If there are two things I like here at BBS, it’s frequent polling and diversity of sources. I was therefore quite pleased to see this week’s YouGov poll for the Times. This is first YouGov we’ve had since May’s Holyrood election, giving us a welcome fourth polling firm in our recent spread. I also enjoyed that they made the tables available the same day the data was published, unlike some other firms that shall remain nameless but perhaps serve as a base for panels, who can take up to two weeks…
As this is the first YouGov poll of this Holyrood term, changes for that part of the poll are versus May’s election. For Westminster and Independence, changes are versus the previous YouGov on the 2nd – 4th of May / versus election.
You may be thinking this is quite a busy chart here for the regional vote. I don’t track all of these parties on the relevant page, but I will generally mention a party where a pollster specifically states their share.
Starting with the major parties, the SNP are down slightly since the election, though this is about par with most other recent polls. The only other Holyrood party to have lost support here are the Conservatives, with a firmly beyond margin of error drop of 4% giving them their worst poll of the term thus far. It also brings them level with Labour, who are up a point. As in most other recent polls, both the Greens and Lib Dems have improved versus the election, with the former crossing into double figures.
Turning to those minor parties, I wouldn’t be reading too much into the exact shares here. Instead, take this more as an indication that no one outside the Holyrood 5 is gaining any traction at all. That’ll be most concerning for Alba, who placed sixth in May and are the only one of the bunch I do track between polls. Their chances of remaining in the tracker beyond next year’s local elections seem increasingly slim.
Moving over to the constituency ballot, and things look a little different. The SNP aren’t down at all, nor have the Lib Dems gained, and though the Greens are up marginally it’s from a very low base. Meanwhile, it’s Labour taking the sharp decrease on this ballot, whilst the Conservatives are only very slightly worse off than May. As I’ve repeatedly noted however, for everyone bar the SNP, this is by far the less important vote, so this doesn’t do the Conservatives any real favours.
Projecting that into seats might give us something like this:
Caveats of projections firmly in mind, the seats here show exactly that point about the relative unimportance of the constituency vote for the opposition parties. Though Labour lose Dumbarton in this scenario, they still have a net gain of two seats, enough to make them the largest opposition party given the Conservatives’ net loss of eight. Those losses however go mostly to the Greens, which would reinforce the current cooperative government, and the last two to the Lib Dems, continuing a trend of modest recoveries.
Moving over to Westminster, it almost entirely mirrors the Holyrood constituency vote. The SNP are unchanged versus May but have gained on 2019, and a modest pollwise decline for the Conservatives is another steep dive against their actual election result. Labour are down marginally on both measures, a slight Lib Dem gain still has them far behind their election result, and the Greens also lose a bit of what was their usually low share here.
There are only so many ways I can say “not much movement on the constitution” in relatively quick succession, and whilst you might not notice if I’m repeating myself, I do! Anyway, not much movement on the constitution. Support for Independence is down a smidge since May, though that’s movement to Don’t Know rather than No, meaning the flat No vs Yes is the same 6% lead for the Union as it was then.
It’s worth also adding that the figures for the headline might look a little different to what you’ve seen for this poll elsewhere. YouGov have an odd tendency to report “Refused” and “Wouldn’t Vote” alongside the usual No/Yes/Don’t Know options. You could argue a case for keeping Refused in, but Wouldn’t Vote is pointless. The figures on the top line here are therefore with those two options removed.
Annoyingly, YouGov also only give their tables as % shares rather than raw response numbers, so this may be slightly imprecise. However, it allows us to more accurately compare their findings with other firms than just leaving big chunks of confirmed non-voters in the numbers.
Timing of a Referendum
The framing of the question here is a little odd, as there isn’t really any difference between “Next year” and “Before 2023” in 2021 – I’m taking the latter to mean “Before the end of 2023”, i.e. the Scottish Government’s preferred timescale. That aside, this section is quite interesting, or odd, or both – your mileage may vary with constitutional persuasion as to which bits of it you like or dislike.
Compared to May’s poll, there has been a substantial hardening of opinion against holding another Independence referendum in the next couple of years. However, there’s been a slight softening towards holding one in this term of parliament, widening a lead for referendum supporters over opponents in that timescale.
