Ipsos MORI/King’s College debate on Scottish independence

By Christopher Mclean, Ipsos MORI Scotland

On 4 March 2014, King’s College London and Ipsos MORI ran a joint debate examining how public opinion is shifting in Scotland and the rest of the UK, as well as the wider implications of a yes or no vote.

“Our promise of a bare knuckle fight between Jim Murphy and Stewart Hosie has drawn the crowds” began Mandy Rhodes, editor of Holyrood Magazine and our chair for the evening, as she introduced our recent event on the Scottish independence referendum to an audience of around 200.

After the introductions had been made, Mark Diffley, Director at Ipsos MORI Scotland, began by providing an overview of historical and recent polling on support for independence, highlighting the challenge facing the ‘Yes’ camp by showing  that our polls had never found a majority in support for independence. However, despite support for a ‘Yes’ vote remaining stubbornly around a third of voters, Mark pointed that up to 45% of voters were still ‘up for grabs’, suggesting that the vote is far from a foregone conclusion.

He also presented some new data which had been released on the morning of the event, and which illustrated the close relationship among Scots’ voters between voting intention in the referendum and feelings of positivity and negativity about the impact of a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No’ victory in September. The data also showed that a large proportion of voters in England and Wales did not have strong feelings about the outcome of the referendum though, among those who do, there is a preference for Scotland remaining as part of the union.

Mark then handed over to Stewart Hosie, SNP MP for Dundee East, who set out to dispel what he described as the myths about Scotland and its economy. These included assertions that Scotland was a net contributor to the UK public purse, that the Scottish economy was not solely reliant on the oil and gas sector and that Scotland was not over-reliant on the public sector for employment. He ended by posing the question: ‘why would anyone not want independence?’

Jim Murphy, MP for East Renfrewshire, attributed the high number of undecided voters to the expected turnout and the scale of the decision and that it was up to those campaigning for a ‘No’ vote to win the argument, not just the referendum, in order to lay the issue of independence to rest. He went on to say that winning the argument lay in convincing voters that Scotland enjoys the best of both worlds with a strong Scottish Parliament within the UK.

After the politicians were finished, Dr Andrew Blick discussed the constitutional implications of the referendum with particular focus on the turnout and the margin of victory. In his speech, Dr Blick posed some tantalising questions, such as; is it better to have a narrow victory on a high turnout or a decisive victory on a low turnout? In drawing comparisons with the 1975 EEC referendum, he asked whether referendums are ever the final say on an issue before pointing out that the pro-independence camp have an in-built long-term advantage in that they only have to win once.

Our final speaker was the Telegraph’s Sue Cameron who, after asserting her families credentials as advisors to Bonny Prince Charlie, argued that a ‘Yes’ vote would leave Whitehall in turmoil as the UK Government dealt with the subsequent negotiations that would take place. She also argued that a ‘No’ vote could potentially create more interesting and more painful upheaval for the UK as it comes to terms with the implications of further devolution.

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