One of the most unfortunate things about the Scottish media’s coverage of the independence debate is the persistent portrayal of the Yes campaign as nothing more than a figleaf concealing the SNP. Recently we’ve pointed out the unwillingness of the press to acknowledge information that’s already in clear public view with regard to the demographic make-up of the pro-independence movement, even while making great play of the alleged comparative broadness of the No side.
So we decided to conduct our own poll, just out of curiosity, on a dozen random topics. With just shy of 1000 respondents it’s a respectable sample size, and while of course it isn’t scientific (being self-selecting) it wasn’t aiming to be. The large majority of this site’s readership is of the nationalist persuasion – for want of a better term, at least – so we weren’t trying to take a snapshot of all Scotland, but rather one specifically of the Yes movement. The results were pretty interesting.
On the monarchy
- Have a referendum after the death of the current Queen (41%, 400 Votes)
- Become a republic after the death of the current Queen (17%, 164 Votes)
- Become a republic immediately (17%, 163 Votes)
- Have a referendum immediately (14%, 133 Votes)
- Keep the monarchy (11%, 105 Votes)
Total Voters: 965
The first subject we picked immediately showed opinion significantly at odds with SNP policy. Only 11% backed the party’s current stance of retaining the monarchy indefinitely, with just over 50% favouring a referendum either right away or – the most popular choice – after the death of the current Queen. Just over a third wanted an independent Scotland to become a republic without having a referendum, split evenly between on Day One of independence and after the death of Elizabeth I.
On membership of NATO
- Remain in NATO conditional on removal of nuclear weapons (71%, 676 Votes)
- Withdraw from NATO (18%, 170 Votes)
- Remain in NATO (11%, 103 Votes)
Total Voters: 949
The second question, though, delivered a result strongly in line with the SNP’s view. When the party debated the subject at its autumn conference last year, many of those who spoke passionately against changing its policy towards NATO cast doubt on opinion polls that suggested leaving the military alliance was a major vote-loser. Our survey suggests they were wrong, with just 18% of respondents wishing to withdraw from the Organisation.
Even among campaigners for independence, it appears that public support for NATO is indeed very strong – providing Scotland dispenses with the UK’s weapons of mass destruction. (As we’d have to anyway under non-proliferation treaties.)
On defence spending
- Spend a similar proportion to comparable countries (c. £1.6bn a year) (54%, 520 Votes)
- Spend the SNP's proposed amount (c. £2.5bn a year) (35%, 336 Votes)
- Spend less than £1.6bn a year (6%, 55 Votes)
- Spend the same as we do now (c. £3.3bn a year) (4%, 41 Votes)
- Spend more than we do now (0%, 4 Votes)
Total Voters: 956
On the broader issue of defence spending, however, readers once again diverged significantly from the SNP view. At the same conference the party committed to a substantial defence budget of £2.5bn a year, but our survey found that most people considered that far too high.
Fully 60% wanted to spend either a similar proportion of national income to comparable small countries – which would mean almost a billion pounds a year less than the SNP’s proposals – or an even lower sum. Just over a third backed the SNP figure, with a mere 5% wanting to maintain current UK levels of expenditure or more.
On foreign-aid spending
- Spend 1% of GDP on foreign aid (c. £1.5bn a year) (40%, 377 Votes)
- Spend roughly what we do now (c. £1bn a year) (37%, 347 Votes)
- Spend less than we do now (15%, 140 Votes)
- Spend more than 1% (5%, 49 Votes)
- Spend nothing (3%, 30 Votes)
Total Voters: 943
The SNP managed to just squeak a plurality of support for its recently-announced plans to significantly increase an independent Scotland’s foreign-aid budget, but couldn’t get majority backing even by including those who wanted higher spending still. A margin of just 3% separated those who backed the increase with those who wanted to keep spending broadly the same as it is now, and a substantial minority – 18% – wanted aid lowered or even abolished, undermining the common allegation from opponents, particularly on the Tory end of Unionism, that the independence movement is dominated by tree-hugging lefties. (If the NATO vote hadn’t done so already.)
On EU membership
- Remain in the EU (56%, 534 Votes)
- Leave the EU, join EFTA (40%, 378 Votes)
- Leave the EU, stand alone (4%, 36 Votes)
Total Voters: 948
The results on EU membership were among the most intriguing. Despite recent claims by commentators that Scots are almost as Eurosceptic as their English neighbours, a colossal 96% of respondents wished to stay in some form of continental union. The EU was the most popular option, and secured an overall majority, but a hefty 40% preferred the smaller EFTA.
- Have our own currency (58%, 543 Votes)
- Keep Sterling indefinitely (27%, 253 Votes)
- Adopt the Euro as soon as feasible (14%, 134 Votes)
Total Voters: 930
On a related subject our poll was once more at odds with SNP policy, preferring by over two-to-one the notion of a distinct Scottish currency to the SNP’s plans to retain Sterling for an unspecified period. A small but perhaps still surprisingly sizeable minority – 15% – wanted to go straight into the Euro despite its current difficulties.
