Peter Hoskin

Scottish independence by numbers

Scottish independence by numbers
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It's far from the first poll on Scottish independence in recent years, or even in recent days, but YouGov's effort for Channel4 this evening contains some noteworthy findings nonetheless.

What is does is replicate the conditions that — for the reasons that Peter Kellner explains in a very useful blog post here — Alex Salmond would like in 2014. Which means two questions, one after the other. First, status quo or ‘devo-max’? Second, status quo or full independence?

And the results? By YouGov's count, 58 per cent of people are in favour of ‘devo-max’ for the first question, with 42 per cent against. And, for the second question, 39 per cent back full independence, with 61 per cent against.

Those headline numbers will, I suspect, mostly encourage Alex Salmond. 39 per cent may be far from overwhelming support for his cause, but it's something to work on. And then there's significant support for his Plan B, of ‘devo-max’, which would be no mean consolation in the end. What's more, some of the supplementary numbers also swing Salmond's way. For instance, 44 per cent of people reckon the Scottish government alone should make decisions about the content and timing of the referendum, which surpasses those advocating cooperation between Holyrood and Westminster.

But the finding that caught my eye is one that may prey on Salmond's mind. You see, while 46 per cent of people want a choice — as he does — between independence, ‘devo-max’ and the status quo, another 43 per cent want it to be just between independence and the status quo. That's gap in Salmond's favour, but perhaps a smaller gap than we might have anticipated.

This is certainly something that George Osborne will look to work in the Unionists' favour in coming months. If he can tease public opinion against a three-choice referendum, and then somehow reflect that in the referendum itself, then many of Salmond's advantages will have been eradicated. No ‘devo-max’ means less hope of victory, of any sort, for the Nats.  

But, that said, it's not going to be easy for Osborne. Even putting aside problems about perceived interference from London, and questions about whether Scotland will go ahead with its own referendum regardless, it is generally more difficult to argue for less choice rather than more. So perhaps Salmond won't be that concerned after all.