Indeed, if we compare to the slightly differently framed Panelbase from the other week by removing don’t knows, it gives a similar 53% in favour of such a vote. It’s no surprise with these kinds of figures that Independence remains such a prominent part of our political landscape. The folk who root their politics in never having one ever again are, it has to be said, as much of a contributor to that as the people absolutely fizzing they aren’t getting one tomorrow!
Dual Question Referendum
Interestingly enough, YouGov have also included data on a dual question referendum. In fact, they’d also had this stuff in May, but given that was two days before the Holyrood election and I was being crushed under the weight of polls and preparations, you’ll forgive me for not noticing anything that wasn’t simply voting intention.
I’ve written before on Twitter about how we’d need to be cautious about calls for a multi-option referendum, taking that to mean anything more than a binary choice on one ballot paper. That runs the risk of, for example, Independence being declared on a minority of the vote (if we ran it as FPTP), or No Change winning even if there was a majority for more powers between Independence and Further Devolution (if we used AV).
A possible solution to those issues would be a 1997-style referendum with multiple questions instead. The first question would be whether or not people wanted more powers for Scotland, and the second on whether that should be Independence or Further Devolution. This is exactly the format YouGov asked about, starting with the question “Do you want to change the powers of self-government in Scotland?”
So by a two to one margin, voters in Scotland do want the Scottish Parliament to have more powers. There’s a large number of Don’t Knows there, but even with them in the mix there’s a clear majority in favour of more powers coming to Scotland. That would then allow things to move onto the second question, “If there is to be change which would you prefer?”
This is much more closely run. In fact, the main difference here with a pure Union vs Independence framing is that there are twice as many Don’t Knows. I’d estimate with such a big chunk of Undecideds they might largely favour Increased Powers, but doing a basic disregarding of them gives the same 53:47 split as above. Even with that caution about the Don’t Knows in mind, this does suggest that the notion of Increased Powers as the obvious way to stop Independence has become rather dated – if there was a time that was true, it was probably before 2014.
There’s still more going on though. Not shown here are the “Wouldn’t Vote” figures since, for an actual final result, those people obviously wouldn’t be counted. However, whereas 6% say they wouldn’t vote on the first question, that leaps to 15% on the second. That suggests somewhere in the region of 9% of people are so strongly in favour of the status quo that even having turned out to vote, they’d refuse to pick between either of the more powers options. That’s a fascinating finding, because it suggests this multi-question idea isn’t entirely free of pitfalls either.
It’s not inconceivable that what could be a majority for the Union is instead undone by hardliners refusing to vote for Increased Powers, therefore reducing the total number of votes cast on the second question, and allowing Independence to win a majority on that question without a majority of voters overall. That would be a fiendishly contentious situation to end up in, leading to some bitter disputes. “Get Further Devolution on the ballot paper” may be a well-intentioned attempt to add nuance to the otherwise binary constitutional debate, but it seems nuance brings complications too.
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.
This improved version of AMS comes with a tiny bit of relief for the Conservatives, as despite the tie in list votes in this model it’s them taking a single seat lead over Labour – though it’d still be quite a fall compared to May this year. In fact, Labour would join the SNP in being completely static, leaving gains entirely to the Greens and Lib Dems.
A fully proportional model then rounds things out nicely for the two largest opposition parties, giving a tie in seats for a tie in votes. Naturally though this is still some sharp losses for the Conservatives versus minor gains for Labour. The SNP also drop somewhat, whilst both the Greens and Lib Dems would again do quite well compared to their previous performance.
Scandinavian Style Westminster
Note that there’s no comparator to a normal projection here, as I don’t do pure FPTP projections. As always, this would however be a stark departure from FPTP, and would see the SNP on a bare rather than overwhelming majority of Scotland’s seats. Compared to this model for the last poll, the Conservatives and Labour each lose a seat to the SNP and Lib Dems, whilst the Greens keep hold of their seats in a relatively rare above-threshold (3%) poll.
If you find this or other Ballot Box Scotland output useful and/or interesting, and you can afford to do so, please consider donating to support my work. I love doing this, but it’s a one-man project and takes a lot of time and effort. All donations, no matter how small, are greatly appreciated and extremely helpful.