On higher education funding
- Continue free tuition for all (88%, 837 Votes)
- Free tuition for some, means-tested (8%, 76 Votes)
- Some sort of graduate tax for all (3%, 31 Votes)
- Tuition fees for all (0%, 3 Votes)
Total Voters: 947
On the next topic, though, our survey was again back fully behind Alex Salmond’s party, with an overwhelming majority supporting free university tuition. As polls often show the policy to be a more divisive one among the general electorate than we might like to belief, the level of support – a crushing 88% – was perhaps unexpected. Johann Lamont’s suggestion of a graduate tax attracted just 3% of opinion.
On local taxation
- Local Income Tax, set nationally (36%, 328 Votes)
- Local Income Tax, set locally (31%, 283 Votes)
- Land Value Tax (19%, 175 Votes)
- Keep the Council Tax (11%, 102 Votes)
- Other (3%, 32 Votes)
Total Voters: 920
There was far less consensus on local taxation. The SNP doesn’t actually have an official position on a Council Tax replacement at the moment, but its previous policy of a nationally-set local income tax again won a narrow plurality of support, just ahead of the locally-set variant backed by the Lib Dems. A significant minority preferred the Green alternative of a Land Value Tax – and would perhaps have been higher had the option been discussed in more detail in the media – while the current arrangement for financing local government was the least popular. (And would probably have been even less so had it not been frozen for the last six years.)
On general taxation
- Higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for better public services (47%, 436 Votes)
- Higher taxes on EVERYONE to pay for better public services (29%, 269 Votes)
- More or less the current tax structure (18%, 167 Votes)
- Lower taxes - people pay for the services they want/use (6%, 56 Votes)
Total Voters: 928
General taxation is another area where none of the parties of the Scottish Parliament have explicit policy positions. The Greens are most open about seeking an increase in taxation, while the Tories are the only ones to have called for a reduction in the basic rate of income tax. Our respondents’ view was unequivocally behind the former – almost half wanted taxes on the wealthy hiked, while just under 30% were prepared to have everyone pay more to fund services. Less than a quarter wanted taxes kept at current levels or cut. We suspect this is another area where Scottish opinion differs greatly from that south of the border.
On universal health services (tick up to 5 boxes)
- Keep free personal care for the elderly (94%, 876 Votes)
- Keep free prescription charges (94%, 875 Votes)
- Keep free eye tests (93%, 864 Votes)
- Keep free dental check-ups (92%, 860 Votes)
- Keep free bus travel for the elderly (90%, 838 Votes)
- Means-test some or all of the above (8%, 70 Votes)
- Cancel all of the above (0%, 3 Votes)
Total Voters: 931
Johann Lamont took another kicking here, with an absolutely overwhelming majority of our sample backing the SNP’s policy of retention of all universal health services, and just 8% being prepared to support Lamont’s call for means-testing and “targetting”. We’ll be fascinated to see if Scottish Labour’s “cuts commission” sticks to its guns in the run-up to the referendum.
On land ownership
- Give rural communities the right to buy their land (95%, 877 Votes)
- Landowners retain all rights to their land (5%, 42 Votes)
Total Voters: 919
Land ownership is a minority-interest subject if the Scottish media is to be believed, which may or may not be due to opinion being enormously one-sided in favour of rural communities and against absentee “lairds”. To be honest, in hindsight we don’t know enough about it ourselves to be able to offer any useful analysis, and probably shouldn’t have included it in the poll. Sorry.
- I am entirely ambivalent about Berwick (65%, 597 Votes)
- Demand return of Berwick to Scotland (30%, 274 Votes)
- England can keep Berwick (6%, 52 Votes)
Total Voters: 923
And finally, our light-hearted final question revealed that almost two-thirds of respondents had no strong opinions about Berwick-upon-Tweed, with most commenters believing that the citizens of the border-straddling settlement should be given the opportunity to choose its own fate. A hefty 30% will be growling menacingly outside the town walls, however.
So that’s our poll. It revealed that from our sample of almost 1000 mostly pro-independence respondents, there was clear agreement with the SNP on just three out of 12 subjects, clear opposition on three others and a pretty even split of opinion on a further three (with the last three being largely non-party-political).
With all the usual disclaimers about the non-professional methodology of the survey, it does at least seem to present a fairly compelling case that the SNP is NOT the Yes movement. The supporters of independence are variously green on taxation, orange on local-government funding, blue on NATO, red on the monarchy and yellow-and-black on universal services.
We’ve noted before that the referendum will not be split on party lines, but it’s an argument the mainstream media and much of the blogosphere is still strongly and dismayingly resistant to. We hope 2013 sees a less tribal and more rational approach to the debate, but we’re not holding our breath.