Friday, 2 October 2009

The SNP & Independence

(Text of yesterday's guest post for SNP Tactical Voting).

We've had an SNP Scottish Government for a little over 2 and a quarter years now and - for better or worse - we've pretty much gotten used to it. There's no doomsday, no massive fighting between Holyrood and Westminster and no vote on independence (yet). And the party have performed well, if not spectacularly, as Scotland's first minority administration. This new form of government is a learning process for all the parties in Holyrood - budget debates now actually mean something, the government is fairly regularly defeated in minor votes but forges loose alliances on an issue-by-issue basis. In spite of the challenges of minority government, the defeats, the compromises, the failure to deliver on some key manifesto commitments (thus far) the SNP remains a popular party. Take a look at these opinion poll figures:

May 2007 Election
Constituency Vote - 32.9%
Regional Vote 31.0%

Jan 08 YouGov/Express - 38%/30%
Feb/ Mar 08 MRUK/ Times - 39%/40%
Apr 08 YouGov/ Sun 40%/33%
Aug 08 YouGov/ SNP 44%/-
Sept 08 YouGov/ Times 42%/35%
Oct 08 YouGov/ Times 39%/32%
Jan 09 YouGov/ Times 38%/34%
Mar 09 YouGov/ Times 35%/30%
Apr 09 YouGov/SNP 37%/37%
2009 figures here (pg22), Sept/ Oct 2008 here (pg21), Aug 2008 here (pg56), Jan-Apr 2008 here (pg46)

For a party under attack for failing to deliver some of its policy commitments, the SNP have maintained and - in every single on of these poll figures - increased their vote share. That to me indicates a government that remains popular with the electorate. Of course you can debate just how popular, how much opinion polls matter, the accuracy and methods of pollsters etc, but how else can we measure their support? In the only actual poll of public opinion - with a real live vote at the end of it - the SNP polled well ahead of Labour in the European Parliament Election in June 2009. Again, those of you who want to will claim that this isn't a reflection of their popularity - its a third order election, low turnout etc etc - but I guess you'll never be convinced. The point is this - the SNP, as a government, are relatively popular.

But - and this is a point those of you who disagree with the first half of this post will have no trouble agreeing with - their main policy aim is not. If you look at the straight up-down figures below, the height of popularity for independence was in March/ April 2008 - at 41%. Now that - the shrewd of among you will note - is a minority. There were a considerable number (19%) of "don't knows" in that poll, but even so, as the preference of only 41% at its height, independence remains the constitutional preference of the few.

I agree/ disagree that the Scottish Government should negotiate a settlement with the Government of the United Kingdom so that Scotland becomes an independent state:

Aug 07 Agree 35% Disagree 50%
Nov/Dec 07 Agree 40% Disagree 44%
Mar/Apr 08 Agree 41% Disagree 40%
June/July 08 Agree 39% Disagree 41%
Oct 08 Agree 35% Disagree 43%
Jan/Feb 09 Agree 38% Disagree 40%
See John Curtice's chapter here for figures (particularly page 16).

Indeed, that analysis is borne out by the following Populus/Times Poll, which gave 4 options - independence/ more powers/ status quo/ less powers with the following result:

But - Populus/ Times Poll April 2009:
Independence - 21%
More Powers - 41%
Status Quo - 26%
Less Powers - 8%
(Same source, page 17)

That poll - as you can see - indicates that when several options are given, the constitutional preference of Scots tends to be for extended devolution over independence (albeit still a minority of those polled).

So, what does that mean for the SNP? Well, it's a problem. The SNP's strategy - devised at some point before the 2007 election - was to be in a position to govern Scotland effectively and efficiently, do what they could within the framework of the current constitutional settlement to implement policies which would improve Scotland - and demonstrate that improvements could also be made to other areas of policy were they granted extended powers. A simple strategy really - take the credit for what they could do, blame the UK Government for what they could not.

And it has worked - to a degree. The SNP have successfully delivered a number of key pledges which have proved popular with the electorate which has seen them maintain - or even increase - their poll numbers (as detailed above). However, the electorate remains unconvinced that the powers of independence are required for Scotland. This is the conundrum for the SNP - if they govern too well, they run the risk of people wondering why they need independence.

That, I think, is a whole other blog piece. Jeff - over to you.

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