In the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the No campaign won by 55 per cent to 45.
In the five years since that vote Scotland has had three general elections, a Scottish Parliament vote, the Brexit referendum, a change of First Minister and two changes of Prime Minister.
In light of all this political upheaval, Ferret Fact Service has looked at more than 100 polls involving more than 100,000 people since the vote in September 2014, to see whether the Scottish electorate’s views have changed on the independence question.
Before the 2014 referendum
The official campaign period began on 30 May, 16 weeks before votes were cast. The first poll to be released after this date, by IPSOS-Mori, found 34 per cent in favour of independence, with 54 per cent against and 13 per cent undecided.
Compared to the result of the referendum, this shows an 11-point increase in support for independence during the campaign period. The No campaign gained one point, indicating the majority of initially undecided voters were persuaded by the Yes campaign.
Scottish independence polling since the referendum
The first poll after the vote, conducted in October 2014 showed 49 per cent support for Yes and only 45 per cent for No.
Since then we have counted 18 polls that have shown a lead for Scottish independence out of 117 polls tracked.
The most recent poll to give Yes a lead was in July 2020 by Panelbase which showed 50 per cent in favour with 43 per cent opposed, counting those who likely to vote. The highest lead for independence was nine points in August 2015.
All other polls since the referendum showed a lead for No. The highest lead for a No vote was 20 points in May 2019, however this poll had a different question format to usual, asking respondents whether they would like to Leave or Remain in the UK. The 20-point lead was matched using a standard question in June 2017.
Yes took the lead for the first time in more than two years in August 2019, with a two-point margin in the first poll taken since Boris Johnson took office at Westminster. Two consecutive polls showed Scottish independence in the lead in January 2020, for the first time since June 2016.
In June 2020, Yes took the lead for three consecutive polls, the most consistent pro-independence polling since the period immediately following the Brexit referendum in 2016.
What affected people’s answers?
While the majority of polls since 2014 have remained broadly in favour of staying in the United Kingdom, some political events appear to have shifted public opinion, although there is little evidence that many of them have had lasting impact.
After the 2014 referendum there was a significant boost in polling support for a Yes vote. Four of the first six surveys taken after the result between October 2014 and February 2015 showed independence in the lead, with one returning a tie and one in favour of No.
Another indicated increase in support for a Yes vote took place after the Brexit referendum and ensuing resignation of David Cameron. Three polls in the following week showed support for Yes in the ascendancy.
A poll taken after Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that she would seek another referendum, was the closest since March 2017.
The highest consistent period for support of a No vote was around the 2017 general election, when five polls showed at least a 10-point lead for staying in the UK.
The first poll with Yes in lead since 2017 took place after Boris Johnson won the Tory leadership contest and became Prime Minister in June 2019.
Consecutive polls showed independence in the lead in 2019 after the General Election, which was won by the Conservatives. The polls were taken immediately before and on January 31, the day Britain left the European Union. Since the 2019 election, the majority (five) out of nine polls conducted have put Yes in the lead, with two showing greater support for a No vote.
The 2020 coronavirus outbreak may have had some impact on support for Scottish independence. Since the Covid-19 lockdown began on March 23, five polls have been taken with one showing No to have a one-point lead and three showing Yes with the most support. The most recent two polls gave a seven-point lead for a Yes vote.
Different questions, different answers
The polling on Scottish independence has been commissioned by different groups including newspapers, blogs and pressure groups, and conducted by nine separate polling companies.
This means that the question of whether Scotland should be independent has been asked in a few different ways. Polls commissioned by pro-union organisation Scotland in Union were likely to show a significant majority against independence, but the question asked was ‘Should Scotland remain in the UK or leave the UK?’ with a choice between ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’.
The most common question asked was ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’, which mirrored the referendum question.
However, a number of slightly altered wordings were also used, including “Knowing what you know now, if the independence referendum was tomorrow how would you vote?” and “If there were a fresh referendum on Scottish independence tomorrow, then how would you vote?”. These may also affect the way a person answers.
Much was made before the vote in 2014 of the impact of the question’s wording. Originally, the Scottish Government proposed the question, “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”, but the Electoral Commission tweaked the wording to a simpler, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”.
They found that the original wording was “not neutral because the phrase ‘Do you agree…?’ could lead people towards voting Yes”.
This fact check was updated to include new opinion polls up to 24 July 2020.
Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working 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? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or join our Facebook group.