Support for Scottish independence rises due to Brexit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 February, 2017, 2:41am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 February, 2017, 2:41am

Support for Scottish independence has risen since British Prime Minister Theresa May came out last month in favour of Britain making a clean break with the European Union when it leaves the bloc, an opinion poll showed on Wednesday.

The poll still showed a slim majority opposed to independence, but the ruling Scottish Nationalist Party said the fact that almost half those asked said they supported secession indicated that sentiment was shifting and could embolden calls for a new vote.

In 2014, Scots voted roughly 55 per cent to 45 per cent to remain in the United Kingdom. But last year’s Britain-wide vote to leave the EU changed the landscape because a majority of Scots backed staying in the EU.

The pro-EU SNP, the biggest party in Scotland’s parliament, has said that there should be another independence vote if its views on Brexit are rejected. May has repeatedly said she sees no need for one.

A majority of those asked in the BMG survey, 51 per cent, still opposed independence, the survey showed, but that number fell by three and a half points while the number supporting secession rose by the same amount, to 49 per cent.

The proportions were calculated after “don’t know” votes were removed in the survey of 1,067 Scottish residents, which was conducted for the Herald Scotland newspaper. Without removing the “don’t knows”, the proportions were 43 per cent for independence vs 45 per cent against.

A demand for a second independence referendum from Scotland’s devolved government would throw the United Kingdom into a constitutional crisis just as PM May seeks to negotiate the terms of the Brexit divorce with the EU’s 27 other members.

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The opinion poll findings indicate pro-independence sentiment is not yet strong enough to guarantee the success of such a vote, but the SNP said it showed Scots did not like May’s plan to quit the EU’s single market when it leaves the bloc.

Derek Mackay, a member of the Scottish parliament and SNP Business Convener, said if May continued pursuing what her critics call a “hard Brexit ”then more and more people will see independence as the option delivering certainty and stability.“

Michael Turner, head of polling at BMG Research said currently only 59 per cent of SNP supporters wanted a referendum before Brexit negotiations were completed, which might reflect caution that any ballot arranged too hastily might be lost.

“Although support for independence has risen, in some respects, it’s hypothetical still,” BMG’s Turner said, nevertheless adding that in statistical terms, the move in opinion was genuine.

“It is a small but significant shift towards independence.”

Scotland has a population of around 5.3 million, according to the last census, slightly more than 8 per cent of the United Kingdom’s population as a whole. It was an independent kingdom until joining England in the Act of Union in 1707.