In the midst of this General Election battle, one of the most interesting polls I’ve seen in Wales for some time was published – on Welsh Independence. Now, you might well ask – this poll shows a majority against (again) – so why the interest? But looking at the ‘innards’ of the poll and you find a far more nuanced picture.
Listening to people across Wales from all parties and none, I’ve had an inchoate sense that views on independence were shifting. Not necessarily dramatically or decisively, but rather from an outright rejection – to a far more balanced, context-dependent understanding of the position.
You can imagine my excitement therefore when a poll emerged which could tease out these nuances.
Yougov sought out the views of 1,000 respondents in Wales on Welsh Independence, but rather than a straight Yes or No – they offered respondents a scale from 0-10 where 0 was strongly against, to 10 strongly in favour.
The initial results were as follows:
So we find some one quarter of the electorate in favour (7-10), a little under a half against (0-3) and 27% in what one might term the ‘indycurious’ bracket between 4 and 6.
We can also work out an average score for the Welsh electorate on Independence on our scale – and in this instance it comes out as 3.8. Not surprisingly the scores differ by party vote with Plaid voters the most positive about independence at 5.9, followed by Labour at 4.1, and the Conservatives, most hostile at 2.2.
The picture becomes even more interesting on the second question. Here respondents were asked their views if the Conservatives were to win an increased majority in the general election – a scenario that still seems the most likely outcome on June 8th – despite the best efforts of the hapless Theresa May and the Conservative campaign.
Now as a general rule, I am not a fan of posing far-fetched hypothetical questions; but given the likelihood of the events described, I think we can infer useful information from this question. The party political context does make a difference. Now the overall average of the Welsh electorate reaches 4.3 with the opposition falling to under 40%, and a split amongst the rest between the indycurious and those who are more positive about independence. Each of the parties’ supporters shift somewhat, with Plaid voters reaching an average score of 6.9, Labour voters 5.1 (now favouring independence by a margin of 4%) and Conservatives barely moving to 2.3.
We are of course a considerable distance from a competitive Welsh Independence referendum, but my hunch of the past couple of years about the shifting sands on independence seems to be very much borne out by the latest polling. A majority of the Welsh electorate are clearly open to the prospect of independence – they are far from convinced of its merits, but neither are they implacably opposed as they once were.
So what lessons can the parties take from this poll?
For Plaid there may be some disappointment that the support for independence amongst their supporters isn’t greater. Now this may well be related to Plaid’s reluctance to campaign around independence, particularly in the run up to various elections, but the next few years clearly offer the party an opportunity to dial up the volume on the debate on independence.
I wonder if Labour have already learnt the lesson of this poll. Clearly the Labour vote in Wales is not a British Unionist vote, and if Carwyn Jones was ever tempted to reprise the Better Together campaign in a most unlikely alliance with Andrew R T Davies this poll serves as another good reason not to do so! There seems on the face of it to be a nationalist (small n) tinge to the Labour vote in Wales, which Carwyn is well positioned to shape and lead.
One might conclude there isn’t much for the Conservatives to think about here, but I’d suggest there is at least a warning – that if Theresa May does indeed try to emulate a decade of Thatcherism in Wales – we could be moving towards an independence referendum far sooner than anyone imagines.
And what of the Liberal Democrats. The irony of their position is that their long held ambition of Home Rule for Wales seems to chime perfectly with the mood of the Welsh electorate. It is quite unclear however whether they will reap any electoral benefit from their constitutional policy.
All in all therefore a most interesting poll, and data for the first time to show the very real existence of indycurious Wales!