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How will Scotland answer the referendum question?

Authors: John Curtice, Rachel Ormston

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Will Scottish voters say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to independence in the 2014 referendum depending on how Scottish or British they feel? Or will they be influenced instead by what they think the consequences of independence would be? 

  • For nearly two-thirds of people in Scotland, their Scottish identity matters more than any feelings of Britishness they may have. 
  • But feeling Scottish rather than British does not guarantee support for independence: only around a half (53 per cent) of those who say they are ‘Scottish, not British’ want to leave the UK.
  • People in Scotland are inclined to take an optimistic rather than a pessimistic view of the likely consequences of becoming independent. 
  • But they are relatively sanguine about the likely economic consequences: while 34 per cent think Scotland’s economy would fare better, 29 per cent believe it would do worse
  • People’s views of the economic consequences of independence are particularly strongly related to whether or not they support the idea.
  • The outcome of the referendum could well be determined by whichever side proves to have the better of the economic debate in the eyes of the public.


In 2014 the Scottish Government will hold a referendum on whether or not Scotland should leave the United Kingdom and become an independent country. Two organisations, Yes Scotland and Better Together, have been formed to head the campaigns for and against independence respectively. The temperature of the debate is already high, and can only be expected to increase as polling day approaches. After all, the decision will be the most important Scotland has taken since it joined the Union in 1707, and is one that potentially has profound implications for the UK as a whole.

The debate about independence is essentially about two central issues. First, since Scotland is a distinct nation, should it seek to run its affairs as an independent state, or can it remain a proud nation within the framework of a Union that is bound together by a common sense of Britishness? Second, would independence bring Scotland the material benefits of a stronger economy, a fairer society and greater influence in the world, or would Scotland be more likely to prosper as part of a bigger state that has a greater capacity to underpin and promote the country’s material welfare, and has more clout on the international stage?

We do not aim to adjudicate on the merits of these various arguments in this briefing. Rather, we wish to assess which are more influential in the minds of voters as the referendum campaign swings into action. How much does support for independence rest on questions of identity, on an apparent wish that a distinct sense of national identity be reflected in the status of an independent country? And how much do attitudes appear to depend on what people think the consequences of independence would be?