INDEPENDENCE is now backed by half of voters in Scotland with support for the nation becoming autonomous five points higher than in the September 2014 referendum.

The dramatic result in a poll published yesterday came as Nicola Sturgeon said autumn 2018 would be “the common sense time” for a new plebiscite if Theresa May rejects a bespoke Brexit deal for Scotland.

It also coincides with the Prime Minister preparing to trigger Article 50 this month, formally beginning the Brexit process.

A report by Fraser of Allander Institute has warned leaving the European single market would cost Scotland up to 80,000 jobs, reduce wages by £2000 and substantially cut public spending.

The result of the Brexit vote in June 2016 — with Scotland voting to remain while the UK opted to leave — prompted the First Minister to warn another ballot on independence was “highly likely”.

In a interview broadcast on the BBC last night, she appeared to give credence to a forecast by Alex Salmond that a new referendum may be held in Autumn next year.

Asked if she agreed with that timing, she said: “Within that window...when the outline of a UK deal becomes clear on the UK exiting the EU, I think would be the common sense time for Scotland to have that choice — if that is the road we choose to go down. I’m not ruling anything out.”

Maggie Chapman, co-convener of the Scottish Greens, said more Scots were backing Yes “given the choice being presented” to them by Westminster.

She added: “One of those choices is the angry, isolated Britain planned by the Tories that will cost Scotland 80,000 jobs and a £2,000 drop in average wages. The other, and increasingly popular, alternative is one independent from Westminster that puts Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands.”

A total of 1029 Scots aged 16 and above took part in the survey, carried out by Ipsos MORI for STV News, with the fieldwork done between February 24 and March 6.

Four days before the research period ended May addressed the Scottish Conservative conference in Glasgow where she spoke of rewriting the devolution settlement after Brexit, holding onto some powers at Westminster in devolved areas.

The poll found among those who expressed an opinion and who were certain to take part if a second referendum was held, half would vote for Scotland to become an autonomous nation while half would vote to remain in the UK. When those who were not certain if they would vote were included, the research showed a slim majority for staying in the United Kingdom, with voters split 51 per cent to 49 per cent.

More than half of those questioned — 52 per cent — backed the idea of a second referendum being held across the UK when the Brexit deal is completed. Reports have suggested an outline Brexit deal should be done by Autumn 2018.

Yesterday’s poll also suggested up to 44 per cent of voters may currently be open to persuasion by either side. On a scale of one to 10, 28 per cent said they “completely support Scotland becoming independent” while 38 per cent said they “completely support Scotland staying part of the UK”. The poll also found 52 per cent of those questioned believe Sturgeon is doing a “good job representing Scotland’s interests in the process of the UK leaving the EU”, while just 24 per cent said May is doing so.

If Scotland does become independent, almost half (48 per cent) said it should be a full member of the EU while a further 27 per cent were in favour of the country having full access to the single market without being a member of the EU. Less than a fifth (17 per cent) said an independent Scotland should not be in either the EU or have access to the single market.

Mark Diffley, Ipsos MORI Scotland director, said: “In the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum vote last June there was an increase in support for independence, which ebbed away later in the year. This poll suggests some modest movement back towards independence since we last measured opinion six months ago.

“It will certainly provide the SNP with a lift ahead of their spring conference in Aberdeen next week.”

SNP business convener Derek Mackay said: “It is no surprise that more and more people in Scotland are supporting independence – we are being driven ever closer towards an economically catastrophic hard Brexit by a right-wing Tory government who think they can do what they want to Scotland and get away with it....If the Tories’ hard Brexit obsession continues, the trend seen in this poll is only set to continue once Theresa May triggers Article 50.”

Meanwhile, among those who are certain to vote in May’s Scottish council elections, 46 per cent said they would back the SNP, with the Conservatives coming in second place with 19 per cent support, ahead of Labour on 17 per cent, the Greens on eight per cent and the Liberal Democrats on six per cent. Ukip polled just three per cent.



WITH the First Minister seemingly very close to launching a push for a second independence referendum next year, the new Ipsos MORI telephone poll is a timely reminder of how astonishingly far the Yes movement has come over the last three years.

Telephone polls are more expensive and much rarer than online polls, so it’s easy to get caught in an online trance and conclude that current polling is only moderately better for Yes than what we often saw during 2013 and 2014.

But the flip-side of the coin through most of the first indyref campaign was that telephone polls tended to portray an almost hopeless picture. Until the summer of 2014, the quarterly Ipsos MORI telephone polls for STV consistently placed the Yes campaign well below 40 per cent, even after Don’t Knows were excluded.

The nadir was reached in the spring of 2013, approximately eighteen months before the referendum (perhaps the same distance we presently find ourselves from indyref2), when No were reported as having a greater than 2-1 advantage.

Bearing that precedent in mind, the fact that the first telephone poll of 2017 suggests a dead-heat between Yes and No, and a higher Yes vote than any online poll has reported since the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum, is undeniable proof of a breathtaking transformation. By all accounts, the original Better Together campaign reassured itself with the belief that telephone polling was more accurate than online polling, and that No therefore probably enjoyed a more impressive lead than many polls (typically online polls) were indicating.

The outcome of the Brexit vote unexpectedly cast doubt on the old assumptions of telephone superiority, but that no longer seems to matter very much as far as independence is concerned. Regardless of data collection method, all recent polls agree that Yes will start a new referendum firmly in the hunt – thus depriving any new No campaign of its predecessor’s comfort blanket.

A first 50 per cent showing for Yes since last summer also raises the obvious question of whether there has been genuine movement in public opinion over the last few weeks, perhaps caused by Theresa May’s confirmation that Britain will leave the European single market. On the face of it, Ipsos MORI appear to be providing a degree of corroboration for the sensational BMG poll a few weeks ago which saw the Yes vote surge to 49 per cent. However, the jury is still out, because in between those two polls was a Panelbase poll which reported that Yes had failed to break out of its recent normal range. If the next poll from any firm suggests a Yes vote of 49 per cent or higher, that would tip the balance of probability firmly in favour of real change on the ground having occurred.

Aside from conducting independence polls by telephone, Ipsos MORI also differ from most of their competitors in that they do not routinely ask how their respondents voted on Brexit. However, in this poll a question was asked about the relationship an independent Scotland should have with Europe, which found that, excluding Don’t Knows, an outright majority of respondents favour full EU membership. Superficially that would appear to give the green light to Nicola Sturgeon to embark upon a full-throttle pro-European Yes campaign.

And yet we know from other polls that pro-European No voters from 2014 have thus far proved remarkably resistant to making the jump to Yes, giving rise to a theory in some quarters that Sturgeon should instead hedge her bets and offer a little hope to wavering independence supporters who passionately want to leave the EU.