Poll Analysis: Opinium 3rd – 8th of September 2021

It’s always quiet in the months following an election, so it’s no surprise we’ve had very little in the way of Scottish polling. That said, you may have noticed a couple of important events lately. There was the signing of the SNP-Green cooperation deal, bringing Green ministers into government for the first time anywhere in the UK. And after a decade of Willie Rennie’s Wild and Wonderful Photo Ops, he made way for Alex Cole-Hamilton at the top of the Scottish Lib Dems.

That meant the time was ripe for another poll, and Opinium (for Sky News) kindly obliged. Before we even get to what’s in the poll, I’m quite pleased to see Opinium continuing to be commissioned for polling post-election. I’m always keen for a diverse spread of pollsters, and they were new to Holyrood polling ahead of the election, so hopefully they are here to stay.

Changes for Westminster and Independence intention are versus the last Opinium poll from the 28th of April – 3rd of May 2021 / last election or referendum. The Holyrood figures are, of course, only versus May’s election.

Regional Vote

At first glance, this chart may look a bit odd – and not just because it’s the three parties in the news that haven’t moved. The SNP retain their clear lead, whilst the Conservatives and Labour are down 2% – so it doesn’t look like those votes go anywhere. That’s explained by the fact that the net total for “other” parties is up at 10% versus the circa 5% at the election.

I’m intrigued as to how that little quirk arose, as Opinium weren’t a pollster finding lots of others earlier this year (that was ComRes). In any case, the figures for both Alba and AFU round to 0%, so I haven’t included them in the chart.

Constituency Vote

There’s a little bit more movement over on this vote, where the SNP are up a fair bit, Labour down a lot, and both the Conservatives and Lib Dems dipping mildly. Again, there’s a curious uptick in votes for “others” here. I’d assume part of that will be for the Greens, who for this portion weren’t given as their own option.

Seat Projection

Projecting that into seats might give us something like this:

Please see this page for how projections work and important caveats.

The moderate shifts overall versus May therefore only tip a few seats differently. Weaker Conservative and Labour list votes project to the Greens picking up the two seats they missed narrowly, plus the Lib Dems regaining the North East list seat they lost. The SNP pick up a constituency from Labour which is how they project to bang-on a majority here, but it’s Dumbarton that flips and that’s just the model doing what maths tells it to – by this point I highly doubt Jackie Baillie is ever losing that seat.

Views on SNP-Green Deal

I don’t often include bits that aren’t voting intention or related to the constitution, but I did think the question on the SNP-Green cooperation agreement was worth highlighting. There haven’t been anything but SNP Ministers in the Scottish Government in my entire voting life (I first voted for Holyrood in 2011). So, regardless of anyone’s partisan views on the matter, it’s a big moment in Scotland’s political history.

According to Opinium, more people are inclined to view the deal as a good than a bad thing. However, there’s a big chunk of just under a quarter of Scots who aren’t sure either way. Those folk may well be reserving judgement until they see the deal in action.

As is often the case, the Westminster figures closely parallel what we see for the Holyrood portion of the poll. That means the SNP polling an outright majority of the vote, versus notable declines for the two bigger pro-Union parties, plus a smaller dip for the Lib Dems. Though both the Greens and Reform UK register here, it’s with very low shares.

On the big constitutional question, this represents a pause in what had been a trend of swinging back to the Union, with a very narrow, margin of error lead for Independence. As ever, I’d caution against reading too much into a single poll. This may be a temporary stall or blip in the trend rather than the beginning of a reversal.

Timing of a Referendum

If support for Independence is on a knife-edge, well, so is support for holding another referendum. The strongest option on either side (within 2 years or never) are totally equal, with only a very narrow lead for “in the next 2 to 5 years” over “not in the next 5 years” delivering a slender preference overall for holding such a vote in this term of parliament.

With the Scottish Government having announced their preference for a vote in 2023, voters may begin to firm up for or against that timescale based on their own position on the constitution. Currently however, that approach would have the support of a minority.


As ever, the last little bit of analysis concerns those hypothetical and more proportional voting systems that I have a bee in my bonnet about here at BBS. The fact Westminster uses pure FPTP is an affront to democracy, and though Holyrood fares far better, AMS is still deeply imperfect. The examples here simply transpose the poll findings onto more proportional voting systems – the reality is that different systems would of course result in different voter behaviour.

For the moment, although the maps are useful for illustrative purposes, I’m opting just to show these hypotheticals as charts. It’s very time consuming making maps, and for these pure hypotheticals, it’s possibly a bit overkill.

As this one boosts the number of list seats and uses a more proportional mechanism for apportioning them, the SNP are in a slightly weaker position than under our unreformed system. Even though they have as many seats as under the current system, they’d be further from a majority given the expanded size of the chamber. However, there’d still be an overall majority for the cooperative government.

This model goes even further and totally strips away the SNP’s advantages from both FPTP and the regionalised nature of the list seats, whilst everyone else benefits from increased proportionality. Again however, the combined SNP-Green tally sums to a majority.

Scandinavian Style Westminster

Note that there’s no comparator to a normal projection here, as I don’t do pure FPTP projections. The differences with FPTP however would be extremely stark, this giving the SNP a reduced and far more accurate (and democratic) share of seats. They’d still be completely dominant, winning a clear majority of seats.

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