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But new ScotCen report suggests now might not be the best time for the SNP to hold a second referendum:

-       High levels of Euroscepticism in Scotland mean focusing on EU membership may not be the best way to swing voters in favour of “Yes”

-       Overwhelming support for independence among younger voters might mean there is majority support for independence in future

The latest findings from ScotCen’s Scottish Social Attitudes survey, which has asked the same question about how Scotland should be governed every year since 1999, confirms that the September 2014 independence referendum has left a legacy of dramatically increased support for independence.

Asked to choose between independence, devolution and not having any kind of Scottish Parliament at all, as many as 46% now back independence. This is a higher level of support for independence than at any time since 1999 and double the level registered by ScotCen in 2012 (23%), when the independence referendum campaign initially got under way.

Independence is now the single most popular constitutional option. 42% support devolution, while only 8% do not want any kind of Scottish Parliament at all.

Why now may not be the right time for Nicola Sturgeon to demand a second referendum

Despite the record level of support for independence, a second referendum called on the basis that independence would enable Scotland to remain inside the European Union, as Nicola Sturgeon now apparently has in mind, could prove difficult for the SNP to win.

Rising Euroscepticism: Even though Scotland voted to remain in the EU by 62% to 38% in last year’s referendum, scepticism about the institution in Scotland is now at the highest level ever recorded by ScotCen.

-       Two in three (67%) either want Britain to leave the EU (25%) or for the EU’s powers to be reduced (42%).

-       In 2014, the figure stood at just over half (53%), while in 1999 only 40% of people in Scotland could be considered Eurosceptic.

This scepticism is even commonplace amongst those who voted last year to remain in the EU.

-       A majority (56%) of all Remain voters feel the EU should have fewer powers.

-       Two thirds (65%) of Remain voters who currently say they back staying in the UK feel the EU should have fewer powers.

The commitment of these voters to the EU could be too weak to persuade them to change their minds about staying in the UK.

Meanwhile, those who currently back independence are divided in their views about Brexit. One in three supporters of independence voted to leave the EU in last year’s EU referendum, and their support could be at risk if independence is linked firmly to EU membership.

A growing age gap: The increase in support for independence in recent years has been most marked among younger people. As a result, there is now a very large age gap in support for independence; 72% of 16-24 year olds back independence compared with just 26% of people aged 65 and over.  

This means that, as today’s older voters come to the end of their lives, a majority for independence could emerge simply with the passage of time. Waiting a little longer to hold another independence referendum might have been in the SNP’s interests.

The author of the report, John Curtice, a Senior Research Fellow at ScotCen said, “The nationalist movement in Scotland has never been stronger electorally. Meanwhile, from its perspective the outcome of the EU referendum appeared to be a perfect illustration of their argument that for so long as it stays in the UK, Scotland is always at risk of having its ‘democratic will’ overturned by England.

“However, the commitment to the EU of many of those who voted to Remain does not appear to be strong enough that they are likely to be persuaded by the outcome of the EU referendum to change their preference for staying in the UK. Meanwhile, there is a risk that linking independence closely to the idea of staying in the EU could alienate some of those who currently back leaving the UK.

Nicola Sturgeon might have been wiser to have stayed her hand, for on current trends there is a real possibility that demographic change will help produce a majority for independence in the not too distant future anyway.”


For a copy of the report or for more information contact Leigh Marshall 0207 549 8506/07828 031850 or

Notes to editors

ScotCen’s 2016 Scottish Social Attitudes survey interviewed a representative random probability sample of 1,237 people between July 2016 and December 2016. Data are weighted to reflect known patterns of non-response bias and the age and gender profile of the Scottish population.

ScotCen Social Research is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone.

The Scottish Social Attitudes survey aims to produce high quality survey data to inform both public policy and academic study. It has a long time series (dating back to 1999) on public attitudes towards devolution and independence.