Plurality of British Public Think Scotland is Likely to Leave the UK within the Next Ten Years

August 24, 2020
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The UK Government is becoming increasingly concerned about the future of the Union with respect to Scotland. In an attempt to counter the pro-independence narrative and highlight how much Scotland has relied on UK Government support during the coronavirus crisis, four UK ministers (including both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor) have visited Scotland in the last month.

In our latest GB-wide poll, a strong plurality (46%) of respondents believe it is likely that Scotland will leave the UK within the next ten years. Only around a quarter (26%) say it is unlikely, while 27% don’t know. 2019 Conservative voters are evenly split; 37% think it is likely, while a further 37% state it is unlikely. A clear majority (56%) of 2019 Labour voters think it is likely that Scotland will leave the UK within the next ten years. Although the Scottish sample size is limited (an important caveat), a majority (52%) of Scottish respondents think Scotland will leave the UK within a decade. 

In the 2014 Scotland Independence Referendum, 55% of Scots voted ‘No’ to independence. The First Minister and Leader of the SNP at the time argued that the referendum was a “once in a generation opportunity,” yet pro-independence figures now argue that a new referendum is justified, as they believe the situation has changed substantially since 2014. In particular, the United Kingdom as a whole voted to leave the European Union in 2016, whereas 62% of Scots voted to remain.

At this stage, however, a plurality (41%) of respondents across Great Britain would not support holding a referendum on Scottish independence in the near future (i.e. within the next four years). On the other hand, slightly over a third (37%) would support a second referendum on Scottish independence being held in the next four years. 

A notably greater proportion of people aged 18-to-24 (48%) and 25-to-33 (46%) would approve of a second Scottish referendum compared to respondents who are 55-to-64 years old (33%) or aged 65 and older (28%). Just 28% of 18-24-year olds and 36% of 25-34-year olds think there should not be a referendum, in contrast to 47% of 55-64-year olds and 55% of those 65 years or older. Half (50%) of Scots would support a referendum on independence within the next four years, although once again it is important to be cautious of the subsample size for Scottish respondents. 

In January, Boris Johnson rejected Nicola Sturgeon’s request to grant Scotland powers to hold an independence vote, stating that “the Scottish people voted decisively to keep our United Kingdom together.” Notably, a majority (54%) of 2019 Conservative voters believe that there should not be a referendum on Scottish independence in the near future, while just 27% think that there should be. In contrast, a strong plurality (47%) of 2019 Labour supporters believe there should be a referendum on Scottish independence within the next few years. 

Overall, a clear plurality (46%) of respondents do not think that Scotland should be an independent country compared to around a third (34%) who think Scotland should be independent. Although the sample size was small, a clear plurality (48%) of Scottish respondents think Scotland should be independent, yet 40% do not think the country should be independent, and 12% don’t know. Intriguingly, London respondents expressed higher support for Scottish independence than other areas, with a plurality (39%) saying they are in favour.   

A clear majority (57%) of those who voted Conservative in 2019 do not think Scotland should be an independent country. In contrast, Labour supporters from the last General Election are evenly divided: 39% think Scotland should be independent, while 39% do not think it should. Furthermore, a clear plurality of 25-to-34-year olds (46%) and 35-to-44-year olds (44%) support Scottish independence. 

Significant support for Scottish independence among certain demographics in the UK may be linked to the relatively high approval ratings of the Leader of the Scottish National Party, and First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, who has pushed Scottish independence since 2012. Overall, 45% of respondents across Great Britain approve of Sturgeon’s overall job performance, in contrast to just 23% who disapprove. Sturgeon’s net approval rating of +22% is therefore greater than both the major party leaders 

Among those who do not believe Scotland should be an independent country, a majority (52%) believe that the Scottish Government would be primarily to blame if the country became independent. A quarter (25%) think the current UK Government would be at fault, while 10% would blame a previous Government administration. Responses to this question are strongly influenced by partisan bias; almost two thirds (65%) of 2019 Conservative voters think the Scottish Government would be to blame, while just 14% think the current UK Government would be at fault. In contrast, a plurality (43%) of 2019 Labour supporters think that the current UK Government would be to blame. 

Unlike the other three nations of the UK, England does not have a devolved parliament. Therefore, decisions relating solely to English matters are currently agreed upon in the House of Commons, which also includes MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. To address this issue, 40% of British people would support the creation of an English Parliament, while just 14% would oppose. Over a third (34%) of respondents would neither support nor oppose the creation of an English Parliament, while a further 12% don’t know, which is perhaps indicative of the limited degree of public debate on the issue of English devolution. 

A plurality of all age groups would support the creation of an English Parliament. Moreover, a plurality of respondents from all regions of England favour the creation of an English Parliament. There is bi-partisan agreement on the issue: a clear plurality of Conservative and Labour voters from 2019 support the idea of a Parliament for England. Conservatives are especially in favour, with a majority (51%) supporting the idea, compared to just 11% who oppose. 

During the recent Labour Party leadership campaign, Keir Starmer called for the party to commit to a fully federal UK, devolving power to the nations and regions of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Our poll finds that a slight plurality (33%) of respondents across Great Britain support the idea of the UK switching to a federal system, yet 29% actively oppose the concept. Moreover, a significant minority (26%) neither support nor oppose federalisation and a further 12% don’t know, which may indicate that the public are not particularly familiar with the benefits and drawbacks of such a switch. There has been no significant shift in public opinion on a potential federalisation of the UK since we polled this issue on July 15. Back then, 35% supported the possibility of federalisation, whereas 31% opposed and 24% neither supported nor opposed. 

Federalisation is much more popular with younger people: 44% of 18-to-24-year olds, 51% of 25-to-34-year olds, and 45% of 35-to-44-year olds support the various regions of the UK becoming equal states with their own parliaments under a federal UK Government. In contrast, almost half (49%) of people aged 65 or above oppose the idea. Conservatives are relatively split: 32% support while 39% oppose. Among Labour supporters, 48% support and a fifth (20%) oppose. 

Ultimately, a plurality of respondents in Great Britain continue to oppose Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom. Although the British public is strongly divided on whether the Scottish Government should be granted the opportunity to hold a referendum in the next four years, a plurality of respondents also believes that independence within the next ten years is more likely than unlikely. While federalisation has been promoted as a ‘third way’ between nationalism and unionism, only a third support the concept at this stage.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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