New Poll on Scottish Independence Referendum Shakes Britain (9/10)     Print

By European Affairs

The referendum on Scottish independence from Great Britain scheduled for September 18, has been one of the most intensely polled, with over 90 “scientific” polls conducted since the vote was scheduled two years ago.   And until this past weekend every poll showed the “no” vote (against independence) prevailing, although in recent weeks the margin of “no” lead has narrowed.

But earlier this week, a poll by YouGov for the Sunday Times sent shockwaves through the UK and beyond when it showed the “yes” (for independence) with 51% to 49% winning margin when undecideds were excluded.  With 10 percent undecided the race is suddenly and unsettlingly “too close to call.” Although the issue has been hotly debated, particularly within Scotland, the conventional wisdom, grounded in the many polls, was that Scots would, in the end, vote to stay within Britain and vote “Better Together.”

The YouGov poll has transformed the once unthinkable proposition of secession within a modern European country into a very real possibility. The British pound tumbled Monday (retreating 1.6 percent to $1.61, its largest daily drop in over a year), and the stocks of financial institutions with large operations in Scotland fell sharply in reaction to the new uncertainty.

Both sides are now scrambling and renewed analysis on what the “yes” vote would really mean has assumed a frenzied pace.  Unionists hope that promises of increased independence (“devolution”) short of full separation will win the day in the end. But “yes” advocates say it’s too late for desperate “sops” to stop the slide toward “yes.”

Because of the very high percentage of voters expected in the referendum (80 to 90 percent of the 4 million eligible voters) the final outcome is even more difficult to predict. Also the impact of the decision to allow 16 year olds to vote causes further uncertainty.   Dr. Jan Eichhorn, a scholar at the University of Edinburgh, has closely studied the polls over the last two years and concludes that there is a “degree of uncertainty” in this situation that makes it impossible to predict the outcome in advance. The most important factor influencing both the “yes” and “no” votes is whether the economy would be improved by independence or not.   Interestingly, the issue of whether an independent Scotland would be admitted promptly to the European Union or whether Scotland would use the British Pound after independence are less important, Eichhorn found. (See recent presentation at Wilson Center.)