Good news for the independence movement as "Yes" vote holds firm

Recent polling shows support for ‘Yes’ to independence is holding steady at 48%, even as the SNP as a political party has lost some ground. It is good news for the independence movement - although it means that independence support is not as closely linked to SNP support as it used to be. 

That raises questions - is this a blip or a longer-term trend? What strategic challenges does it present to the independence movement?

Independence is not the property of any party

The main conclusion has to be that we can’t leave independence to the SNP or to any political party. In the end, it is the people of Scotland who will have to roll up our sleeves and campaign for a better future. 

The determination of the wider Yes movement to deliver independence should be even stronger - we have never been closer to winning independence for Scotland. 

The best way for the SNP to help would be to sort out their issues quickly and fight the next Westminster General Election as a de facto referendum. 

Yes supporters are looking at the bigger picture

‘Yes’ support remains strong because people are looking at the bigger picture. They wish to reject UK rule and believe that Scotland is able to rule itself in a fair and democratic way. The country is rich in resources and keen to get back into the EU to grow the economy and deliver a better standard of living. 

All the publicity about the investigation into the SNP’s finances - where nobody has been charged with any offence so far - is not persuading people that they want to stay under the rule of Westminster. 

Scotland’s solid Yes is a riposte to Unionist hubris

Unionist commentators have been quick to proclaim that the independence campaign is over. “The Nicola Sturgeon Fall-out and the SNP Death Spiral” - the Times Scotland reported recently; “Bickering, Infighting SNP Looks Like a Party in its Death Throes” - the Telegraph; “Sturgeon’s Independence Dream Now Dead in Water” - the Scottish Daily Express. 

But the polling doesn’t bear this out. People are not moving to the Unionist camp - although they are less likely to support the SNP as a political party. 

Gap between support for independence and the SNP widens

The gap between support for Scottish independence and the SNP has now widened to 9%, according to Professor John Curtice’s analysis last week [April 11] in: “What Scotland Thinks”. 

Polling for Believe in Scotland earlier this year suggests that one way to narrow this gap at the next Westminster election is to fight it as a de facto referendum - doing that reduces the number of seats at risk of falling to Labour from nine to four. 

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, the founder of Believe in Scotland, said:

“Even with the chaos surrounding the SNP right now, there is still good news for the wider Yes movement. Despite SNP support wobbling - 48% public support for independence seems to be hard-wired. Given the Unionist politicians and media had been confidently predicting the end of independence the fact that almost half of Scotland is solid Yes must be absolutely terrifying.”

The SNP needs to sort out its issues

MacIntyre-Kemp said: “Humza Yousaf has a huge task on his hands and his SNP needs to do three key things better than in the Sturgeon era.

“First, he has to sort out the SNP’s structure and organisation. It needs a root and branch reengineering of the party to make it more member democratic, which means empowering a REAL National Executive Committee. 

“Secondly, he needs to make the party far more transparent, financially (obviously) and far more approachable to the organisers of the wider Yes movement who are sick of being treated with disdain.

Focus on independence with a de facto referendum

“Finally, he has to set a target date for the Yes movement as a whole to motivate activists, get them campaigning and drive Yes support up. Biting that bullet will be hard in the current circumstances but he simply cannot go past the next General Election without making it a singular clarion call for independence. If he doesn’t, Believe in Scotland’s polling suggests Labour will take as many as 10 Scottish seats and if they do that, they will claim it as a mandate to block independence for a generation.

“If Humza gets this right he will be in a hugely powerful position and will have his opportunity to deliver independence. If he gets it wrong, he will find out, just as Alex and Nicola did before, that despite everything else they achieve, an SNP leader must deliver independence or their career ends in failure.

“The tactical advantage that fighting the next GE as a de facto referendum has, is that it means the SNP can target its resources into fewer high-risk seats. If they get the party issues sorted and the policies right then they can stop Labour's wave at the border and begin the process of Scotland becoming an independent nation.”

A de facto referendum will mobilise the Yes movement

A decline in support for the SNP is not the same as a rise in support for the Union. The Labour Party’s pitch that long periods of Conservative rule are a price worth paying to stay in the UK has worn thin. 

The Labour Party promises to read every vote for Labour as a vote against Scottish independence. However many seats they win over the one they currently hold, they will claim that as a mandate to block independence for Scotland. 

People are looking at the bigger picture. The political landscape of Scotland will change after independence. But we have to get there first.

The best way to get independence supporters out chapping on doors and campaigning for the SNP in the 2024 general election is to fight it on a single issue - independence. The data confirms the view of many in the Yes campaign that now is the time to press harder. Avoiding the issue and fighting the next general election on the usual range of UK political issues risks handing many seats to the Labour Party and allowing them to claim a mandate for blocking independence for a generation. 


Appendix: Poll results

In a poll which Business for Scotland commissioned from Panelbase in February, there was a striking difference in the number of seats at risk in the next Westminster General Election according to whether or not it is held as a de facto referendum. The details are below. 

Panelbase for BiS: 2,006 Respondents - Feb 6th - 13th 2023.

Predicted Seat Changes- General Election

This table shows how Westminster votes and seats will change if a regular General Election were held tomorrow. 

Note: Total number of Scottish Westminster seats is set to reduce from 59 to 57 in 2023 due to the redrawing of electoral boundaries. 


Seat 2019 MP From: To:
Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine Andrew Bowie CON SNP
Airdrie Neil Gray SNP LAB
Coatbridge and Bellshill Steven Bonnar SNP LAB
East Lothian and Lammermuirs Kenny MacAskill SNP LAB
Glasgow North Patrick Grady SNP LAB
Glasgow North East Anne McLaughlin SNP LAB
Glasgow South West Chris Stephens SNP LAB
Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath Neale Hanvey SNP LAB
Midlothian Owen Thompson SNP LAB
Rutherglen Margaret Ferrier  SNP LAB


Predicted Seat Changes- Defacto Independence Referendum

The table is the same as above but reflects how people surveyed would vote if the next UK General Election was run as a de facto referendum. You can see here that the SNP lose less seats than they would if the General Election was run as normal. 


Seat 2019 MP From: To:
East Lothian and Lammermuirs Kenny MacAskill SNP LAB
Glasgow North East Anne McLaughlin SNP LAB
Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath Neale Hanvey SNP LAB
Midlothian Owen Thompson SNP LAB


By Jackie Kemp