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Support for Scottish independence at lowest level since devolution

Support for independence fell during 2012 to its lowest level since the introduction of devolution, according to new results published today from ScotCen Social Research's annual Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) survey

23% of people in Scotland now think that 'Scotland should become independent, separate from the rest of the UK'. This figure equals the previous low recorded in 2010, and represents a drop of nine points on the 2011 figure (32%).

The survey also indicates that being in power does not seem to have enabled the SNP to boost support for independence. Across eight annual readings taken by SSA between 1999 and 2006, support averaged 30%. Across all five readings taken since the SNP came to power in 2007, the equivalent average is 26%.

Meanwhile, findings from the 2012 survey (jointly funded by ScotCen, the Economic and Social Research Council and the Electoral Reform Society) show that fewer Scots are optimistic about the potential consequences of independence than twelve months ago.  In 2011, 51% thought that independence would give Scotland a stronger voice in the world. That figure has now fallen to 42%. The proportion who think independence would mean that people in Scotland would have more pride in their country has also fallen from 67% to 55%.

People also appear to have become more worried about the prospect of independence. 59% say they would be 'quite' or 'very' worried if Scotland became independent, up from 46% in 2011. Only 21% say they feel confident about the prospect.

Contrary to recent claims made by the "Yes" campaign, most people do not believe independence will make Scotland a fairer, more socially just society. Only 19% think the gap between rich and poor would be smaller under independence. 25% expect it would increase, while 47% feel it would not make any difference. Moreover, even amongst those who think the gap would be smaller, only 38% currently back independence. This suggests the issue is not central to most people's views of the merits or otherwise of independence.

Voters seem more likely to be persuaded to back independence if they think Scotland would be richer overall. Support for independence stands at half (50%) amongst those who think independence would make Scotland's economy stronger, rising to as much as 73% of those who think it would be 'a lot' stronger. However, while 34% think Scotland's economy would be better under independence, just as many (34%) feel it would be worse.

Despite the low level of support for independence, there is still considerable support for more devolution - even though the option will not now appear on the referendum ballot paper.

  • There continues to be a big difference between the proportion of Scots who would like the Scottish Government to have most influence over how Scotland is run (63%) and the proportion who believe it actually does (34%).

  • A clear majority think the Scottish Parliament should make most of the 'important decisions for Scotland' about the level of taxes (56%) and welfare benefits (64%), both of which are still mostly in Westminster's hands. These figures are little changed from previous readings taken in 2009 and 2010.

  • Overall, two-thirds (67%) either say that the Scottish Parliament should make all decisions for Scotland (35%) or else that it should make all decisions apart from defence and foreign affairs (32%).

Fewer people are concerned about the prospect of 'devolution max' than are about independence.  Around a quarter (25%) think it would weaken Scotland's economy, compared with 34% who say the same of independence. Only 32% say they would be worried if 'devolution max' were introduced, far lower than the 59% who say the same of independence.

Professor John Curtice, Research Consultant, ScotCen Social Research: 'During the course of the last twelve months the independence debate moved firmly to the top of the Scottish political agenda. Yet the proponents of independence have apparently struggled to capitalise on the resulting opportunity to persuade Scots of the merits of their case. Instead more voters appear to have become concerned about the prospect of leaving the UK.'

Rachel Ormston, Director of the Scottish Social Attitudes survey, ScotCen Social Research: 'The 'yes' campaign still needs to convince a much wider section of the public that independence will bring real benefits, especially for Scotland's economy. But while independence does not appear to be the favoured option of most Scots at present, unionists need to recognise there is a substantial gap between the public's perceptions of Holyrood's current powers and their preference for it to be responsible for most of Scotland's domestic affairs.'

For further details, including more detailed tables of results, or to speak with Prof John Curtice or Rachel Ormston contact Leigh Marshall: 0207 549 8506 or 0782 803 1850.
Notes to Editors
1. 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.
2. 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. Further details about ScotCen Social Research and the Scottish Social Attitudes survey are available at
3. The results this press release covers are being presented for the first time at a seminar at the University of Edinburgh's Institute of Governance on Thursday 24th January 2013.
4. The 2012 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey interviewed a probability sample of 1,229 adults face to face between July and November 2012. Data are weighted to reflect known patterns of non-response and the age and gender profile of the adult population in Scotland.
5. Funding for the 2012 results reported here was provided by the Economic and Social Research Council, the Electoral Reform Society and ScotCen's own resources. Responsibility for the analysis and views expressed in this presser lies with the authors alone.
6. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's total budget for 2012/13 is £205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.