Six successive polls had shown a lead for Yes in an apparent boost for the SNP in the wake of last month’s court judgement. However, an exclusive poll by Savanta for The Scotsman demonstrates the public is still split almost 50/50 on the issue, with a marginal lead for those against independence.
In a blow to independence supporters, the survey shows a switch back to No by the public. A total of 46 per cent of those polled said they would vote no in another independence referendum, compared to 44 per cent voting yes and 9 per cent saying they don’t know.
With undecided removed, this would see a split of 51 per cent versus 49 per cent in favour of No at any vote. It is the same figure as the previous poll in this series carried out in October.
The poll, undertaken between December 16 and 21, interviewed 1,048 Scottish adults aged 16 or over online.
Support for an independence referendum has dropped slightly, but remains at 45 per cent in favour and 48 per cent against. There is also a negative shift in the number of people who believe the case for independence is stronger now than in 2014, down three points to 41 per cent when compared to October’s figures.
In the form of an unwelcome early Christmas present for the SNP, the poll also suggests the party would lose a ‘de-facto’ referendum at the next general election if it fought that election on the single issue of Scottish independence.
The poll shows a three-point drop in the support for the SNP at the general election, down to 43 per cent, but still well ahead of Labour on 30 per cent (unchanged) following the defenestration of Ian Blackford from the Westminster leadership role.
Behind Labour sit the Conservatives on 19 per cent, up four points in a significant boost to their fortunes in Scotland. The Liberal Democrats are down one point on 6 per cent.
However, this picture is worse for the SNP if they fight the election as a ‘de-facto’ referendum, albeit marginally. The SNP would only poll 37 per cent in such an election, rising to 42 per cent with undecideds excluded.
This is in comparison to 27 per cent rising to 30 per cent for Labour, 18 per cent rising to 20 per cent for the Tories, and 5 per cent rising to 6 per cent for the Liberal Democrats.
However, around one in eight Labour voters state they would be “more likely” to vote for the SNP if it resulted in Scotland leaving the UK, with 3 per cent of Tory voters agreeing. This is in comparison to 11 per cent of SNP voters saying this would make them less likely to vote for the party.
It is also the first poll to ask voters whether they agree with the SNP’s rhetoric around the Supreme Court decision suggesting the UK Government is “denying democracy” by blocking a second independence referendum, and that it should set out a democratic route for independence.
Voters are split on constitutional lines on both. However, a quarter (24 per cent) of Labour voters and 7 per cent of Tory voters agree the UK Government is “denying democracy” by blocking indyref2. A total of 14 per cent of SNP voters said they did not agree with the claim.
Overall, the split is 45 per cent agreeing with the statement, 41 per cent disagreeing, and 14 per cent stating they did not know.
In terms of whether the UK Government should set a route for independence, voters are split 42 per cent in favour and 42 per cent against, with 15 per cent stating they do not know.
However, there is more cross-party support for this, with one in five (20 per cent) of Tory voters, one in three Labour voters (31 per cent), and two in three SNP voters (61 per cent) stating this should happen. One in three (29 per cent) of SNP voters do not believe a route should be set out by the UK Government, however.
In Holyrood, the SNP's support has also taken a hit and is down three points to 44 per cent on the constituency vote, with Scottish Labour up three points to 28 per cent and the Scottish Conservatives up one point to 18 per cent. The Liberal Democrats are unchanged on 8 per cent.
In the list vote, the SNP is unchanged on 32 per cent, Labour are down two points to 24 per cent, the Conservatives down one to 18 per cent, with the Greens unchanged on 13 per cent and the Scottish Liberal Democrats up two points to 10 per cent. Other parties receive a further 2 per cent of the vote, down one point.
Chris Hopkins, the political research director at Savanta, said despite the drop in support, the SNP were still in a “good position”. But he pointed to the potential of “Nicola Sturgeon fatigue” as an explanation for wider trends.
The First Minister saw a six-point drop in her favourability rating, down to a net favourability rating of six, but still remains the most popular politician in Scotland. However, she also saw a drop of nine points around whether she is considered “genuine” by voters.
Mr Hopkins said: “Many pollsters have shown Yes leads recently, but the bulk of them, especially the larger ones, have come off the back of the Supreme Court ruling, a ruling which is likely to have made polling a little noisy and more volatile than usual. Now the dust has settled, we’re showing no change from our previous poll at the beginning of October, showing the most marginal of No leads, but, really, the race would be too close to call were a referendum tomorrow.
“This remains a good position for the SNP and the Yes camp to be in. Given views across Scotland are so entrenched on the issue of independence, I can only really foresee an actual referendum campaign moving the needle and swinging the pendulum the way of whoever makes the more convincing argument between unionists and those advocating for Scottish independence. What remains, then, is the issue of if – or when – a second referendum could possibly take place.
“There is also a sense, in this poll, of some Nicola Sturgeon fatigue. We see the SNP down three points in the Westminster and Holyrood voting intentions, and some negative shifts in her personal favourability and perceptions of her as genuine. Given she’s so synonymous with the campaign for independence, any drops in her personal ratings could affect the campaign as a whole, even though she does, undoubtedly, remain a huge electoral asset for the time being.”