?

Fintan SmithPolitical Research Executive
October 21, 2022, 8:20 AM GMT+0

Re-joining the EU is most compelling to current No voters, while Yes voters would be more swayed by cost-of-living fears

With Nicola Sturgeon redoubling her efforts to hold a referendum on Scotland’s future in the United Kingdom, new YouGov Political Research data explores what the big turn-ons and turn-offs are for Scots when it comes to the independence question.

YouGov’s latest data reveals that a referendum on Scottish independence would now be too close to call, with 49% backing independence and 51% opposing it.

The results show that 18% of 2014 Yes voters would now vote No, and 17% of 2014 No voters would now vote Yes. So how malleable are people’s stances on the independence question, and in what circumstances would either side be tempted over to the other?

To find out, a new YouGov survey has posed a series of potential consequences of independence to current Yes and No voters, to see whether any would alter their views.

A rise in the cost of living would turn many current Yes voters off Scottish independence

A report from LSE published last year concluded that Scotland becoming independent would increase the cost of trade between Scotland and the UK and shrink incomes over time. If the cost of living in Scotland was to rise as a result, three quarters of current independence supporters would instead oppose Scotland (27%) becoming an independent country. If the cost of living was instead to decrease, as Nicola Sturgeon has recently suggested, 11% of current No voters say they would support Scottish independence.

Questions have been raised about the impact of these additional trade barriers between Scotland and UK, and according to research for the Scottish Chambers of Commerce conducted ahead of the 2014 independence referendum, one in five businesses would consider leaving Scotland if it were to go independent. If this came true and some businesses were to move their operations out of Scotland to avoid trade barriers, then 21% of current Yes voters would oppose Scotland becoming independent. The prospect of decreased exports to the rest of the UK has less of an impact with only 15% opposing Scottish independence.

The prospect of re-joining the EU is a draw towards backing independence for some current No voters

In the 2016 EU referendum a large majority of Scots (62%) voted to remain in the EU. One possibility that may be open to Scotland if they were to go independent is re-joining the EU, something that Nicola Sturgeon has committed to. This is the largest draw of independence for current No voters, with 14% saying they would support independence if it meant Scotland would be able to re-join the EU.

One implication of re-joining the EU, however, could be the imposition of border checks on the Anglo-Scottish border to regulate trade between the EU and the UK, as has been a contentious issue in Northern Ireland. If these were to be imposed, 16% of current Yes voters would oppose Scottish independence.

Scotland’s continued representation on the global stage is not up for debate for many Yes voters

The biggest dealbreaker of all for current Yes voters though is the prospect of Scotland no longer being represented in international bodies and groups such as the UN, G7 and NATO. A quarter (26%) of current Yes voters would oppose independence in this case. However Nicola Sturgeon has committed to re-joining NATO if Scotland becomes independent.

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