Scottish Elections: Have the SNP and demand for independence peaked?

This article first appeared at on 16th March 2021

For five years, in the wake of Brexit and ever starker differences between the politics of England and Scotland, many assumed the latter were moving inevitably towards independence.

They voted strongly for Remain in 2016, for the SNP in multiple elections while even a resurgent Scottish Tory party is resigned to being a permanent minority. In contrast, England voted for Brexit and the Tories completely dominate politics.

SNP and independence have dominated polls

The polls were clear. Last autumn, the New Statesman poll tracker had ‘Yes’ to independence at an average 54% – almost a complete reversal of the 2014 ‘No’ result. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon enjoyed fine approval ratings and her party were polling 8% higher than at the last Scottish Parliament Election in 2016. Well on course to win the two extra seats required to regain their majority at May’s elections, for which they are rated a near-certain 98% to win Most Seats.

Betfair markets still rate them favourite to achieve that. Yes is rated 63% likely at odds of [1.6] for Will the SNP Win a Majority of Seats? Market. Those odds have drifted from [1.33] though, reflecting a spate of bad news and polling for Sturgeon.

Salmond accusations are the trigger

No doubt, the damage is largely due to the fallout from Alex Salmond’s trial for sexual assault. He successfully sued her government over a biased investigative process, paving the way for a complete acquittal. Sturgeon’s predecessor and former mentor alleges she misled parliament over when she first learned of the allegations and broke the ministerial code.

From distance, living in a country where breaking the ministerial code is routinely ignored, it all seemed a bit overblown. A procedural row with little material effect. She is very popular. Salmond the reverse. Polling, however, suggests that view from England is wrong.

SNP supporters split over Salmond row

A quite remarkable 61% of Scots think Sturgeon should resign if found to have broken the Ministerial Code. That includes 40% of SNP supporters. Salmond has blown up his old party and perhaps as a consequence, his lifelong ambition of independence.

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