Keir Starmer Scottish Labour

Claim 40 per cent of Scottish Labour members support independence is Unsupported

Ferret Fact Service | Scotlands impartial fact check project

The Labour Party’s future position on a Scottish independence referendum has been called into question after comments by leader Keir Starmer.

While Scottish Labour has long been opposed to independence and a second referendum, Starmer refused to rule out the possibility of supporting a second referendum

However, SNP strategist Ross Colquhoun claimed on Twitter that a significant proportion of Labour members already support Scottish independence. 

Ferret Fact Service looked at this claim and found it to be Unsupported.

Evidence

UK and Scottish Labour campaigned for a No vote in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, and party policy remains for Scotland to stay part of the UK.

In the 2014 vote, 45 per cent of Scots backed independence, while 55 per cent voted against.

Since then, claims have been made about the opinion of Labour party members both UK-wide and Scotland regarding the constitutional question. 

Ross Colquhoun’s claimed that “around 40 per cent of Scottish Labour members support Scottish independence”.

The most recent survey we found from a major pollster to ask Labour party members their views on Scottish independence was in July 2019.

YouGov asked 1,114 Labour members in the UK “Would you support or oppose Scotland leaving the United Kingdom and becoming an independent country?”.

Thirty-nine per cent supported while 41 per cent opposed, with a further 20 per cent responding ‘Don’t Know’. 

However, for Labour party members in Scotland, the sample size was fewer than 50 people, with 31 per cent responding in favour of Scottish independence, and 60 per cent opposed. 

Scottish Labour members have also been asked in recent polls for their views on whether a second referendum should be held. 

A Sky News poll by YouGov in February 2020 found that 57 per cent of Labour members in Scotland backed a second referendum. 

While a January 2020 YouGov poll of Labour members for The Times found that 27 per cent of Scottish members supported holding a second referendum, while 37 per cent opposed one. Thirty per cent of those polled said they would accept a second referendum as part of an electoral deal with the SNP. 

Both these polls had a very small sub-sample for Scotland of fewer than 60 respondents. 

While no recent poll appears to show 40 per cent of Labour party members backing Scottish independence, recent polling of Scottish voters who backed Labour in the 2019 election has shown support for independence between 30 and 40 per cent. 

A Ferret Fact Service analysis of the five most recent reputable polls of Scottish Labour voters showed an average of 32 per cent supporting a Yes vote, 53 per cent opposed and 15 per cent yet to decide. 

It should be noted again that these polls all contain fairly small sample sizes of Labour voters, all fewer than 200 people, so the margin of error is much larger than normal. 

The British Polling Council has cautioned against attempts to “over interpret sub group analysis in polls” and stated that “results based on… small sample sizes are not really worthy of comment”.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Unsupported

The most recent poll on Scottish independence support among Labour party members appears to be from July 2019.  While the poll did show 40 per cent of UK Labour members backing independence, only 31 per cent of Scottish party members supported a Yes vote, while 60 per cent were against independence. The poll asked fewer than 50 Scottish party members, so the results are subject to a significant margin of error, and should not be taken as reliable.

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, and a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Want to suggest a fact check? Go to ideas.theferret.scot, email us at factcheck@theferret.scot or join our Facebook group.

In response to an evidence request, Mr Colquhoun provided articles on support for independence among Labour voters and members, as well as recent polling statistics.

Photo thanks to Rwenland, CC BY-SA 4.0

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