Scottish referendum polls begin to narrow

John Curtice says Yes Scotland’s hope of winning the referendum rests on their ability to win the economic debate

Scotland on Sunday’s ICM poll earlier this week was the best polling news the Yes side has had yet in the referendum campaign. Once the Don’t Knows are excluded, 46 per cent think they will vote Yes on 18 September against 54 per cent who still intend to vote No.

This is the highest Yes tally in any independently commissioned poll so far. It represents a six-point swing to Yes since last September, the biggest yet in a campaign in which the polls have been remarkably stable.

Scotland Votes


Tomorrow: Stephen Noon, chief strategist of the Yes Campaign says they are playing a long game

On Friday: Swansea West Labour AM Mike Hedges asks how long a shared currency would last if Scotland chooses independence

On Saturday: Iain Macwhirter highlights a struggle for the women’s vote

On Sunday: Alan Trench suggests ‘Devo More’ could be a halfway house between the status quo and independence


True, there is one word of caution. The swing is entirely confined to those aged 44 and under. All pollsters, including ICM, find it more difficult to get younger voters to answer their questions. Consequently, their estimates of how such voters will behave are more likely to change randomly from one poll to the next.

Even so, there are signs the swing is underpinned by something real. And in line with the message from the Scottish Social Attitudes survey last week, what emerges is that the answer to ‘What will determine the eventual outcome in September?’ is simply: ‘It’s the economy, stupid.”

In September only 31 per cent thought independence would be good for the economy, while 48 per cent reckoned it would be bad. Now 35 per cent reckon independence would be beneficial while 42 per cent feel it would be deleterious. That represents a five-point swing towards a more optimistic view.

Meanwhile, people’s perceptions are clearly fundamental to their decision whether to vote Yes or No.

No less than 88 per cent of those who think the economy would be better under independence expect to vote Yes, while 87 per cent of those who reckon it would be worse belong to the No camp. None of the other perceptions tracked by ICM has either shifted as much or obviously matters so much.

True, the proportion who think there would be less inequality in an independent Scotland – one of the Yes side’s key claims – has increased by four points from 27 per cent to 31 per cent. But the proportion who believe it would be more unequal has edged up a point too, to 21 per cent. That means on this issue the swing is just 1.5 per cent.

At the same time, only 63 per cent of those who believe there would be less inequality in an independent Scotland think they will vote Yes, while 63 per cent of those who feel there would be more inequality are inclined to vote No. Both figures are lower than the equivalent ones for the economy.

Meanwhile, the proportion who think pensions would be higher under independence is up four points from 16 per cent to 20 per cent. The proportion who believe they would be lower is down two points to 23 per cent – a swing of three points.

But having a rosy view of the prospects for pensions is an even less powerful recruiting sergeant for the Yes side. Only 58 per cent of those who reckon pensions would be higher think they will vote Yes – though 75 per cent of those who think they would be lower anticipate voting No.

The lesson for the Yes side is clear. Their hopes of winning the referendum rest on their ability to win the economic debate. They may now be a little closer to doing so.


John Curtice is Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University. The poll of more than 1,000 over-16s was conducted by ICM for Scotland on Sunday between Tuesday and Friday last week.

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