Report finds support for independence linked to EU backing

8 June 2018, 06:34

The Saltire and Union Flag

Support for Scottish independence has become more closely linked with support for the European Union (EU), according to a new report.

While people's views on Europe made no difference to their stance on leaving the UK prior to the Brexit vote, the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) research found so-called Europhiles are now more likely to back independence than so-called Eurosceptics.

With the majority of Scots identified by researchers as Eurosceptics, emerging alignment between the two causes cost the SNP support in the 2017 general election, the report found.

Nicola Sturgeon's party lost 21 of its 56 Westminster seats, losing ground to the Scottish Conservatives, who gained support among those opposed to the EU.

The First Minister and SNP leader backed Remain and announced a second independence ballot was "highly likely" after Scots voted 62% to 38% in favour of staying in the EU in the 2016 referendum.

Despite the result, the report's authors categorised 58% of Scots as Eurosceptics - those who back Brexit or a reduction in EU powers - and 37% as Europhiles - those who believe the UK should remain in the EU - based on survey answers.

Their research, based on the latest British Social Attitudes survey which included 1,234 Scots, states that before the EU referendum, people's views on Europe had made no difference to their chances of supporting leaving the UK, with the proportion at about 40% for both camps in 2015.

However, since the Brexit vote, support for independence among Europhiles has increased to 56%, significantly higher than the level of support among Eurosceptics, at 40%.

While one in three Yes supporters held a preference for Scottish independence outside the EU in 2013, the proportion slipped to one in four by 2016.

The research also found support for the SNP largely held up among Europhiles in 2017, slipping only slightly from 49% in 2015 to 47%, but fell markedly among Eurosceptics, dropping from 51% to 36%.

Meanwhile, the EU divide played a role in the 2017 Conservative revival in Scotland which saw the party gain 12 Westminster seats, with support among Eurosceptics rising by 14 percentage points to 28%.

Elsewhere, the research shows that 41% of Scots now believe the economy would be made better by leaving the UK, compared with 26% of people in 2014, while 49% think the country's voice would be made stronger in the world, compared with 33% in 2014.

Levels of optimism for both the economy and Scotland's standing under independence are markedly higher among Europhiles.

Sir John Curtice, senior research fellow at NatCen, said: "Nicola Sturgeon anticipated that Brexit would increase support for independence.

"Instead, Brexit has made both independence and the SNP relatively less popular among those Scots who are not very enthusiastic about the EU, even if they did vote to Remain.

"So far there has been a tendency to presume that the fall in SNP support in the 2017 election simply represented a rejection of the party's plans for a second independence referendum.

"Our research suggests that it was also occasioned by a dislike of its pro-EU stance among some of former SNP voters.

"Meanwhile, far from simply winning votes as a result of her opposition to a second independence referendum, Ruth Davidson appears to have profited from a swing among Leave voters.

"That leaves Ms Davidson with an electorate whose views on Europe are in many cases strikingly different from her own."